A very common card trick involves the magician asking you to pick a card as he ripples through a deck of playing cards in front of you. Following a few misdirects, such as pretending to pick out the wrong card and burning it, the magician will reveal the card that you chose secretly in your head. How did they do this?
The solution to the trick is to simply trim the top of a card and placing it in front of a card that the magician chose ahead of time. Because of the small gap, the chosen card ends up being revealed longer than other cards to the person as the deck is being rippled. That slight increase in visibility makes it much more memorable, subtly nudging the person towards choosing it.
As simple as the trick may be, it highlights how often we are under the illusion of choice. As much as we hate to admit it, we are quite susceptible to suggestion and persuasion. This is the basis of subliminal messaging, hypnosis and many types of mentalism (magic tricks involving manipulation of the mind). When we make a choice, how do we know that it comes purely from our own free will and volition?
Take for example the phenomenon of fake news. One of the dangers of fake news is that by using provocative, misleading headlines and summaries, it grabs our attention and leaves an impression. This means that unless we are vigilant about fact-checking and reading news from reputable sources, we can easily be manipulated into thinking or acting in a way that benefits those who released the fake news. The results of this may range from benign, such as persuading you to choose a certain brand of product over another, to something as sinister as affecting how you vote in an election or creating discord amongst the population of a country.
The field of psychology constantly reminds us of how flawed our minds are, with its numerous cognitive biases and ways it can be manipulated. We must be constantly aware of this fact to prevent ourselves from falling victim to those who try to take advantage of our thoughts and actions.
Animals can be hypnotised just like humans. Strictly speaking, it is not hypnotism per se but more of a trance or putting the animal to “sleep”. An animal in trance is in a state of complete relaxation and is immobile, staying still as if it is sleeping as its heart rate and breathing slows. After a certain amount of time, the animal wakes up and acts as if nothing happened.
For example, flipping a rabbit on its back causes it to stay still. It merely twitches its nose but its limbs are completely stiffened. An alligator shows the same response when flipped.
A pheasant can be put into trance if its stomach is rubbed and an iguana falls asleep when stroked on the head as the heat sensing organs are activated and they feel relaxed.
When stroked on its most sensitive part, the nose, a shark freezes from the intense sensation (considering a shark dies if it stops swimming, this must be quite a pleasurable feeling for the shark).
If you turn a lizard on its back and rub its stomach, its diaphragm and respiratory organs are compressed and oxygen supply is limited. This causes the lizard to “turn off”, falling into a trance.
These strange responses are most likely a survival instinct. For example, if a rubber hose with a knot on the end is held in front of a mouse, it will stay absolutely still. This is because it mistakes it for a snake and is frozen from fear. Also, predators such as snakes focus their vision around movement sensing and thus are blind to immobile objects. Similarly, rabbits and alligators mentioned above are playing dead to avoid danger.
Unfortunately, this instinct produces the opposite effects sometimes. Chickens are a good example.
When you press a chicken’s head against the ground and draw straight lines in front of it, it suddenly goes quiet as if possessed. Even after taking off the hand, it stays still. This technique was devised to make the process of cutting off the chicken’s head an easier task. Also, a chicken can be put into trance by gently tucking its head under its wing and then swinging the whole chicken side to side about 10 times. A turkey can be put to sleep the same way.