Chicken hypnotism – Wikipedia

A chicken hypnotist and his assistant deftly hypnotize a chicken.

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,[1][2][3] which is probably a defensive mechanism intended to feign death, albeit rather poorly.[4]

The first known written reference for this method came in 1646, in Mirabele Experimentum de Imaginatione Gallinae by Athanasius Kircher in Rome.


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 waken 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.[5] H.B. Gibson, in his book Hypnosis – its Nature and Therapeutic Uses, states that the record period for a chicken remaining under hypnosis is 3 hours, 47 minutes.[6]

Notable people who have discussed chicken hypnotism[edit]

  • Helmut Kohl, German statesman. Kohl’s preferred method seems to be similar to that used by Werner Herzog, he used “a line drawn by chalk”.[7][full citation needed]
  • Al Gore, former U.S. vice-president, Nobel Peace Prize winner and ex-presidential candidate. Gore’s technique consisted of drawing circles around the chicken’s head.[8]
  • Werner Herzog. “known to hypnotize chickens; he also hypnotized the cast of his 1976 film Heart of Glass[9]
  • 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…”[10]
  • Adam Savage, in the Mythbusters Revealed special, is briefly seen hypnotising a chicken.[citation needed]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Friedrich Nietzsche, 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.”
  • Clark Gable, in the 1945 film Adventure hypnotizes a rooster while he and Greer Garson try to lure chickens from behind the bush by using the rooster as bait.
  • Werner Herzog has included chicken hypnotism in several films,[11] including the 1968 Signs of Life, which features a scene in which a chicken is hypnotized by a line drawn by chalk, and his 1974 film, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.
  • 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.
  • Ernest Hemingway briefly describes the process in The Dangerous Summer, comparing it to the hypnotic effect of a bullfighters’ cape. [12]
  • 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.[13]
  • 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.[14]
  • 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).
  • The Iggy Pop song “Lust for Life” contains a line referring to “hypnotizing chickens”, in a nod to William Burroughs‘ novel The Ticket That Exploded.[15]
  • In an episode of King of the Road, Toy Machine had to hypnotise a chicken as part of a special challenge whilst visiting legendary skater Jason Jessee. Jason first demonstrated his method by holding the chicken with his right hand by the feet and drawing tight circles with his left hand above the chickens left eye. This was repeated by professional skateboarder Daniel Lutheran to earn Toy Machine 100 points.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Gallup, G.G., Jr., (1979). Tonic immobility as a measure of fear in the domestic fowl. Animal Behaviour, 27: 316-317
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Maser, Jack D.; Gallup, Gordon G. (May – June 1974). “Tonic Immobility in the Chicken: Catalepsy Potentiation by Uncontrollable Shock and Alleviation by Imipramine” (PDF). Psychosomatic Medicine. 36 (3). doi:10.1097/00006842-197405000-00002. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007.
  5. ^ “How To Hypnotise A Chicken”. Archived from the original on 9 October 2007. Retrieved 4 March 2007.
  6. ^ “Experimental Animal Hypnosis”.
  7. ^ Stern magazine, 13 September 1996
  8. ^ Wilkinson, Howard (24 March 2000). “Gore does chicken dance”. The Cincinnati Enquirer. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 27 July 2005.
  9. ^ Jokinen, Tom (10 July 2013). “Like Hypnotized Chickens”. Random House of Canada. Archived from the original on 12 December 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  10. ^ “Chicken hypnotism”. Archived from the original on 27 July 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2007.
  11. ^ Cullum, Paul (August 28, 2012). “Werner Herzog: checken hypnotist”.
  12. ^ “Hypnotize a Chicken: Dr. Phil’s Got Nothing on Me!”. 27 August 2009.
  13. ^ “Even Cowgirls Get The Blues Script – Dialogue Transcript”. Drew’s Script-O-Rama. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  14. ^ Bumiller, Elisabeth (26 April 2010). “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint”. The New York Times. Retrieved 26 December 2015.
  15. ^ “Iggy Pop, ‘Lust for Life’ – 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Retrieved 21 March 2016.

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