Performance Dissonance


  • Author Bruce Wilson
  • Published August 13, 2021
  • Word count 493

Performance Dissonance

Bruce Wilson, PhD

“The final wisdom of life requires not the annulment of incongruity but the achievement of serenity within and above it.”- Rienhold Nieburh

Are you performing in your right mind? The two hemispheres of our brain have very disparate functions. The left hemisphere of our brain is very cognitive. It controls our speech, comprehension, numerical skills, and writing. The right hemisphere controls our creativity, spatial ability, and artistic and musical skills. To some degree these incongruent functions are always at play in any performance we undertake. Perhaps this at least partially explains some of our most embarrassing performance gaffes.

The fluidity of our performance, no matter how unique, depends on the cross-brain integration of our two hemispheres. There will always be present an unravelling of some cognitive and some spatial skills incorporated in time and in situ to yield a successful performance.

Consider the last time you had an unexplainable breakdown in your performance. It may have been a spatial demand that was unmet because you were in your head too much. Or, it may have been a cognitive processing demand that was challenged and not met. Highly regarded musical performers have confessed to at times demonstrating anomalies of atonality that seem to come from nowhere.

“Life is a desert of shifting sand dunes. Unpredictable. Erratic. Harmony changes into dissonance, the immediate outlives the profound, esoteric becomes cliched. And, vice versa.”- Ella Leya

Dissonance is usually referenced to be about cognitive dissonance. However, dissonance can theoretically be any lack of synchronicity or harmony; any lack of agreement between or within people or things. So, why not performance dissonance? Surely, we can see detriments to performance as being related to some form of dissonance or incongruity in the performer. We even say, “I was out of sync.” Or, in a team setting, “we were not on the same page.” Repetitious phrases like these tend to substantiate the purported reality of a concept of performance dissonance. So, how do we reach consonance?

“Let us light our lantern: in textbook language, dissonance is an element of transition, a complex or interval of tones that is not complete in itself and that must be resolved to the ear’s satisfaction into perfect consonance.”

Igor Stravinsky

Although Stravinsky is talking about music, he could have easily been talking about an accountant, or an athlete, or a chef, or a dentist. The ear can be depicted as a kind of metaphor for the cross-brain integration that either supports or denies one’s performance. When we stay with an example of our ears one only needs to think of how “white noise” can interfere with our ability to focus on the task. Ask any professional golfer about extraneous noises while in the middle of their backswing. Dissonance melts down performance like a heat wave in the Arctic. Consonance within performance evolves if and only if our cross-brain integration processes refine and eventually eliminate dissonance.


Dr. Bruce Wilson is a psychologist in private practice at Mind Health Care, Geelong, Australia. He has 25 years of experience and enjoys sharing his ramblings with friends and colleagues.

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