If you don’t control your mind, someone else will.

John Allston


Hypnotising Animals

Frogs, lizards, crocodiles and sharks all go into a trance if they are turned over onto their backs and held there for a few seconds.
Rabbits and Guinea pigs will go into a trance if you stroke them or roll them over a few times first, and will revive if you blow on their nose (they wake up very suddenly and flip over onto their front like a mechanical toy).

If you’re hypnotising an alligator or crocodile it’s probably worth getting it right first time, so here’s the full technique: hold the alligator down on its back with its belly facing you, then press your palm gently on its throat for five seconds for a baby alligator and 10 seconds for an adult alligator. The trick with tiger sharks (another one to get right first time) is to place your hands lightly on the sides of the snout near its eyes.
Chickens can be hypnotised if you push their heads down onto the ground and draw a chalk line along the surface directly away from their beak. They’ll stay in that position, staring at the chalk, until their head is moved away from the line, whereupon they will revert to normal. Chickens also go into a trance if you lay them on their back and stroke their breast, and allegedly if you place two ping-pong balls painted to look like eyes on a stick which you then hold up in front of them. We tried this on the QI chickens but it didn’t work.

Feeling Sleepy?

Hypnotic anaesthesia (HA) – goes to the heart of the central debate about hypnosis: whether it is a special state or just compliance. The ability to perform major surgery using HA seems to argue for the existence of a special state, but the argument is not clear-cut. First, perception of pain is exaggerated by anxiety and alleviated by relaxation. Secondly pain receptors in your internal organs are different from those on the surface – often they are sensitive to stretch rather than touch. HA is usually performed with the aid of a local anaesthetic on the sensitive surface area, which is where most of the actual pain is felt, so it’s the discomfort caused by the internal part of the operation which needs to be addressed by the hypnosis, and this is a question of managing the patient’s anxiety. The closest we currently get to HA in this country in mainstream medicine is ‘Conscious Sedation’, where the patient is given intravenous valium and a local anaesthetic; the surgery is done with them in a half awake state. It’s used a lot on people who are unfit for anaesthetic, and works in a similar way to HA: the valium controls anxiety, rather than addressing the pain directly. In 2008 a hypnotherapist named Alex Lenkei hypnotised himself for an 83-minute operation at Worthing Hospital to remove a bony growth from his thumb. He remained conscious throughout and apparently used no anaesthetic at all. Some mothers even give birth under hypnosis. Part of this is maybe placebo effect.
However it works, HA has been used since the 1830s in the removal of cancerous tumours, appendices, teeth and haemorrhoids, and in cardiac and brain surgery. The first British operation to use HA was the amputation of a leg in 1842; the subject reportedly ‘moaned a little’ when he heard the crunching of saw on bone, but remained still. One great pioneer was James Esdaile (1808-59), a Scottish surgeon working in Calcutta in the 1840s, where thanks to mosquitoes carrying a condition called filiarisis, many men had hydroceles of the scrotum - large tumours in the scrotum filled with bodily fluids. The operation to remove these tumours was so painful that patients would put it off for years, and the tumours grew huge in the process (up to 46 kgs), so men just put up with them, and in one case, reportedly used a tumour as a writing desk (though we can’t quite picture what that entailed). Esdaile’s use of mesmerism was an enormous success, and given credence at home partly because the British medical establishment assumed the natives were too stupid to be faking it. However, in 1846 the anaesthetic qualities of ether became widely known, and mesmerism fell entirely out of favour.

One of the first hypnotists, Chastenet de Puysegur, magnetized a tree which he hoped would help cure sick peasants.

Mind Control?

There is no consensus as to whether hypnosis is a unique state of mind with physiological and conditioned response components (a ‘trance’) or only a form of suggestion induced by high motivation and a positive relationship between hypnotist and subject. Derren Brown, in common with most modern experts, inclines to the latter view, but the experimental evidence is inconclusive.

For example: people were hypnotised to believe that they were looking at a picture through a green filter. If they were really looking through a filter they would have been able to read a number which was hidden in the image, so if the hypnosis caused them to ‘really’ see a non-existent filter (i.e. if a ‘special state’ existed) then they ought to be able to read the number via hypnosis. In the event, none of them could read the number via hypnosis, though they all could via an actual filter.
There is no evidence that ‘hostile’ hypnosis of a resistant subject works – e.g. you couldn’t hope to hypnotise a prisoner of war into disclosing secrets or get someone to have sex with you against their will. Nor can hypnotism give you abilities you don’t already have.

Having said this, in 2008 Italian police released CCTV footage of a man suspected of hypnotising shop staff to hand over money from their cash registers. In every case, the last thing staff remembered was the thief leaning over and saying: ‘Look into my eyes . . .’ before finding the till empty. The incident caught on film was at a bank at Ancona in northern where a clerk reportedly handed over nearly €800.

Charles Dickens' marriage broke down partly because of his obsession with hypnotism.

In 1840s Manchester, one of the most popular stage acts was a man called LaFountaine who claimed to be able to hypnotise lions.

If you're in a hypnotic trance and the hypnotist dies, you don't stay under - you wake up after a bit.

Dorothy Dix (1861-1951)

Happiness is largely a matter of self-hypnotism. You can think yourself happy or you can think yourself miserable.

Stage Hypnosis

Stage hypnosis involves a combination of psychological factors such as peer pressure, social compliance, participant selection, suggestibility, physical manipulation, stagecraft, and trickery. The desire to be the centre of attention, having an excuse to violate their own fear suppressors and the pressure to please are thought to convince subjects to 'play along'. Paul McKenna tells a story about a hypnotist who whispered to one of his subjects: ‘Play along and I’ll give you fifty quid after the show’. Then at the end of the act he said into the mike: ‘When you wake up you’ll believe that I owe you fifty pounds. And the more your friends tell you I don’t the more annoyed and insistent you’ll become that I do. Wakey wakey!’

In the late 1800's, Hungarian hypnotist, Volgyesi hypnotized all the animals at the Budapest zoo.

The record period for a chicken remaining in a hypnotic state is 3 hours 47 minutes.


There have only been two recorded attempts to create a hypno-assassin and both were out-and-out failures.