Laura Partin - Locust (Dissonance)
art project produced and exhibited at ISTITUTO ROMENO DI CULTURA E RICERCA UMANISTICA - june 2013
collaborators (performers): Gabriela Stoica, Fernanda Estevao- Pollini, Joohee Kim
The main mechanism enunciated by Festinger's theory (1957) concerning cognitive dissonance is the following: the individual tries to reduce the possible dissonance between the cognitive elements present in a situation. The cognitive elements derive from behaviour, opinions, beliefs, sanctions, etc. Dissonance produces when from two elements presenting themselves together, one of them implies the negation of the other, in a manner opposed to the consonance state, when one issues from another or psychologically implies the other. Because cognitive dissonance always presupposes an embarrassing state, when it produces, the individual struggles to find consonant elements that would justify a certain commitment that he assumed.
In the experiment redarding the locusts (Zimbardo, 1969) there was the independent variable of the unpleasant (the case of low justification) or sympathetic (high justification) of the experiment. He was asking the participants, little disposed in that sense, to serve these fried insects. Those confronted to an antipathetic (unpleasant) experimenter found this plate more delicios than they thought it would have been and accepted more often (35% comparing to 11%) to recommend this dish to their friends. Why? Because to arrive to the state of consonance, they were constrained to convince themselves that the food was not so disgusting, while those convinced by a sympathetic experimenter to try it, could consider that even if the food was repellent, they were persuaded in that sense by an agreeable person, so they weren't confronted with the embarassing feeling of dissonance.
In another experiment from 1959 by Festinger and Carlsmith, from Stanford University, a student was given a few assignments: in the first half an hour, he had to move some barrels around a box, than a few plugs on a board for another half an hour. The experimenter was thanking him afterwards, telling him that other students considered the assignment as being very interesting. Then the experimenter was telling him that one of the complices could not arrive (and was proposing him to take over his task for one dollar) and that there will be other occasions like this one when he will be able to participate as a complice to other experiments in the future. As this seemed like a good occasion for a student to win some easy money, he accepted and he was introduced to the next student, whom he had to tell only that the task was interesting. Being called to another room where he was interviewed, the first student classified the assignment as being moderately interesting. Then talking to a colleague who went through the same phases, the exception being only the sum of 20 dollars that he received (instead of 1 dollar), the first student found out he still found the assignment boring, just the way he had found it initially. Stupefied, the first student insisted that in fact it wasn't that bad. For the second student, the sum justified the gesture of lying, so that he still considered that what he had to do was boring, no matter what the experimenters said. But for the first one, the sum was much too insignificant to adjust his twinge of conscience, so he convinced himself that the assignment was interesting to not admit to himself that he lied (that he did an immoral gesture).
Starting from the assumption that a person that is remunerated less is predisposed to convince him-/herself that certain activities that he/she is constrained to undertake are not as boring or degrading as a person who receives a more consistent remuneration for them would consider, I tried to investigate a contingence between the state of cognitive dissonance and the "low" (low class) work, in some situations degrading in relation to the social status they lost or just referred to their own values, that the persons found in the immigrant's condition are doing. The participatory part of the project proposes only a metaphorical re-enactment of these experiments and not a social psychology experiment with quantifiable results, intending also to confront the participant directly with a marginal status, transposing him into a framework of alterity.
Paolo Portoghesi's architecture was a source of inspiration for the scenographical part of the project, epitomising a heavy form of authority that could induce the state of cognitive dissonance with a higher facility when it is perceived as having an antipathetical character, dictated by the imagery of the locusts.