Animal Hypnosis: What Is Tonic Immobility?

By Antonia Čirjak on February 16 2020 in Did You Know

Tonic Immobility, often called animal hypnosis, is a state of paralysis that animals occasionally enter.
Tonic Immobility, often called animal hypnosis, is a state of paralysis that animals occasionally enter.
  • Tonic Immobility is a state of paralysis that certain animal species can enter for a variety of reasons, most often to protect themselves from predators.
  • Sharks are believed to enter this state during their mating period.
  • Chicken can be placed under hypnosis for extended periods of time, and doing so is very easy.

Tonic Immobility, often called animal hypnosis, is a state of paralysis that animals occasionally enter. We still do not understand what purpose it serves. In some cases, it may be related to mating, while in others, it can be a way to avoid predators. The term we use for that is to “play dead.” 

Another use of tonic immobility is to blend with the environment. Birds can use it to escape from predators by immobilizing themselves. That immobilization is caused by the paralysis of the results from tonic immobility. The animals themselves can induce it, and it causes them no harm or stress. Sometimes tonic immobility can occur in humans, most often as a result of a traumatic event, such as sexual assault. 

Tonic Immobility In Sharks

A diver sends a nurse shark into a temporary relaxed hypnotic state by rubbing its white underbelly.
A diver sends a nurse shark into a temporary relaxed hypnotic state by rubbing its white underbelly.

Tonic immobility can be used as a scientific tool with various animal subjects. Some of those include mice, guinea pigs, rats, rabbits, gerbils, and monkeys. However, the most well-known animals that can be placed in the state of tonic immobility are sharks. Certain shark species can be easily placed in a tonic state. This is the subject of a large number of scientific research on the topic of shark behavior. Sharks can remain in a state of paralysis for about fifteen minutes before returning to normal. This state in sharks is also often used to test shark repellents since those can immediately influence the awakening from the paralysis state.

Some species of sharks go into tonic immobility when their bodies are turned upside down. Tiger sharks, on the other hand, go into this state when we place hands on their sides, near the area that surrounds their eyes. Scientists are of the opinion that tonic immobility occurs in sharks in relation to their mating process. The fins of the sharks straighten during the paralysis, and their muscles relax. 

The Chicken Hypnosis

If we hold their heads down against the ground and draw a line starting from the beak that extends straight outward, the chicken will be hypnotized.
If we hold their heads down against the ground and draw a line starting from the beak that extends straight outward, the chicken will be hypnotized.

An interesting form of tonic immobility can be seen in chicken. If we hold their heads down against the ground and draw a line starting from the beak that extends straight outward, the chicken will be hypnotized. This is why we call tonic immobility “animal hypnosis.” The chicken will remain immobile for anywhere between 15 seconds and 30 minutes, and will continuously stare at the line. We do not have a solid explanation for this phenomenon, but it is believed to be caused by fear, and it is most likely designed as a defense mechanism

There are other ways we can hypnotize a chicken. One is to hold the chicken with its face up, laying on the ground. We then run our finger downwards over the chicken’s body. This causes them to act immobilized again, but they can easily be awakened from this state by clapping our hands. If we try to mimic the way a chicken sleeps, it will also act hypnotized. We just need to hold it firmly and place its head under its wing. We then rock the chicken gently back and forth while placing it on the ground carefully. It will most often remain in that position for at least 30 seconds. According to research, the longest time a chicken remained under hypnosis was 3 hours and 47 minutes.

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