A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Is it possible to hypnotize a chicken?

October 1, 1982

Dear Cecil:

During a recent movie at a local theater, there was a short feature in which this guy laid a chicken on its stomach, moved his finger in a straight line away from the chicken's beak, and thereby hypnotized the poor critter. Can this really be done? How does it work? Have you ever hypnotized a chicken?

Cecil replies:

Up till now I've pretty much had my hands full contending with turkeys, Randy my son. However, should chickens become equally worrisome, you can be sure I'll give hypnosis a shot. Remarkably enough, the technique described does work.

In the old days it was thought you had to draw a line in front of the chicken with chalk, but modern masters of the art have learned you can dispense with the props. The trick seems to require physically restraining the chicken and administering some strong stimulus, e.g., drawing lines. This induces sensory overload in the chicken's two-volt brain, putting him/her/it under for anywhere from 15 seconds to 30 minutes.

Alternatively, I understand, you can pop the chicken's cork with a beady-eyed stare. If it's pigeons you're after, a small piece of white putty on the end of the beak is recommended. Allegedly it's also possible to put the nod on a vicious horse by grabbing its nose, pulling its head down, and blowing "strongly and steadily into its ear for about five minutes," it says here. You first, buddy.

It's doubtful whether putting an animal into an apparent trance state can legitimately be regarded as hypnosis, in the sense that humans are hypnotized. Some regard it simply as a sort of freeze reaction, while others claim it's an attempt to feign death in hopes that the hypnotizer will lose interest and scoot.

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