Our closest animal relatives are perhaps even more similar to us than previously assumed. According to a study by the British University of Warwick, great apes in the wild deliberately spin around in circles until they get dizzy. One possible reason: They want to get "high". According to the researchers, this could provide a key clue as to why humans have been striving to expand their mental states, whether through meditation, rituals or drugs, since the dawn of civilization.
The study was based on around 40 YouTube videos in which gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans repeatedly and apparently intentionally turn in circles until they feel dizzy. One "pass" lasted up to 28 revolutions, and the animals turned at an average speed of 1.5 revolutions per second. They also use lianas and ropes to spin even faster.
For comparison, the researchers used videos of human dancers, such as circus performers and ballet dancers. "Our results show that great apes spin at speeds that induce a physiological 'high' in humans," the authors said.
"Spinning alters our state of consciousness, throwing off our body-mind response and coordination, making us feel sick, light-headed or even elated, like children playing in merry-go-rounds, spinning wheels and merry-go-rounds," explains Professor Adriano Lameira in Psychology at Warwick University, who co-led the study.
Actually, in the animal kingdom only humans are known for their tendency to put themselves in an altered state of mind, the study authors write. Since the beginning of civilization, people from different cultures have used psychoactive substances for this purpose. It is difficult to say whether our ancestors also used drugs in some form.
However, if the turning behavior of the observed apes also applies to their fellow monkeys, it is at least very likely that our pre-human ancestors did the same. "If this is indeed the case, it would have enormous implications for our understanding of the cognitive abilities and emotional needs of modern humans," says Lameira.
However, it is also possible that the animals' habit is simply due to mental health - after all, the behavior has mostly been observed in monkeys in captivity. In any case, further research is needed to explain the behavior of the primates.
Sources: University of Warwick study; BBC; "Image of Science"