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Chicken Hypnotism (wikipedia.org)
153 points by ag8 on Aug 25, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 47 comments

By far the best part of the article:

> The United States military when trying to avoid divulging information gives reporters briefings with 25 minutes of intentionally dull PowerPoint presentations and 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone who is still awake. The presentations are called hypnotizing chickens.

also this:

> Notable people who have discussed chicken hypnotism:

> - Werner Herzog. "known to hypnotize chickens; he also hypnotized the cast of his 1976 film Heart of Glass"

I wanna watch this movie now.

From the movies own wikipedia article:

> During shooting, almost all of the actors performed while under hypnosis. [...] The hypnotized actors give very strange performances, which Herzog intended to suggest the trance-like state of the townspeople in the story. Herzog provided the actors with most of their dialogue, memorised during hypnosis. However, many of the hypnotised actors' gestures and movements occurred spontaneously during filming.

Thank you very much for pointing this out. Also very interesting the article about the first person to write about it: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athanasius_Kircher


When I worked at a startup, I had a boss who was a really nice guy, friend with the CEO, but very much in over his head. He had been a DBA who -- literally & by his own words -- had read a 24 hour book on Java and that was the extend of his knowledge. This was early 2000s so crazy, but not that crazy.

When I needed his blessing my approach was to start with the details, wait until I visibly see him start to tune out, start looking around the room out of boredom, then ask for permission on what I needed.

I never got a no. He was so happy for the meeting to be over he never disagreed. (And these were usually 10 minute tops.)

I suspect this is the principle behind all privacy policies, except there is no time for questions.

Is this really a hypnosis or just some primal defense system that kicks in, like "snake ahead, freeze". I had a pet python and I know for a fact that snakes will only eat moving food, if you just leave a dead mouse snake will not touch it (same as frogs and many other lizards and amphibians). Pray needs to move to attract the interest. So if you don't want to get eaten by a snake the perfect defense is exactly this, don't move a muscle, stand very still. And many animals have "hard-wired" defense against snakes, for instance like cats get scared by cucumbers and other snake like shapes, although they never seen a snake in their life. Just a wild theory of course, but it might be that?

I once had a small flock of chickens, they were a hybrid with some Surinamese jungle fowl, jet black and as small as pigeons. They cheeped rather than squawking. They never laid any eggs, and were eventually all eaten by raccoons.

Anyway, one day I looked out the window and they had all frozen solid, like someone hit them with a "time stop" spell. So the capability is obviously a defensive adaptation.[0] Why it can be triggered by the given techniques is a bit mysterious though.

In humans though you can interrupt motor patterns and get hypnotic trance. The search term is "handshake interrupt", there are videos. I went to a hypnotherapist who used it with me, and I started cracking up because I recognized what was happening and almost wrecked it, but then I made a conscious decision to "go with it". (It's weird how many "levels" there are in the psyche: who was going into trance? who was cracking up? who decided to go with it? who was it that went into trance? "A trance is only as deep as you are." is a powerful spell to break out of trance. Why does it work?)

Be advised that there are roving gangs of hypnotists warring in the streets for your attention.

[0] It works too. A friend of mine and I were climbing the scree below a cliff when we came across a mother brown eagle and her nest. She spread her wings to cover the nest and froze. She was so still that even though I was staring right at her from about thirty feet away, with my binocular color-vision eyes and human brain, I still could barely see her.

We left her in peace.

It isn't real hypnosis. It is the brain being hit with unusual or overwhelming stimulus and is basically blue-screening, locking up the entire system until something kicks it out of the loop and causes a reboot. Similar things happen to sharks if you put them upside down, or to deer caught in headlights at night. Unable to process what is happening, their brains just lock up.

Drawing the line probably forces the chicken's eyes to follow the object out of its stereo vision. Birds have amazing stereo vision right in front of their faces (so they don't smash their beaks when pecking at things). Trying to track an object moving directly out of this space might be just unusual enough to cause a system crash.

Deer in headlights is probably a much simpler explanation - their eyes+pupils are adapted to the dim light, and sudden application of headlights is blinding.

If you were suddenly blinded, you probably wouldn't respond by running either.

Faced with a predator at distance, deer freeze and depend on camouflage. A completely stationary deer is damn hard to see in the hills during the day. It's even more difficult to see at night. Faced with an oncoming car, they go with their natural reaction to stay still, and it works every time, except the last.

It's more complex than that. If I shine a light at you in the dark it will hurt. You will close your eyes, look away or shield your face. The deer don't even blink, the most primitive response to bright light. They are transfixed like the chicken.

Because looking away may lead to death.

When does a deer naturally get suddenly exposed to blinding light? Ignoring the response of "ah it's bright, look away" avoids false positives accidentally getting the deer killed. Actual positives never occurred during night time until humans developed artificial illumination.

I think when climbing up a tree you're often exposed to sudden sun in the face. Deer don't climb trees.

It is definitely real hypnosis. The definition of hypnosis is so vague and nebulous that this absolutely falls within the umbrella of “hypnosis.” To be specific it is visual hypnosis.

as a child I always thought hypnosis implied a state in which you can program a person to 1) do things 2) even if they are against their own interest, 3) immediately or at a later time, without them remembering 4) the cause being hypnosis, or 5) anything about the period under hypnosis, or 6) to recall information that is inaccessible to the unhypnotised brain...

over time I have seen the claim being totally watered down to apparently just intimidating a creature with primal fear for fun and profit.

All those claims are proven to be incorrect. Not even the best hypnotist in the world can hypnotize someone into doing something against their will.

I agree “intimidating a creature with primal fear for fun and profit” is not that cool.

But the claims you once believed were never true in the first place.

I never believed in hypnosis, what changed was my understanding of what people actually claimed hypnosis could do, and this change was the only constant thing about hypnosis. My father (an engineer) was down-to-earth enough to explain me math, physics, chemistry, ...

I do believe though in the somewhat debilitating conditions that exacerbate for a person who is already tired, like seeing repetitive long period highway lights, or road markings ... and of course innate primordial fears and reflexes...

Hypnosis is real. No question. Learn it for yourself and you’ll simply be astonished what you can accomplish.

However, in many ways hypnosis is synonymous with “learning.” Your father hypnotized you into learning math, physics, and chemistry... as do all effective teachers.

This isn’t entirely true. Pythons will happily eat a dead mouse. In fact, it’s even common to buy and store frozen mice and rats for small pythons. In my personal experience: 1) snakes that were fed frozen mice from a young age handle it better and 2) the mice needed to be microwaved or heated in some form. Generally, only my small ball pythons were frozen fed, though. My Burmese, carpets, and greens were all live fed.

Edit: first sentence referring to python eating patterns, to clarify.

I fed them frozen baby mouses, too, but I had to hold it and move it around until the snake grabs it. If I just drop it in, snake was completely indifferent about the food. Could be that you need to heat it, I never tried that.

In this demonstration, the rooster doesn't even mind having its leg pulled and prodded. I wonder how much discomfort it will endure before snapping out of it.


The rooster video is worth watching for the ending.

A BBC video on chicken hypnosis and, gulp, gator hypnosis:


I have a small flock and can confirm a similar "hypnotic" behavior. Sometimes when my rooster is being a punk I'll pick him up while I feed the rest. If he keeps trying to attack me I hold him on his back and he almost instantly falls "asleep".

Curiously enough, one of my hens managed to do this to herself on accident. She flew up on a fence and somehow got her spur caught in it (yes, some hens have spurs too). That resulted in her falling and basically hanging upside down by her foot. But instead of struggling she just went limp. I ran over to get her down and after being upright she slowly came back to (she was fine).

I love chickens. Lots of fond memories chasing after hens in my grandpa's backyard as a kid. We would put a basket over them, and ten minutes later, a fresh egg would appear. And then ten minutes later I would be eating scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Their sounds and movements are just really funny to me. They can also have interesting personalities. On occasion, one or two will be fairly smart in a tactical way, too. (Goats are similar.) Our family had them at different times.

One thing I saw in action was the Pecking Order. The alphas were jerks to the younger and smaller ones. They'd even eat when they probably weren't hungry. Starving them. So, I enjoyed chasing them away or holding them while the others got to eat first. I'm sure their massive egos suffered a great deal watching that display. Haha.

Holy cow, it's real. I had chickens as a kid growing up and I was told this. I tried it; never succeeded. The only thing I learned was that chickens don't like having their heads grabbed. I just assumed it was some rural urban-legend.

When I had chickens, if I tried to grab them I would get a face full of feathered wings

This just moved "build henhouse" several steps up on my TODO list... Tempted to follow the spirit of this one: https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/a-ufo-chicken-spac...

The chicken gravitron is full of flair, but to work gardening into the picture, I've settled on this for now:



The approach in the second link seems like a great compromise between free ranging and a chicken tractor, thanks!

Are there neurological explanations about why this happens? Does this also happen to other animals?

As a kid, I kinda took hypnosis for granted largely on the basis of cartoons.

It wasn't until I was in my twenties and had read up a little on human cognition and evolutionary psychology that it occurred to me to ask, "Wait, is hypnosis really a thing?"

I found a Scientific American article around that time that gave a pretty good summary of the state of scientific inquiry into human hypnosis. One of the things it pointed out that I thought was interesting: apparently, in controlled studies, there's no strong correlation between a person's predicted susceptibility to hypnosis and their observed or actual susceptibility.

I find the idea that Bugs Bunny could take control of mind by swinging a pocket watch in front of my face a little unnerving so that finding worried me. I always thought my naturally skeptical predisposition would serve to protect me.

Based on my reading, I've come to understand hypnosis neurologically as a composite or intensification of other more mundane phenomena. As the Wikipedia article on hypnosis puts it, "Hypnosis is a human condition involving focused attention, reduced peripheral awareness, and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion."

I've never been hypnotized. Well, beyond the general everyday forms. (The SA article pointed out that reading a book could be regarded as a form of self-hypnosis.) I have talked to people who swear they've been entranced by stage hypnotists.

I'm still largely puzzled as to why it might have a naturally selected basis. A vestige of our origins as less cognitively and culturally complex social organisms perhaps?

NICE open-mindedness in acquiring your hypnosis knowledge man.

>I’m still largely puzzled as to why it might have a naturally selected basis.

Well, you just said it yourself: reading is a form of auto-hypnosis. All communication has a hypnotic component. In many ways, hypnosis is synonymous with “learning.”

It has a naturally-selected basis for the same reason that being able to read has a naturally selected basis: it’s just advantageous to be able to learn quickly.

I would argue that while some forms of hypnosis could be considered a vestige of a less cognitively-complex time (thinking of “highway hypnosis” which has no clear evolutionary advantage), other forms of hypnosis represent the absolute pinnacle of cognitive development: everyone who learns a programming language must first hypnotize themselves into learning that language.

I believe there is a thing where sharks get turned over and stop moving.

Orcas use this technique to turn sharks upside down, induce tonic immobility, and then eat out the liver and leave rest of the carcass...


Here's a relevant news.yc discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15723393


Indeed. Here's a video of this being done:


Related: what’s the verdict on cat scruffing? Does it work? Should you do it to adult cats?

It works. You can also tie something around the middle of a cat like a teatowel and it has the same effect.

I used this to train a cat not to walk on my desk. Kept a teatowel and would do this every time for for a bit when ever it walked across my keyboard/papers while I was working.

Not sure if was ethical... Cat didnt seem in any discomfort, just annoyed it was stuck there. Was a while ago so not sure but seemed to train it ~5 times.

For adult cats, you might want to also support their weight instead of holding them up just by the scruff. It definitely works though.

Yes. Any vet will tell you: it works.

Sideshow (actual) geeks used this trick to keep chickens from wriggling when they bit their heads off. Heard so from my dad. Not sure where he heard it. Avid reader, but he was a journalist in the 1970s and early 1980s. He might have heard it from someone he interviewed. Maybe Red Skelton, as he would have been alive in an era that allowed it, and would have needed work in either a sideshow or circus.

This is why I always click Wikipedia articles linked on HN. Gold.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the way chickens use their eyes too. They're unable to move their eyes to account for movement so they instead repeatedly move their head once their body has moved more than a threshold amount, resulting in the typical strutting motion of their head.

And it occurs in Charles James Portis's novel Norwood, which is worth reading for many reasons...

Tim Ferriss recently had a podcast with a famous Stanford physics PhD on hypnosis https://tim.blog/2019/08/16/safi-bahcall/

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