Researchers believe that the great apes deliberately turned around to make themselves dizzy.
This research by the Universities of Warwick and Birmingham could provide clues as to why humans evolved a desire to seek altered mental states and actively manipulate their emotions and perception of reality.
Researchers have observed online videos in which great apes — gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans — purposely spin to make themselves dizzy.
“Every culture has found a way to escape reality through specialized and particular rituals, practices or rituals,” said Dr Adriano Ramela, associate professor of psychology at the University of Warwick who co-led the study.
“This human trait of seeking to change states is so common historically and culturally that it raises the intriguing possibility that this may have been inherited from our evolutionary ancestors.
“If this is the case, it could have huge implications for how we think about the cognitive abilities and emotional needs of modern humans.”
The research team analyzed 40 videos and found that the primates rotated an average of 5.5 times per revolution, at an average speed of 1.5 rotations per second. They did this an average of 3 times.
The study compared spin speeds and found that the animals, when spinning with a rope, were as fast as professional human dancers and circus artists, as well as dervish Muslims who participate in spinning rituals to achieve trance.
Chimpanzee share partner – exhibits behaviors thought to be unique to humans
Parallels between ape and human behavior ‘beyond coincidence’
Dr Lameira added: “Spinning alters our state of consciousness, it disrupts our physical and mental responses and coordination, which makes us feel nauseous, dizzy, and even elated like kids playing a merry-go-round, merry-go-round – wheels and spins Trojan horse.”
He continued: “If all great apes sought dizziness, it’s highly likely that our ancestors did too.
“When it comes to the origin of human thought, we ask ourselves what role these actions play.
“Apes do this purposefully, almost as if they’re dancing — a mechanism known to humans to generally promote emotion regulation, social bonding and sensory enhancement that’s based on rotational movement.
“The parallels between what apes do and what humans do are no coincidence.”
Apes ‘intentionally keep spinning’ despite dizzy effects
The study found that in videos of animals twirling on ropes or vines, they spun the fastest and lasted the longest.
The researchers also tried spinning at these speeds and times themselves, and found it difficult to perform a third round at these speeds—the monkey was visibly dizzy at that point in the video and would likely lose its balance and fall.
“This suggests that the primates kept spinning on purpose, despite initially feeling dizzy, until they could no longer maintain their balance,” explained Dr Marcus Perlman, a lecturer in the Department of English and Linguistics at the University of London. Birmingham, who co-led the study.
Study could explain role of altered state on evolution of human mind
While past research trying to understand the motivations for spontaneous dizziness in humans has focused on the use of substances such as alcohol or drugs, it is uncertain whether human ancestors could have been exposed to these or other substances.
The researchers say the study may help explain the role of altered states in the evolution of the human mind.
Dr Ramela said: “The further back in human history you go, the less certain we are of the role that materially induced experiences played in our evolution.
“It’s not clear whether our ancestors had access to mind-altering substances, or whether they had the tools and knowledge to create them.
“For example, people may have access to grapes, but you can’t assume they have the tools or the knowledge to make wine.”
The researchers say further research is needed to understand the motivations for animals to engage in spinning behavior.
The study was published in the journal Primates.