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Dynamic Chiropractic Canada – March 1, 2010, Vol. 03, Issue 02
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Trapped by Our Own Dysfunctional Conflict and Defensive Perceptions

By David J. Brunarski, DC, MSc, FCCS(C)

A recent study has revealed that group identification has important psychological and social consequences for individuals who belong to that group.1 Another study that focused on interpersonal perceptions revealed that many factors came into play when someone tried to determine if others saw them as an individual or belonging to a group.2

Individuals generally tend to see themselves in a stereotypic way, particularly when interacting with others whose perceptions of the group are also stereotypic. This self-stereotyping has been demonstrated to persist over time and even influence future interactions.3

In 2009, Gomez, et al., demonstrated that people continually re-establish and maintain their group identity and personal views as confirmation of their group membership and collective identity. This translates into a preference for interacting with others who help verify their "in-group identity" versus those who simply enhance their identity.4 Roccas has proposed four conceptually distinct modes of individual identification with groups:5

  • Importance - how much I view my group as part of who I am.
  • Commitment - how much I want to benefit the group.
  • Superiority - how much I view my group as superior to other groups.
  • Deference - how much I honor, revere and submit to the group's norms, symbols and leaders.

When chiropractic identity is the topic, everyone seems to assume a defensive posture, effectively losing neutrality and blocking their ability to deal with the issue without resorting to prejudice and stereotyping. Chiropractic history is replete with too many examples of intergroup and interpersonal defensiveness. Is it any wonder that the profession continues to have great difficulty in establishing a comfortable dialogue around a common mission and vision that would positively impact our image, credibility and shared future?

The first step in the process of stereotype and prejudice formation is the establishment of the psychological importance of some particular set of dimensions, including being categorized by minority status and the use of different labels for different groups, functionally different group divisions or segregation.6 Barrett and Cooperrider correctly report that when "groups paralysed by anxiety, defensiveness and negative attributions [are encouraged to become] conscious of their negative attributions toward others and of their defensive attributions in relationships, they all too frequently respond by becoming more defensive. ... Direct efforts to solve such problems often heighten the very problems they attempt to solve."7

And from the literature on social cognition and selective perception, we learn that "people do not easily change their interpersonal theories, assumptions, expectations and impressions, even when the evidence contradicts them."8

According to Anderson, Lepper and Ross, "The simple process of explaining why one has a certain theory about someone may in fact have the unintended consequences of strengthening the impression and making it more resistant to change, even if the information upon which it is based, is completely discredited."9 And Goleman claims that "the mind often protects itself against anxiety by dimming awareness, this cognitive process creates a blind spot, a zone of blocked attention and self-deception, [and] such blind spots occur at every level of system, from individuals to groups, to organizations and to societies."10

Most health care practitioners accept the ideal of patient-centered care. The current preferred model is collaborative care with shared decision-making by qualified primary care providers, such as doctors of chiropractic. However, practitioners who function under the biomedical approach have a very well-established professional identity that has maintained their status with regard to patients, other health care providers, the government and third-party payers. Therefore, in a need to preserve their "medical" identity, many medical physicians remain unwilling to share responsibilities or diminish their power in any way.11

According to Pees, et al., "Translating abstract concepts such as consciousness to an organizational model is complex and interpretive."12 The concept of consciousness-raising is similar to the Chinese practice of "speaking bitterness," in which peasants were encouraged to articulate the nature of their oppression and therefore to be less inclined to accept their fate as natural and their misery as personal. In chiropractic, perhaps we should examine the way social structures and attitudes have molded and limited us, and how we have developed prejudices against ourselves and others - effectively isolating and marginalizing the profession. An organizational (professional) consciousness should be achievable through a challenging but fulsome introspection that identifies those compelling shared attributes that shape and guide the perceptions and actions of the entire organization (profession) in a positive and rewarding way.


  1. Leach CW, van Zomeren M, Zebel S, Vliek ML, Pennekamp SF, Doosje B, Ouwerkerk JW, Spears R. Group-level self-definition and self-investment: a hierarchical (multicomponent) model of in-group identification. Pers Soc Psychol, 2008 Jul;95(1):144-65.
  2. Frey FE, Tropp LR. Being seen as individuals versus as group members: extending research on metaperception to intergroup contexts. Pers Soc Psychol Rev, 2006;10(3):265-80.
  3. Sinclair S, Pappas J, Lun J. The interpersonal basis of stereotype-relevant self-views. J Pers, 2009 Oct;77(5):1343-64.
  4. Gomez A, Seyle DC, Huici C, Swann WB Jr. Can self-verification strivings fully transcend the self-other barrier. Seeking verification of ingroup identities. J Pers Soc Psychol, 2009 Dec;97(6):1021-44.
  5. Roccas S, Sagiv L, Schwartz S, Halevy N Eidelson R. Toward a unifying model of identification with groups: integrating theoretical perspectives. Pers Soc Psychol Rev, 2008 Aug;12(3):280-306.
  6. Bigler RS, Liben LS. A developmental intergroup theory of social stereotypes and prejudice. Adv Child Dev Behav, 2006;34:39-89.
  7. Barret FJ, Cooperrider DL. Generative Metaphor Intervention: A New Approach for Working With Systems Divided by Conflict and Caught in Defensive Perceptions. In: Appreciative Inquiry: An Emerging Direction for Organization Development. Cooperrider, et al., editors. (2001) Stipes Publishing. Champaign, IL. Chapter 7.
  8. Hill T, Lewicki P. Czyzewska M, Boss A. Self-pertpetuating development of encoding biases in person perception. J Pers Soc Psychol, 1989;57:373-87.
  9. Anderson CA, Lepper M, Ross L. Perseverance of social theories: the role of explanation in persistence of discredited information. J Pers Soc Psychol, 1980;39:1037-49.
  10. Goleman D. Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception. New York: Touchstone Books, 1985.
  11. O'Flynn N, Britten N. Does the achievement of medical identity limit the ability of primary care practitioners to be patient-centred? A qualitative study. Patient Educ Couns, 2006 Jan;60(1):49-56.
  12. Pees RC, Shoop GH, Ziegenfuss JT. Organizational consciousness. J Health Organ Manag, 2009;23(5);505-21.

Dr. David Brunarski, former associate editor of DC Canada, graduated from CMCC in 1977 after completing his undergraduate educa-tion at the University of Alberta. He is president of the Ontario Chiropractic Association and practices full time in Simcoe, Ontario. To learn more, visit

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