The truth is ‘sort of”.
Certain animals can be encouraged to alter their state using particular techniques. The use of these techniques is well-documented, however, it is widely misunderstood for many reasons (Gallup, 1977). These practices do bear some similarities and differences to the practice of hypnotism in humans.
Hypnosis with humans is primarily given using verbal communication in the form of suggestions to produce subjective changes in their experience. This is difficult with animals can verbal suggestions are…. more difficult. Furthermore, it is difficult to know the subjective experience of the animals as they are not able to communicate as readily as human subjects. The animals may not be as self-aware and as introspective as humans. So, when they are in a state of immobility, it is difficult to know what else is happening for them. Other changes (that we know of) that can occur during tonic immobility include changes in heart rate, respiration and core temperature, intermittent eye closure, Parkinsonsian-like tremors of the legs, altered EEG patterns and reduced responsiveness to external stimuli. Researchers have experimented with various methods to find out what is going on. Giancarlo (1974) implanted electrodes in the skills of rabbits (ECoG) and in the limb muscles (EMG) to measure heart rate and blood pressure during TIS experiences.
The only state that has been created in animals is tonic immobility state (TIS) also known as ‘totsellreflex’ and ‘fright paralysis’. In contrast, whilst a relaxed catatonic state is often used in hypnosis, it is not necessary or essential. TIS is thought to have developed as a defence because many predators react to movement. Some animals that have been shown to have this ability include:
It is well documented with humans that hypnosis is a learning state. You can learn to be a better hypnotic responder with repeated practice. In contrast, Gilman, Marcuse & Moore (195) demonstrated a progressive decrease in proportion of susceptibility and in duration of the trance with chickens. They found they had to change a number of aspects of their ‘induction’ process to increase the chicken’s susceptibility.
There have been some studies showing promising results using TIS. Castiglioni (2009) demonstrated that TIS can modulate pain perception in rabbits and also found that the TIS condition rabbits were significantly less distracted than the other control rabbits. This is similar to human hypnosis as hypnosis is very effective in modulating pain perception.
The clip below comes from a BBC documentary where they demonstrate how a range of animals can exhibit tonic immobility (alligators, chickens & pigeons).
This is another demonstration from a five year old Chinese girl where she creates tonic immobility in five animals in a row (dog, frog, lizard, rabbit and chicken).
The methods that Jiaying is using involve inverting the animals (flipping them over) and petting them into the state. Many other researchers used methods which typically involve physically restraining the animal which becomes immobile for a certain period of time. In saying that, there are other methods. A particularly well-known one is referred to as ‘clipnosis’ in which cats and kittens are immobilized by picking them up by the scruff of the neck. This can also be done by pinching the skin from the neck to the shoulder blades. In the literature it is referred to as pinch-induced behavioural inhibition (PIBI). Mice show something similar when infants under six months of age are carried by their walking mother, they will immediately stop voluntary movement and crying, showing significant decreases in heart rate (Esposito et al., 2013).
Certain animals can be encouraged to alter their state using particular techniques, such as insects, amphibians and mammals. There are many different techniques that we know of to create tonic immobility state in animals. There is much we still don’t know about TIS, however, it is a very promising area for research.
Carli, G 1974, ‘Blood pressure and heart rate in the rabbit during animal hypnosis’, Electroencephalography and clinical Neurophysiology, vol. 37, no. 3, pp. 231-237.
Castiglioni, JA, Russell, MI, Setlow, B, Young, KA, Welsh, JC & Steele-Russell, I 2009, ‘An animal model of hypnotic pain attenuation’, Behavioural brain research, vol. 197, no. 1, pp. 198-204.
Esposito, G, Yoshida, S, Ohnishi, R, Tsuneoka, Y, del Carmen Rostagno, M, Yokota, S, Okabe, S, Kamiya, K, Hoshino, M, Shimizu, M & Venuti, P 2013, ‘Infant calming responses during maternal carrying in humans and mice’, Current Biology, vol. 23, no. 9, pp. 739-745.
Gallup, GG 1977, ‘Tonic immobility: the role of fear and predation’, The Psychological Record, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 41.
Gilman, TT, Marcuse, FL & Moore, AU 1950, ‘Animal hypnosis: a study in the induction of tonic immobility in chickens’, Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 99.
Henningsen, AD 1994, ‘Tonic immobility in 12 elasmobranchs: use as an aid in captive husbandry’, Zoo Biology, vol. 13, no. 4, pp. 325-332.