ALL MY CHILDREN WILL LEARN to hypnotize chickens. I will teach them, just as my mother taught me.
You may ask: chicken hypnosis? Is this serious?
Absolutely. It's called tonic immobility. Darwin and Pavlov took an interest in it, and scientific literature on it dates back to the 17th century. Avian scholar Gordon G. Gallup Jr. has written a paper describing chicken hypnosis going back "at least to the Old Testament." At Kansas State University, animal scientist Thomas V. Craig is known for hypnotizing them in the classroom, sometimes two at a time. Craig has discovered that staring intently into the chicken's eyes makes the chicken stay hypnotized longer.
"If we sit and look directly at the bird, it will stay down three to five minutes," he says. This has nothing to do with with any occult Svengali powers, though. "You don't even need real eyes. You can do it with two ping-pong balls with black spots on them."
The trick, of course, is getting the chicken to sit still long enough that you can stare at it.
You do this by gently putting the chicken's head under its wing and then rocking the chicken in the sort of motion you'd use for a baby, but more vigorous. A minute or so later, you can lay that chicken down and it will stay as still as a Frank Perdue fryer in a shopping cart. You don't even have to stare at it.
In another popular method, you can grasp the chicken and press its head toward a piece of paper. When the chicken's beak nearly touches the paper, draw a line in front of it. When you remove your hands, the chicken just stands there, staring at the line. After a minute or so, it starts looking skeptical, and then it walks away with a sort of knowing ease, which is pleasant to see in a chicken.
You don't have to draw a line. You can draw a circle, too. You can draw anything. If you're a wise guy, like my friend Peter Dunne, you can write E=MC , which is Einstein's formula for relativity. Peter did this when we visited him and his wife Diane for our winter vacation one year. As always, we had had a hard time thinking of the perfect house present. Then we hit on the idea of a live chicken. I could teach Peter and Diane how to hypnotize it!
As it turned out, the chicken, a white Leghorn, induced a brief bout of tonic immobility in them as well, but once they got used to the chicken, Peter hypnotized it with Einstein's formula. We took a photograph of the chicken staring at the formula, and my daughter included the photograph in her science project.
As it turns out, none of this drawing business is necessary. Craig claims that all you have to do is "restrain the bird on its back for 15 seconds. Typically, 70 percent of hens go into tonic immobility on the first trial. Most of the ones who don't will do it on a second trial. Out of the hundreds of chickens I've worked with, there are only one or two who wouldn't do it."
Were they heroes or chumps? We'll never know. They may have been the chickens who proved that chickens, like humans, can't be hypnotized against their wills.
Do chickens have wills? In any case, Craig believes chickens go into tonic immobility out of fear, the way possums play possum. He believes that chickens aren't done any good by hypnosis, unlike humans who are trying to lose weight or quit smoking. But they aren't done any harm either. And unlike humans, hypnotized chickens don't get braced between chairs in sleazy nightclub acts, and sat upon by the hypnotist. ::