Thursday, March 16, 2023

Great apes reach momentary altered mental states by spinning

Great apes reach momentary altered mental states by spinning. Adriano R. Lameira & Marcus Perlman. Primates, Mar 14 2023.

Abstract: Among animals, humans stand out in their consummate propensity to self-induce altered states of mind. Archaeology, history and ethnography show these activities have taken place since the beginnings of civilization, yet their role in the emergence and evolution of the human mind itself remains debatable. The means through which modern humans actively alter their experience of self and reality frequently depend on psychoactive substances, but it is uncertain whether psychedelics or other drugs were part of the ecology or culture of pre-human ancestors. Moreover, (nonhuman) great apes in captivity are currently being retired from medical research, rendering comparative approaches thus far impracticable. Here, we circumvent this limitation by harnessing the breadth of publicly available YouTube data to show that apes engage in rope spinning during solitary play. When spinning, the apes achieved speeds sufficient to alter self-perception and situational awareness that were comparable to those tapped for transcendent experiences in humans (e.g. Sufi whirling), and the number of revolutions spun predicted behavioural evidence for dizziness. Thus, spinning serves as a self-sufficient means of changing body-mind responsiveness in hominids. A proclivity for such experiences is shared between humans and great apes, and provides an entry point for the comparative study of the mechanisms, functions, and adaptive value of altered states of mind in human evolution.


Our findings show that great apes spin at speeds that induce physiological “highs” in humans. In untrained humans, spinning at similar rates inescapably produces severe dizziness (we invite the reader to try the observed average rotational speed, length or number of bouts performed by great apes reported here for instant validation). Notably, by comparing “recreational” spinning behaviour of apes to professional spinning in humans, our analyses were inherently conservative. Our findings, while exploratory, provide a proof of concept and a new charter for the study and comparison of spinning and altered mental states between humans and great apes.

Our preliminary findings point to several directions for the future study of spinning behaviour in apes and other species. One is to investigate questions related to evo-ecological constraints on spinning. For example, differences in spinning between orangutans (which are mostly arboreal) and gorillas (which are mostly ground-dwelling) could suggest neurological adaptation against motion sickness or vertigo (with faster speeds/more revolutions required for arboreal species to reach dizziness), similar to the reduction of the vestibular cerebellum observed in ballerinas and figure skaters (Nigmatullina et al. 2015). Differences in certain anatomical features between species may also help them leverage more or fewer revolutions when spinning (e.g. the gorillas never used foot grips, while the orangutans often did).

Our findings also raise interesting questions concerning whether this behaviour is performed more frequently by a particular age class or sex, for example, as part of play by juveniles or as part of male display. Because this behaviour in great apes appears to be idiosyncratic, performed by certain individuals rather than occurring across populations, we anticipate that answering these questions will pose an empirical challenge. If attainable, such effort could help provide new insight into the motivation for spinning behaviour and its ontogeny.

More conclusive comparisons between species, as well as between age classes and sexes, could be made possible by controlling for the proportions in which the relevant groups occur in captivity. For example, our findings suggest that bonobos—who are relatively scarce in captivity compared to chimpanzees, but were conversely well represented in our dataset—may more frequently engage in rope spinning than their sister species. Unexpectedly high rates of occurrence in a species with relatively small population sizes in captivity could suggest a higher predisposition to engaging in behaviour that leads to altered states.

Comparisons of captive and wild populations based on more data could also inform whether this behaviour is more likely to occur in animals in captivity, where they might engage in spinning and experience the ensuing state of dizziness as a way of overcoming low environmental stimulation or boredom. However, comparisons using data on wild individuals will probably be limited because recordings of them are rare and idiosyncratic (e.g. footage of wild mountain gorillas was present in our data, though this was the result of video coverage of some gorilla groups as a consequence of tourists filming them).

Although beyond the scope of analysis here, we have also observed videos of rope spinning by other primate species, including gibbons and monkeys. Future research may seek to determine whether other primates spin as frequently as great apes and in such a way that elicits dizziness and altered mental states. Increasing phylogenetic distance will, however, reduce interpretative power based on the physiological and cognitive homology of these species with humans.

To establish clear comparative benchmarks for future ape-human comparisons, it would be relevant to determine the minimum spinning speeds and lengths of time engaged in spinning necessary to induce altered states in humans, and how training affects and extends these limits. Ethnographic and anthropological studies of how children and adults use spinning and other non-pharmacological means to deliberately disrupt body and situational awareness (e.g. swings, slides, rollercoasters, bungee jumping) could provide complementary information about the role that these experiences play in our lives and, by extension, those of our ancestors over evolutionary time. Interestingly, some accredited zoos are reported to have re-used equipment from children’s playgrounds as enclosure enrichment for apes (R. Shumaker, personal communication). Widespread adoption of devices that make up typical children’s playgrounds for use in great ape facilities could provide dynamic stimulation and motoric challenge to individuals, while potentially helping to reveal more comprehensively, and in a controlled fashion, how and why great apes engage in mind-altering behaviours.

Educational attainment: Genetic variance accounted for 51% of the total variance, but within women and men, 40% and 58% of the total variance respectively

Nature, Nurture, and the Meaning of Educational Attainment: Differences by Sex and Socioeconomic Status. Thalida Em Arpawong et al. Twin Research and Human Genetics, March 13 2023.

Abstract: Estimated heritability of educational attainment (EA) varies widely, from 23% to 80%, with growing evidence suggesting the degree to which genetic variation contributes to individual differences in EA is highly dependent upon situational factors. We aimed to decompose EA into influences attributable to genetic propensity and to environmental context and their interplay, while considering influences of rearing household economic status (HES) and sex. We use the Project Talent Twin and Sibling Study, drawn from the population-representative cohort of high school students assessed in 1960 and followed through 2014, to ages 68−72. Data from 3552 twins and siblings from 1741 families were analyzed using multilevel regression and multiple group structural equation models. Individuals from less-advantaged backgrounds had lower EA and less variation. Genetic variance accounted for 51% of the total variance, but within women and men, 40% and 58% of the total variance respectively. Men had stable genetic variance on EA across all HES strata, whereas high HES women showed the same level of genetic influence as men, and lower HES women had constrained genetic influence on EA. Unexpectedly, middle HES women showed the largest constraints in genetic influence on EA. Shared family environment appears to make an outsized contribution to greater variability for women in this middle stratum and whether they pursue more EA. Implications are that without considering early life opportunity, genetic studies on education may mischaracterize sex differences because education reflects different degrees of genetic and environmental influences for women and men.


In this article, we addressed a long-standing question on the importance of nature, via genetic endowment, and nurture, via shared and unique environmental influences, for EA. We found that the balance of nature and nurture underlying EA is not uniform between sexes. First, men and women who were raised in homes with higher household economic status had more years of EA and greater variability in EA than those raised in homes with lower household economic status. Second, we found that overall, there was larger genetic and total variance underlying EA for men than women. Third, nature makes the largest contribution for individuals from the highest family-of-origin economic backgrounds for both men and women. When sex and household economic stratum are both considered, absolute genetic variance contributes similar amounts for men across the economic strata, as well as for women from only the highest economic strata. For women in the lowest and middle economic strata, genetic variance contributes much less to the variability in EA compared to women in the highest economic stratum and to male counterparts across all economic strata. Unexpectedly, for women from the middle economic stratum, it appears that family rearing environment, which may in part reflect parents’ own genetic endowments, may take on an outsized role in contributing to EA. These results confirm that critical interrelationships exist, with nurture moderating effects of nature to alter the range of influence possible on EA. Greater total variance and expression of genetic potential for EA is afforded differently by degree of household economic resources when growing up and in combination with sex or gender.

Findings from this study help us understand the etiology of EA and that EA does not mean the same thing across people, especially for older women today, who were born in the early 1940s. Differences in household economic resources contribute to a disparity in total years of education attained, evidenced by lower overall means and less variability in years of EA for both men and women in the lowest household economic brackets. The finding on differing sources of variance for EA for women by socioeconomic strata was not detectable when examining phenotypic HES × sex effects in predicting EA. This points out that null results in phenotypic models that test sex interactions do not preclude there being differences in etiologies for men and women, particularly with regard to outcomes like EA that are likely influenced by complex processes related to gender socialization and expectations.

Overall, genetic variance accounted for more variation in men’s EA than women’s, at 58% and 40% of the total variance respectively. This is consistent with the ranges for sex-specific calculations reported in prior literature (Baker et al., Reference Baker, Treloar, Reynolds, Heath and Martin1996; Branigan et al., Reference Branigan, McCallum and Freese2013; Heath et al., Reference Heath, Berg, Eaves, Solaas, Corey, Sundet, Magnus and Nance1985; Nielsen & Roos, Reference Nielsen and Roos2015). In turn, the role of nurture was greater for women than for men. This finding supports the interpretation that socio-cultural factors and opportunities shape different trajectories of expression of genetic endowment for men and women (Allan, Reference Allan2011; Klein et al., Reference Klein, Ortman, Campbell, Greenberg, Hollingsworth, Jacobs, Kachuck, McClelland, Pollard, Sadker, Sadker, Schmuck, Scott and Wiggins1994). In this cohort, men were able to pursue genetically driven talents for EA irrespective of socioeconomic strata of their families of origin, but women did not have the same benefit unless in the highest HES group. These findings are in line with prior research that has not detected SES-by-sex differences in the heritability of EA (Branigan et al., Reference Branigan, McCallum and Freese2013; Silventoinen et al., Reference Silventoinen, Krueger, Bouchard, Kaprio and McGue2004) in countries that implement social policies to promote equity in access to educational opportunities (Ahola et al., Reference Ahola, Hedmo, Thomsen and Vabø2014; Gorard & Smith, Reference Gorard and Smith2004; Kyrö & Nyyssölä, Reference Kyrö and Nyyssölä2006). Our findings also support evidence thus far on sex differences by country and birth cohort that show EA likely reflects accumulated genetic sensitivities to the environment (gene-by-SES and gene-by-sex) that are different depending on environmental circumstances (Heath et al., Reference Heath, Berg, Eaves, Solaas, Corey, Sundet, Magnus and Nance1985; Silventoinen et al., Reference Silventoinen, Krueger, Bouchard, Kaprio and McGue2004), and therefore support for G × E effects, by sex and socio-economic group. This points to the results reflecting an opportunity structure and differences in men’s and women’s lived experiences, not biological sex differences.

Shared family estimates from this study are substantially smaller than what is reported in the most recent meta-analysis of proportional variance, yet closer to what is expected given prior knowledge of twin and family studies of other traits (Turkheimer, Reference Turkheimer and DiLalla2004). Shared environmental variance encompasses family-level resources, including the measured component of household economic status and nonmeasured components, such as family activities and behaviors modeled at home to facilitate exposure to scholarly interests or success in academic pursuits, an living in social and built environments that promote EA. These are not entirely distinguishable from the larger community-level environmental factors that members from the same household share, such as better school quality, or access to healthcare services that promote mental and emotional health. Among women in the middle socioeconomic stratum, the shared family environment appears to make a particularly weighty contribution to greater variability in whether these women pursue higher educational attainment. Conceptually, the family-level resources can have genetic components (e.g., through genetic-environment correlation, effects of assortative mating), but given that twin correlations for both MZ and DZ women were similar and large, this implies that twin and sibling members of the family experience them as a part of their shared, social environment.

Environmental factors on EA that are resources unique to the individual could include parent expectations placed on individual children, peer encouragement, varied learning opportunities offered by teachers, or experiences after school that reinforce scholarly pursuits. When comparing estimates by sex and HES strata, differences in unique, individual-specific experiences are relatively small. Although it is possible these factors have profound influence on particular individuals, findings suggest that adolescents who grew up with more influences from both unique factors and socioeconomic resources in the family are more variable in whether they pursue higher educational opportunities.

The balance of nature and nurture components holds implications for use of EA to predict later life outcomes for different groups. While there are robust and consistent correlations in the literature between education and cognitive function (Opdebeeck et al., Reference Opdebeeck, Martyr and Clare2016; Ritchie & Tucker-Drob, Reference Ritchie and Tucker-Drob2018), our prior work showed that genetic variance underlying earlier life cognitive ability overlaps only 11% with genetic variance sources for EA (Arpawong et al., Reference Arpawong, Zavala, Gatz, Gruenewald and Prescott2018). This finding suggests that the strong relationship between education and cognition is predominantly driven by overlapping nurture components, including life experiences and resources. Relatedly, while education has shown strong predictive ability for cognitive impairment and dementia (Caamaño-Isorna et al., Reference Caamaño-Isorna, Corral, Montes-Martínez and Takkouche2006), it has also shown differential ability to predict dementia risk by sex. In particular, education has the lowest predictive value for risk of dementia among women in more impoverished countries (Sharp & Gatz, Reference Sharp and Gatz2011). Given our findings, we speculate that constrained potential in lower resourced countries and for women means that irrespective of genetic potential, there is less opportunity for these women to attain education; hence, this reduces the overlapping genetic variance between education and cognition. If access to education is driven by within-country environmental factors (e.g., access to resources to pay for education, social prioritization of academic achievement for boys vs. girls), this likely reduces the genetic correlations for EA and cognitive status. In contrast, in higher resourced countries and for men, genetic endowment has more opportunity for expression and thus greater overlap.

In this Project Talent sample, we had limited power to test effects of other social constraints, such as racial/ethnic inequalities. Additionally, we are unable to assess mechanisms by which socioeconomic bracket influences educational differences beyond the variance components quantified, or for those who would not have attended high school given the recruitment design for Project Talent and compulsory schooling laws. Furthermore, we cannot conclude causal associations. For instance, common concerns about causal inference in observational studies center on issues of reverse causation and confounding (McGue et al., Reference McGue, Osler and Christensen2010). With the present study, we use a longitudinal design where genetics and household economic status precede educational attainment, thus alleviating the first concern. With the second concern, invoking the twin design enables us to control for genetics and shared family environment, and thereby account for the degree of influences from unmeasured environmental factors, or potential confounders (McGue et al., Reference McGue, Osler and Christensen2010). Thus, although we are not able to establish causality with this study, we are able to make inferences for the direction of effects. A limitation to the design is our inability to make general inferences about siblings because those included are all siblings of twins, and siblings within the same age range of twins, and thus are not representative of the experience of all siblings within families. Lastly, results are likely cohort specific because our estimates align well with prior research evaluating variance sources in education in individuals born between 1940 and 1961 (Heath et al., Reference Heath, Berg, Eaves, Solaas, Corey, Sundet, Magnus and Nance1985). Follow-up analyses in younger cohorts will be important to compare differences in findings.

Epidemic: Overall, this study lends support to the idea that smartphones can be beneficial for individuals, particularly during times when face-to-face interaction is limited

Did smartphones enhance or diminish well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic? Jennifer L. Heyman and Kostadin Kushlev. Front. Psychol., March 13 2023, Volume 14 - 2023 |

Introduction: As smartphones have become increasingly integrated into people’s lives, researchers have attempted to answer whether they are beneficial or detrimental to well-being. Of particular interest to the current study is the role that smartphones played during the first year of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Methods: In an intensive longitudinal study, we explore how varying uses of smartphones relate to well-being using the Displacement-Interference-Complementarity framework.

Results: Consistent with pre-pandemic research, we show that people felt better, calmer, and more energetic when they used their phones more for complementary purposes (i.e., to access information, entertainment, and connection not otherwise available). In contrast to most pre-pandemic research, however, we find no evidence that any type of phone use predicted lower well-being during the pandemic.

Discussion: Overall, this study lends support to the idea that smartphones can be beneficial for individuals, particularly during times when face-to-face interaction is limited.


We find that in a time of high social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, people reaped the benefits of phone use for well-being without incurring the costs associated with phone use in pre-pandemic research. Specifically, consistent with pre-pandemic research (e.g., Kushlev et al., 2017), we find that people who used their phones in a complementary way—to access information, entertainment, and connection not otherwise available—felt better, calmer, and more energetic. Furthermore, we show that the same individuals felt better, calmer and more energetic on days when they used their phones for complementary purposes. Pre-pandemic research also shows, however, that phone use often undermines well-being, especially when it displaces (Lanaj et al., 2014Hughes and Burke, 2018) or interferes with other activities (Dwyer et al., 2018Kushlev and Dunn, 2019). In contrast, we found no evidence that phone interference or displacement predicted lower well-being during the initial stages of the pandemic. Thus, though the pre-pandemic literature has generally linked phone use and screentime with poorer well-being (Twenge and Campbell, 2019), we find that phone use during the pandemic was associated with higher, not lower well-being.

In line with previous research, phone complementarity was related to higher levels of well-being. That is, the greater affordance to information and opportunities provided by a phone was related to people having better moods, feeling calmer, and feeling more energetic. The ease of access to information and opportunities may have become even more important during the COVID-19 Pandemic when face-to-face social contact was severely limited, which significantly increased people’s level of stress (Halliburton et al., 2021). Therefore, using one’s phone to maintain existing relationships and gain access to information may have facilitated in maintaining some semblance of pre-pandemic life, thus predicting higher well-being.

People typically feel worse when their phone use displaces activities critical for well-being, such as sleep (Lanaj et al., 2014). We find little evidence that phone displacement undermined well-being during the pandemic. This may be because there were fewer positive activities that phone use could displace during the pandemic when social activities and events were discouraged. Presumably, however, people needed just as much sleep during the pandemic as they did pre-pandemic. As lockdowns disrupted routines, sleep–wake cycles were delayed during the pandemic (Sinha et al., 2020). Thus, in the relative lack of routine during the pandemic, phone use may have been less likely to displace sleep. Finally, as the pandemic introduced new stressors, phone displacement might have been beneficial for well-being by displacing more stressful activities (Kushlev and Leitao, 2020) and introducing a welcome source of distraction (Sheppes and Meiran, 2007Quoidbach et al., 2010).

In contrast to pre-pandemic research, we found no evidence that phone interference predicted lower well-being. Just as with displacement, this lack of effect may be due to the relative lack of rewarding activities associated with social distancing. Indeed, most previous research on the interference effects of phones has shown that phones decrease well-being precisely by interfering with face-to-face social interactions (Dwyer et al., 2018Kushlev and Dunn, 2019). In addition, during the COVID-19 Pandemic, phones may have also interfered with activities harmful to well-being, such as rumination. Overall, then, though null findings should be interpreted with caution, our evidence suggests that phone use may not have been as harmful during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Our findings were generally consistent with the Displacement–Interreference–Complementarity Framework: During a time of limited rewarding activities, complementary phone use continued to predict higher well-being, whereas well-documented phone interference and displacement effects were absent. According to the framework, however, at higher levels of social distancing, phone complementarity effects should have been stronger and phone displacement and interference effects should have been weaker. But we found little evidence that these effects depended on how much people socially distanced. Other research during the pandemic, however, showed that the benefits of online social interactions for well-being were greater when social distancing measures were more extreme (Marinucci et al., 2022). Specifically, online social interactions predicted lower distress only during the severe isolation stage in Italy that included prohibiting people from leaving their homes except for work and urgent health reasons. The social distancing measures that our participants in the United States experienced were much milder in comparison and participants, on average, reported high but not extreme levels of practicing social distancing (M = 3.12 on a scale from 1–not at all to 4–completely). Relatedly, people in our sample did not differ much in the extent to which they practiced social distancing, potentially preventing us from detecting moderating effects. Indeed, the extent to which people varied in their social distancing practices was low in this sample at both the within (SD = 0.58) and between (SD = 0.71) person levels.

This study had several important limitations that should be discussed. First, participants self-report on their levels of phone displacement, interference, and complementarity. However, people tend to misestimate the extent to which they use their phones. Future research should use more objective techniques, such as phone tracking, or peer reports in accordance with self-reports to gain a better understanding of how people are using their phones and the extent to which it relates to well-being. In addition, we used ad hoc measures of displacement, interference, and complementarity. Though theoretically justified, it is important for future research to develop validated measures of these constructs. For example, we measured phone displacement as the amount of time people spent on their phones in bed, the extent to which they used their phones more than they wanted to, and their total screentime. This crude measure of displacement fails to distinguish between screen time that displaces positive versus negative activities. As such, future research should utilize more precise measures of phone displacement, perhaps by explicitly asking people if they chose to use their phones over partaking in specific other activities. Furthermore, this study was conducted solely in the United States. However, other countries tend to use their phones in different ways (Langer et al., 2017) and have had different responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic (Kennedy et al., 2020). Therefore, future research should collect a more diverse sample to improve the generalizability of these results.

In sum, there is consistent evidence to suggest that using one’s phone for complementary purposes is associated with increases in well-being, as indicated by better mood, feeling calmer, and feeling more energetic, whereas spending more time on one’s phone and reporting that one’s phone interferes with daily life are generally not significantly associated with feeling good, calm, or energetic. Furthermore, we do not find consistent evidence that social distancing influences these associations. This study highlights the idea that phone use can be beneficial to individual’s well-being if it is used to complement their existing experiences.