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The Principle of Consistency Theory

Question:

Discuss about the Cognitive Dissonance in Mean Girls.

Cognitive Dissonance refers to the mental discomfort that is experienced by a person when he has to perform an action that contradicts the values and personal beliefs of a person.  (Ciao et al., 2015). According to the principle of consistency theory, new stimuli are assimilated with that of the old encountered stimuli. If the new stimulus is found to be inconsistent, then acute discomfort is experienced by the person. Human beings crave for consistency and psychological inconsistency gives rise to dissonance. Dissonance triggers effort that helps in achieving consonance. The cognitions that are contradictory and are of less importance give rise to less amount of dissonance. The relevant cognitions being consistent and outnumbering the dissonant one, will produce less amount of dissonance. Attitudes and thoughts that are inconsistent give rise to feelings of dissonance that provides a feeling of unpleasant arousal. The dissonant beliefs should be reduced and adding to the consonant beliefs can serve as useful techniques in dealing with the dissonance.

Cady Heron who was born in Africa was a victim of culture shock when she joined the American High School and wanted to become a part of the “girl world”. Friendships are fake in that world and tensions are rampant as she is forced to assimilate in the “Plastics” that is a popular group. It brings to the fore a strong woman who has a fixed perspective on everything. (Oliver, 2013). The movie highlights the brutality that exists in the heart of the high school students.

Cady’s life in high school is full of such situations that compel her to reject values related to her previous life. She is forced to assimilate in the new culture that gives rise to cognitive dissonance. Her external appearance along with her internal self undergoes a drastic transformation. Regina the Queen Bea, has assimilated herself in the life of high school and she is also a result of the factor of dissonance. Her friend wants to sabotage her life, blackmail her and spread wrong information regarding her. Cady soon becomes like the Plastics when she wants to cut off the resources of Regina and want to separate her from Aaron and destroys her beauty. She manages to turn Gretchen Wieners along with that of Karen Smith against that of Regina. Cady pretends to be weak at math so that she can get the attention of Aaron and arranges the break-up between that of Aaron and Regina. She confesses regarding the infidelity of Regina with that of another boy. Cady does this because she cannot ingratiate herself in the new culture and she wants to break the bonds and friendships of her friends at school. It is her insecurity that led her to do this (Walsh, Sekarasih & Scharrer, 2014).

The Portrayal of Cognitive Dissonance in Mean Girls


Cady was facing difficulty because she cannot easily integrate herself in the new culture and took the evil way out. Cady forces Regina to have the high calorie nutrition bars by saying that it would help her to lose weight. Gretchen who is the Dumb Girl also suffers from cognitive dissonance but cognitive dissonance is felt less by her as compared to that of Cady. When Regina starts favouring Cady instead of Gretchen, then Gretcen feels insulted and her world is shattered. Gretchen then loses her sense of morality and begins spreading gossip and wrong information regarding Regina (Cvencek, Meltzoff & Kapur, 2014). The character of Karen faces the least case of cognitive dissonance and she is the least vitriolic of all the characters. Her character serves like a basic moral compass. Karen recognizes the mean and abject behavior of the girls. Gretchen’s burst of dissonance comes to light when she over shares secrets regarding Regina to Caddy. Her feelings can be easily understood with the use of expression: “I’ve never told anyone this before” (Oppliger, 2013). 

In order to get revenge on the character of Regina, Cady undergoes a lot of transformation and moulds herself in the image of Regina without realizing that the qualities of Regina does not deserve not be imitated. Social influence along with peer pressure compelled Cady to change herself and changes in circumstance and situation led to drastic changes in the behavior of Cady. (Brock et al., 2014). Cady was put into a place which maintained a great degree of social influence. She went on to give more importance to the meanest girls at school which cost her greatly. Cady was so overcome by the need to fit in that she forgot about all the moral principles that she was taught.

Regina kissed the guy on whom Cady had a crush thus infuriating Cady, Janice along with Damian. They fed her Kalteen bars which made her grow fatter and gave her foot-cream to apply on her face. Regina is soon kicked out of the Plastics which makes the room for a new Queen Bae. When Cady becomes a Plastic then Regina gets revenge on her by writing about her in “Burn Book”. They then undergo a “trust workshop” where Jenice tells Regina that Cady becoming a member of Plastic was only a matter of joke. Cady Heron undergoes de-individuation in the movie and she has to lose her sense of self-awareness (Rohde et al., 2016).

Assimilation and Culture Shock


In the Spring Fling Dance, Cady got elected as the Queen and in her famous acceptance speech she declared that her victory does not hold any meaning and she recognizes that everyone has their own wonderful abilities. The victory in a sense belongs to everyone. Cady breaking her tiara and distributing it to her other class mate’s stands as a gesture that is symbolic. Cady understand that quarrelling is futile and ingratiates herself with that of Janis, Damien and Aaron. She reaches truce with that of The Plastics (Antoniou, Doukas & Subrahmanyam, 2013).  By the start of the next year, The Plastics disbanded. Regina joins the team of lacrosse, Karen got acknowledged as the school weather girl and Gretchen joined the gang of “Cool Asians”.

Conformity plays a great role in changing the actions of the characters in the movie “Mean Girls”. People follow the behavior of other people so that they can go along with the accepted social norms and they seek approval of their individuality. Cady has two perspectives in relation to the popular group- The Plastics. On one hand, she views The Plastic as evil and on the other hand she starts craving for the attention and liking of the group. These are the two cognitive dissonances that compel Cady to face the issue of cognitive dissonance (Bae, 2016).  There is a part of her that is ideal which does not go along with that of the moral policy of The Plastics and she goes around with them in order to pull the characters down. On the other hand, is her real self that is hanging out with The Plastics so that she can be liked by the group. The character of Regina George who is considered to be very popular in school also undergoes a lot of conflict in their mind. Her ideal and her real self cannot easily match up. Her ideal self wants to become more popular but her real self is extremely self-conscious Moore, P. A. (2016).  She just tries to make the pretence of being confident and assumes a kind of stance that is unflawed. She was concerned regarding her weight and did not want her school mates to think that she was fat.

Conclusion and Implication

In the course of the movie, Cady becomes like the Plastics and she becomes judgemental and she tries to fit in the wrong place. She loses her identity by conforming to the behavior of Plastics. The movie “Mean Girls” thus shows Cady trying to assimilate into a foreign culture and the mental turmoil that she had to endure in order to fit in the new life. Cady undergoes Cognitive Dissonance in her new social milieu as the culture perpetrated on her was drastically different from that of her life in Africa (Trekels & Eggermont, 2017). Fake Friendships are exhibited in the movie “Mean Girls” and Cady has to endure a lot of tensions since she is forced to assimilate in the popular group “Plastics”. Karen has to go through the least case of cognitive dissonance and her character serves the role of that of a moral compass. Karen understands the mean behavior of the girls. Conformity plays a pivotal role that changes the mindset of characters in the movie “Mean Girls”. People followed and imitated the behavior of other people irrespective of the fact whether they were right or wrong (Halliwell & Diedrichs, 2014).  Getting recognized and assimilation was more important for them as compared to that of the following the right moral path. While on the one hand Cady views The Plastic as an evil group on the other hand she starts still gropes for getting attention from the malicious group craving for the attention. These two cognitive dissonances force Cady to face cognitive dissonance and she undergoes a lot of mental turmoil.

References:

Antoniou, C., Doukas, J. A., & Subrahmanyam, A. (2013). Cognitive dissonance, sentiment, and momentum. Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, 48(1), 245-275.

Bae, B. B. (2016). Believing Selves and Cognitive Dissonance: Connecting Individual and Society via “Belief”. Religions, 7(7), 86.

Brock, C. H., Oikonomidoy, E. M., Wulfing, K., Pennington, J. L., & Obenchain, K. M. (2014). “Mean girls” go to college: Exploring female–female relational bullying in an undergraduate literacy methods course. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 20(4), 516.

Ciao, A. C., Latner, J. D., Brown, K. E., Ebneter, D. S., & Becker, C. B. (2015). Effectiveness of a peer?delivered dissonance?based program in reducing eating disorder risk factors in high school girls. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 48(6), 779-784.

Cvencek, D., Meltzoff, A. N., & Kapur, M. (2014). Cognitive consistency and math–gender stereotypes in Singaporean children. Journal of experimental child psychology, 117, 73-91.

Halliwell, E., & Diedrichs, P. C. (2014). Testing a dissonance body image intervention among young girls. Health Psychology, 33(2), 201.

Moore, P. A. (2016). Smells Like Teen Spirit. In The Hidden Power of Smell (pp. 167-186). Springer International Publishing.

Oliver, R. T. (2013). Cognitive Dissonance: The Causal Factor for Drop Out from Parent Training Programs among Ethnically Diverse Parent Populations. Northcentral University.

Oppliger, P. A. (2013). Bullies and Mean Girls in Popular Culture. McFarland.

Rohde, P., Stice, E., Shaw, H., & Gau, J. M. (2016). Pilot trial of a dissonance-based cognitive-behavioral group depression prevention with college students. Behaviour research and therapy, 82, 21-27.

Trekels, J., & Eggermont, S. (2017). Aspiring to have the looks of a celebrity: young girls’ engagement in appearance management behaviors. European Journal of Pediatrics, 1-7.

Walsh, K. R., Sekarasih, L., & Scharrer, E. (2014). Mean Girls and Tough Boys: Children's Meaning Making and Media Literacy Lessons on Gender and Bullying in the United States. Journal of Children and Media, 8(3), 223-239.

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