Hypnosis in Animals

I know it may sound strange, but one of the most fascinating phenomena of nature is the fact that you can actually hypnotize animals. I’m not talking about playing a recording with positive affirmations for your dog. Apparently that’s a thing. By animal hypnosis I mean inducing the state of immobility known as 'catalepsy,' which is also observed in humans in some states of hypnosis. Here’s how you do it.

Chicken Hypnosis
Grasp a chicken by its neck and place it in a horizontal position with its head flat on a table. With chalk or a marker draw a line two feet directly out from its beak and the eye that is closest to the surface. Carefully remove your hands, and the chicken will remain motionless in a trance. To awaken the chicken, clap your hands loudly and move its head away from the line. You can also let it emerge from hypnosis on its own. Strangely, if you hypnotize several chickens together and leave them to awaken on their own, they will awaken together.

Guinea Pig Hypnosis
To hypnotize a guinea pig, roll it over a few times, then lay it on its back. It will remain still. To awaken the guinea pig from hypnosis, blow on its nose and turn it onto its feet.

Rabbit Hypnosis
Lay the rabbit on its back, and part its ears with one hand so that they are both laying flat on the table. With the other hand hold the rabbit’s legs down to the table so that it is completely stretched out on its back. Hold it in this position for about thirty seconds. Remove your hands carefully, and the rabbit will remain in position. To awaken the rabbit, blow on its nose and push it onto its side.

Pigeon Hypnosis
Grab hold of a pigeon and turn it upside down. Now wave it back and forth in a circle, then place it on the ground on its back. It will remain there. Clap your hands to awaken the pigeon.

Alligator Hypnosis
If you are unlucky enough to be on top of an alligator, hold its jaws shut, turn it onto its back, and extend its neck. As long as the alligator is upside down it will remain motionless. To awaken the alligator, flip it back over onto its feet. After emerging from hypnosis alligators tend to be a lot less relaxed than people, and may want to kill you.

Frog and Lizard Hypnosis
The alligator method also works on lizards and frogs. To hypnotize a lizard or a frog, put it on its back and hold it still for a few seconds. Remove your hands, and it will remain motionless. To remove the hypnosis flip it back over.

Snake Hypnosis
Though they can sense vibrations, snakes are deaf. Cobras are not hypnotized by the sound of the snake charmer’s music, but by the back and forth movements of the instrument and the charmer.

Lobster Hypnosis
Believe it or not, you can hypnotize a lobster by standing it on its head, using its claws to support it in that position. Hold it that way for a few moments, and it will go to sleep. To awaken the lobster just set it back onto its legs. This is actually in some cookbooks.

Spider Hypnosis
The female spiders that kill their mates often hypnotize the male into immobility before mating by stroking its belly.

In most of these examples, the catalepsy is produced in the animal by physical manipulation, such as forced immobility, movement, or touch. This is usually an instinctual response. Because predators can spot movement, freezing is an inborn survival mechanism. In general, a sudden fright or shock can cause certain animals, including humans, to have a death-feint, or to ‘freeze.’ Some theories assert that hypnosis in humans triggers this primitive response when the procedure demands so much focus that the rest of the environment is reduced or eliminated. Though some of the earliest oriental methods of hypnosis used a loud gong to shock the person into trance, modern hypnotherapy uses physical relaxation and the symbolic meanings of words to limit the attention and focus the mind.

As a final note, one interesting difference between hypnosis in humans and animals is that repetitive hypnosis decreases susceptibility to future hypnosis in animals, but increases susceptibility in humans. Humans tend to go deeper and deeper into trance with repeated hypnosis, then plateau at a particular depth specific to them.

So now it’s time to experiment. Does anyone know where I can find a chicken in New York City?


A History of Hypnosis: from Ancient Times to Modern Psychology

Hypnosis is surrounded by many myths and misconceptions. Unfortunately, despite thorough scientific research and wide clinical use, some people are scared off needlessly by the stigma that hypnosis is a mystical or esoteric procedure. As a hypnotherapist I have found that some people assume hypnosis is a recent innovation of the New Age movement, which spread through metaphysical communities in the 1970s and 1980s. Actually, hypnosis has been used in the United States since the mid-1800s, and was advanced by pioneers of modern psychology like Sigmund Freud, Pierre Janet, and Alfred Binet among others. This installment considers the history of hypnosis from ancient times to its eventual investigation by modern psychologists, physicians, and researchers.

Hypnosis in Ancient Times
The origins of hypnosis are inseparable from those of western medicine and psychology. Practically all ancient cultures, including the Sumerian, Persian, Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman, used hypnosis in some form. In Egypt and Greece, the sick often went to healing places known as sleep temples or dream temples to be cured by hypnosis. In ancient India, the Sanskrit book known as The Law of Manu described different levels of hypnosis: “Sleep-Waking,” “Dream-Sleep,” and “Ecstasy-Sleep.”

Some of the earliest evidence of hypnosis for healing comes from the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, dating to 1550 B.C. Another Egyptian papyrus (Pap. A. Nr. 65) describes the laying of hands on the patient, hand passes, and eye-fixation.

Magnetism, Fluidism, and Mesmerism
For many centuries, especially during the Middle Ages, kings and princes were believed to have the power of healing through the “Royal Touch.” Their miraculous healings were attributed to divine powers. Before hypnosis was well understood, the terms “magnetism” and “mesmerism” were used to describe these healing phenomena.

The Swiss physician Paracelsus (1493-1541) was the first to use magnets for healing, instead of the divine touch or a holy relic. This method of healing was still around into the 18th century, when Maximillian Hell, a Jesuit priest and the Royal Astronomer in Vienna, became famous for healing by using magnetized steel plates on the body. One of Hell’s students was Franz Mesmer, the Austrian physician from whom we derive the word “mesmerize.” Mesmer discovered that he could induce trance without magnets, and concluded (incorrectly) that the healing force must come from himself or from an invisible fluid that occupied space.

One of Mesmer’s students, the Marquis de Puysegur, became a successful magnetist and the first to produce a deep form of hypnosis similar to somnambulism (sleep-walking). Followers of Puysegur and the Paracelsus-Mesmer fluidism theory called themselves “Experimentalists.” The work of Mesmer and the Experimentalists was a step in the right direction to recognize that the cures they observed came not from a magnet or object, but from some other force.

The Power of Suggestion – Faria, Liebeault, Bernheim, and the Nancy School
In 1813, an Indo-Portuguese priest known as Abbe Faria conducted research on hypnosis in India, and returned to Paris to study hypnosis with Puysegur. Faria proposed that it was not magnetism or the power of the hypnotist that was responsible for trance and healing, but a power generated from within the mind of the subject.

Faria’s approach was the basis for the clinical and theoretical work of the French school of hypnosis-centered psychotherapy known as the Nancy School, or the School of Suggestion. The Nancy school held that hypnosis was a normal phenomenon induced by suggestion, not the result of magnetism. The Nancy school was founded by Ambroise-Auguste Liebeault, a French country doctor who is considered to be the father of modern hypnotherapy. Liebeault believed that the phenomena of hypnosis were psychological and disregarded theories of magnetism. He studied the similarities between sleep and trance, and saw hypnosis as a state that could be produced by suggestion.

Liebeault’s book Sleep and its Analogous States was published in 1866. His writings and the stories of his cures attracted the prominent physician Hippolyte Bernheim to visit his clinic. Bernheim (1840-1919) was a renowned neurologist who was at first skeptical of Liebeault, but after observing Lieubault he was so amazed by that he abandoned internal medicine to become a hypnotherapist. Bernheim brought Liebeault’s ideas about suggestion to the attention of the medical world with his book Suggestive Therapeutics, from which hypnosis emerged as a science. Liebeault and Bernheim are the innovators of modern psychotherapy. Their views prevailed, and to this day hypnosis is still seen as a suggestion phenomenon.

Pioneers of Psychology
Some of the pioneers of psychology studied hypnosis in both the Nancy and Paris Schools. Pierre Janet (1859-1947), who developed theories of unconscious processes, dissociation, and traumatic memory, studied hypnosis with both Bernheim in Nancy and the rival school of Charcot in Paris. Sigmund Freud also studied hypnosis with Charcot and later observed Bernheim, and Liebeault. Freud began practicing hypnosis in 1887, and hypnosis was crucial to his invention of psychoanalysis.

Hypnotic Anesthesia
During the period of intense psychological investigation of hypnosis , a number of physicians developed the use of hypnosis for anesthesia. In 1821, Récamier performed a major operation using hypnosis for anesthesia. In 1834, the British surgeon John Elliotson, who introduced the stethoscope to England, reported numerous painless surgical operations using hypnosis. James Esdaile, the Scottish surgeon, performed over 2,000 minor and 345 major operations using hypnosis in the 1840s and 1850s.

Modern Hypnotism
The Scottish ophthalmologist James Braid is the father of modern hypnotism. It was Braid who first coined the term neuro-hypnotism (nervous sleep), which later became “hypnotism” and “hypnosis” (1841). Braid had visited a demonstration of a French magnetist, La Fontaine in 1841. He scoffed at the ideas of the Mesmerists, and was the first to suggest that hypnosis was psychological. Braid is perhaps the first practitioner of psychosomatic medicine. In 1847 he tried to explain hypnosis by “monoideism” (focus on one idea), but the term “hypnosis” had advanced in the work of the Nancy School, and is still the term used today.

Hypnosis in America
In America, the use of hypnosis for rapid treatment of injuries and trauma in WWI, WWII, and the Korean conflict led to a renewed interest in hypnosis in the fields of dentistry and psychiatry. The next installment on the history of hypnosis will look at the further development of hypnosis in America.


Hypnosis and the Placebo Effect

The placebo effect is that remarkable phenomenon where an inactive substance or otherwise fake treatment has a real effect on a patient’s condition. The placebo effect has been investigated since at least 1799. Some of the foundational research on the subject suggests that placebo effects occur in about 35% of people. (“The Powerful Placebo,” Henry Beecher, 1955.) Placebos have documented effects on pain, asthma, tension, anxiety, depression, blood pressure, heart rate, sexual arousal, skin conditions, nausea, vomiting, gastric motility, and angina. Under some circumstances placebos even produce effects that are stronger than those of active drugs. (“Hypnosis and Placebos: Response Expectancy as a Mediator of Suggestion Effects,” Irving Kirsch, 1999.)

While the placebo effect can be powerful, it is sometimes stated incorrectly that hypnosis works as a placebo, and that the effects of hypnosis are merely a placebo effect due to the patient’s beliefs and expectations. While positive expectancy is an important part of hypnosis, hypnosis is not the same as the placebo effect in terms of responsiveness, physiological effect, or administration.

Efficacy, or responsiveness, is the most important consideration from a practical standpoint, and there are significant differences here between hypnosis and the placebo effect. One study found that for subjects insusceptible to hypnosis, some pain reduction may be achieved with hypnosis, but it corresponds to the reduction by placebo. However, for subjects highly susceptible to hypnosis, pain reduction with hypnosis is far greater than by placebo. For these subjects, the average placebo response is negligible or even negative (“The nature of hypnotic analgesia and the placebo response to experimental pain,” McGlashan, Evans, & Orne, 1969). A further difference in responsiveness is that responses to hypnosis are notoriously trait-like , while responses to placebos are comparatively unreliable. There does not appear to be a “placebo reactor” comparable to the “hypnotizable subject.” (Kirsch, 1999.)

In terms of brain activity, there are similarities between hypnotic and placebo when used for analgesia for pain. Both hypnosis and placebo activate the somatosensory cortex, insula, thalamus, anterior cingulate cortex, and prefrontal cortex. However, there are also major differences in brain activity between hypnosis and placebo effects. With placebo, decreased pain is associated with changes in several parts of the limbic system (such as the amygdala, hypothalamus and hippocampus) as well as in the periaqueductal gray and the nucleus accumbens. Instead, hypnotic pain relief is accompanied by changes of activity in the occipital cortex and basal ganglia. (“Brain activity during pain relief using hypnosis and placebo treatments,” Svetlana Kierjanen, 2012.)

Hypnosis is different from a placebo in an important regard, which has to do with ethics. The administration of placebos requires that they be presented deceptively as pharmacological treatments. The use of placebos in medicine is therefore a controversial topic. Hypnosis does not require deception in order to be effective. Hypnosis is a non-deceptive means of exploiting the therapeutic power of suggestion. Doctors and patients can benefit from understanding hypnosis and the power of suggestion. As Voltaire once stated, “there is probably more cure in the doctor’s words than in many of the drugs he prescribes.”