A chicken can be hypnotized, or put into a trance, by holding its head down against the ground, and drawing a line along the ground with a stick or a finger, starting at the beak and extending straight outward in front of the chicken. If the chicken is hypnotized in this manner, it will remain immobile for somewhere between 15 seconds and 30 minutes, continuing to stare at the line. Ethologists refer to this state as 'tonic immobility' i.e. a natural state of semi-paralysis that some animals enter when presented with a threat, which is probably a defensive mechanism intended to feign death, albeit rather poorly.
One technique of hypnosis is to hold the chicken face up with its back on the ground, and then run a finger downwards from the chicken's wattles to just above its vent. The chicken's feet are exposed, which allows easy application of medication for foot mites, etc. Clapping hands or giving the chicken a gentle shove will awaken it.
One can also hypnotize a chicken by mimicking how it sleeps - with its head under its wing. In this method, hold the bird firmly, placing its head under its wing, then, gently rock the chicken back and forth and set it very carefully on the ground. It should stay in the same position for about 30 seconds. H.B. Gibson, in his book Hypnosis - its Nature and Therapeutic Uses, states that the record period for a chicken remaining in hypnosis is 3 hours 47 minutes.
Notable people who have discussed chicken hypnotism
- Helmut Kohl, German statesman. Herr Kohl's preferred method seems to be similar to that used by Werner Herzog, he used "a line drawn by chalk". (Stern magazine, 13 September 1996)
- Al Gore, former U.S. vice-president, Nobel Peace Prize winner and ex-presidential candidate. Mr. Gore's technique consisted of drawing circles around the chicken's head.
- Steve Fairnie, 1980s British musician: "You have to dominate the chicken and be right above it staring into its eyes. Then it will either go under or it will attack you, so you have to be a bit careful..." (Fan-club magazine, 1983)
- Adam Savage, in the Mythbusters Revealed special is briefly seen hypnotising a chicken.
- In an interview with Will Smith during taping of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Smith discussed how he raised chickens as a boy and was fascinated by putting one of his chickens into hypnosis.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, renowned 19th-century German philosopher, in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra used a philosophical metaphor referring to the hypnosis of the chicken. It is in Chapter 6, "The Pale Criminal", and reads as follows: "The streak of chalk bewitcheth the hen; the stroke he struck bewitched his weak reason. Madness AFTER the deed, I call this."
- DC Comics hero The Vigilante hypnotizes a menacing rooster to protect himself and Stuff the Chinatown Kid, in the story "The Little Men who Were There" (Action Comics #69, 1944).
- Werner Herzog's has included chicken hypnotism in several films, including the 1968 Signs of Life, which features a scene in which a chicken is hypnotized by a line drawn by chalk.
- Federico Fellini's 1984 And the Ship Sails On features a scene in which a male opera singer hypnotises a chicken in the mess hall.
- Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" includes the line "I've been hurting since I bought the gimmick/About something called love ... Well, that's like hypnotizing chickens."
- Ernest Hemingway briefly describes the process in The Dangerous Summer, comparing it to the hypnotic effect of a bullfighters' cape.
- In E. Nesbit's book The House of Arden an old woman says that she has left a chicken in this state.
- In Bryce Courtenay's book The Power of One the witch-doctor Inkosi Inkosikasi uses this trick, though it is viewed as magic, and not as hypnotism.
- Criss Angel in his show Criss Angel Mindfreak hypnotized a chicken as a magic trick in the episode Burning Man.
- The 1993 film Even Cowgirls Get the Blues has some lines about chicken hypnotism and shows a character hypnotizing chickens by twirling them in the air exactly twenty times.
- 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.
- Thomas Hess, art critic and long time editor of ARTnews, uses chicken hypnotism to describe Barnett Newman's iconic "zip" paintings in a 1950 review: "There were some terrific optical illusions: if you stared closely at the big red painting with the thin white stripe, its bottom seemed to shoot out at your ankles, and the rectangular canvas itself appeared wildly distorted. It is quite like what happens to a hen when its beak is put on the ground and a chalk line drawn away from it on the floor. However, very few spectators actually became hypnotized" (ARTnews, March 1950).
- Gallup, G.G., Jr., Nash, R.F., Potter, R.J. and Donegan, N.H., (1970). Effect of varying conditions of fear on immobility reactions in domestic chickens (Gallus gullus). Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 73: 442-445
- Gallup, G.G., Jr., (1979). Tonic immobility as a measure of fear in the domestic fowl. Animal Behaviour, 27: 316-317
- Jones, B. and Faure, J.M. (1981). Tonic immobility ("righting time") in laying hens housed in cages and pens. Applied Animal Ethology 7: 369-372
- Slate: "Werner Herzon checken hypnotist"