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Bizarre study reveals how gorillas deliberately whirl around to make themselves dizzy and induce an ‘altered mental state’


There’s nothing quite as thrilling to a child as taking a ride on a fast-moving carousel.

And they’re not the only ones who enjoy feeling dizzy – as new research suggests great apes seek the same sensation.

Scientists have discovered primates regularly spin themselves in circles, possibly to reach an ‘altered mental state’.

And it could mean that our ancestors did the same thing for similar reasons.

A team from the universities of Birmingham and Warwick analysed 40 online videos of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans all engaging in spinning behaviours.

On average, the primates completed 5.5 spin circles, with an average of 1.5 revolutions per second, and did this repetitively three times.

The scientists compared spinning speeds and found the primates can spin while holding a rope as fast as professional human dancers and circus artists, as well as Dervish muslims who take part in whirling ceremonies to achieve a spiritual trance.

Dr Adriano Lameira, who co-led the study, said: ‘Spinning alters our state of consciousness, it messes up our body-mind responsiveness and coordination, which make us feel sick, lightheaded, and even elated as in the case on children playing in merry-go-rounds, spinner-wheels, and carousels.

‘What we wanted to try to understand through this study is whether spinning can be studied as a primordial behaviour that human ancestors would have been able to autonomously engage in and tap into other states of consciousness.


‘If all great apes seek dizziness, then our ancestors are also highly likely to have done so.

‘The apes were doing this purposefully, almost as if they were dancing – a known mechanism in humans that universally facilitates mood regulation, social bonding and heightens the senses and is based on rotation movements.

‘The parallel between what the apes were doing and what humans do was beyond coincidental.’

The researchers self-experimented spinning at these speeds and times and found it difficult to achieve the third bout of spin, as great apes did.

The primates were noticeably dizzy at this point in the videos, and they were likely to lose their balance and fall over.

‘This would indicate that the primates deliberately keep spinning, despite starting to feel the effects of dizziness, until they are unable to keep their balance any longer,’ Dr Marcus Perlman, who also worked on the study, said.

The researchers said the behaviour could be linked to mental health, as the primates could be bored, or it could be related to play.

‘If you think about a child’s playground, almost all the apparatus – swings, slides, seesaws and roundabouts or merry-go-rounds – they are all designed to challenge your balance or disrupt the body-mind responses,’ Dr Lameria added.



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