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Belief and Conformity

November 6, 2014

In my clinical work I am very familiar with people coming to see me with a story about their doctors, specialists, therapists and consultants claiming that “x, y or z could not possibly be related to your symptoms or medical condition.”

I always listen very carefully and often feel that a genuinely important consideration has simply been dismissed because standard information or “facts” don’t support the claim. This is precisely why I work with an integrative model, because we have so much to learn about the complex relationships and interactions of the body-mind.

This month’s Public Understanding of Science journal published a study by researchers Aner Tal and Brian Wansik at Cornell University. The study showed a group of 174 study participants several versions of the description of a cold medicine. 97% of the participants said they believed the medicine worked when shown words and a graphic chart, while only 68% gave the same response when just shown the words. In addition, those who said they “believed in science” were also significantly more likely to feel confident in the cold medicine after seeing the chart or being told that the research was “scientific.”

As we all have access to increasing amounts of information there is a corresponding need for us to show discernment in choosing what we actually believe, but often people are influenced by the need to conform with their peer group or society.

According to research by Daniel Haun Ph.D. at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, it appears that conformity is a very basic feature of the human social development process. Conforming can support social cohesion but is certainly not always the right thing to do. Adults will often conform for fear of standing out, and Haun’s research suggests that even children as young as 2 years old will change their behaviour significantly just to avoid the relative, perceived disadvantage of being different.


In the way I have been trained, the body has deep wisdom that can emerge when we listen to it with care and attention, and allow our unique expression to unfold in the world.

As one of my teachers would say:

“It is better to live 1 day as a tiger than 1000 years as a sheep.”

I will now resist the temptation to put the tune of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ in your head for fear of not conforming to expectations…….or maybe not.


Spencer Joseph

From → Consciousness

  1. Also, people don’t believe in free will when they have to pee.

    • Thanks Paul – brilliant. As a public health and safety warning, please note in advance that Survivor were not being ironic at any point in the making of this video.

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