The Complicated System of Human Emotions as Depicted in Inside Out

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Inside Out is a movie created by Pixar Animations Studios in 2015, written and directed by Pete Docter. There are 9 characters in Inside Out: Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), her Mother (Diane Lane), her Father (Kyle MacLachlan), Bing Bong (Richard Kind) ̶ Riley’s imaginary friend and Riley’s five emotions personified in her mind as: “Joy” (Amy Poehler), “Sadness” (Phyllis Smith), “Fear” (Bill Hader), “Anger” (Lewis Black) and “Disgust” (Mindy Kaling).

The movie deals with complex ideas in a multiform set up and is about how emotions work in the mind of an 11-year old girl entering her preteen years (those that entail the loss of her childhood), and how they shape and direct her interaction in real life with other people. As the family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, the episode is portrayed as being difficult days for the young girl, and her struggling to cope with new events in her life. As it serves, Riley’s happier memories and psychological strongholds begin to fall apart, eventually leading her take the dangerous decision (in a dishonorable way) to leave home to return to Minnesota. “Joy” (ever generating optimism, energy and drive to put things right ̶ positive affect), being the dominant emotion, takes the front rank on most of Riley’s decisions. “Sadness” (finding the negative in any given situation ̶ negative affect), being the hero emotion, acts as the principal character that activates the body at a final stage to respond to loss, effecting Riley’s psychological arousal.

Emotions are explained as being complex organizations of the various psychological subsystems ̶ physiological, experiential, cognitive, and motivational. The ability to identify and manage emotions is referred to as Emotional Intelligence (EQ); EQ is interpreted to represent the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate cognitive activities and adaptive action. The movie exhibits the importance of guiding children to learn and obtain emotional intelligence skills at an early age, so they have the necessary tools to manage the emotional ups and downs of everyday life.

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The ‘Control Center” ̶ which the movie depicts as a semi-complicated console of levers, lights and buttons so emotions can dictate behavior ̶ in Riley’s beautiful mind is the arena where the internal battle among emotions continuously brews; an arena where emotional management processes take place. As the movie portrays, when the control center is left unmanned, Riley becomes depressed and burnt-out (emotional labor), eventually losing situational control. Furthermore, while “Joy” and “Sadness” are both lost in other parts of Riley’s mind, “Fear”, “Anger” and “Disgust” are in a state of panic at the “Control Center” ̶ an appropriate representation of what can happen during a traumatic experience or a major formation in lifetime.

In the movie, memory consolidation is illustrated as a process (during sleep) that converts the collections of short-term memories into long-term ones (memories identified as colored luminescent spheres) through a series of tracks, wheels and tubes, and stored eventually within a colorful, wonderful and bewildering labyrinth. Memories shape Riley’s preferences, behaviors, beliefs, feelings (intense at times) and eventually her experiences in certain ways (taking risks without considering consequences), and influence her continuous development. On the other hand, when memories are retrieved, emotions associated with them may change; “Sadness” turns (touching a gold-colored sphere) a joyful memory into a (blue-colored sphere) sad one, meaning a critical memory may not be processed accurately at a later stage. Characterized in the movie are also “Forgetters”, and their task is to vacuum (gray-colored spheres) relatively useless and forgotten memories like trivial facts or outdated knowledge. Those memories are piled up in a dump area of Riley’s brain, and these are old memories that are not connected necessarily with emotions. There is also an area of repressed memories (a dark cave in the movie where Riley’s fearful figures are present). This is an area where fearful thoughts are stored, and not consciously available ̶ their cause forgotten. The movie shows that certain experiences may trigger such memories and cause them to be made conscious again (i.e. Riley’s wake-up call from sleep).

Core memories, being Riley’s experimental personality traits (hockey, friendship, honesty, humor and family) and identifying an extremely important time in her life, are illustrated interestingly as “Personality Islands”. The illustration reflects ‘core self’ and ‘core beliefs’ which shape her personality. Subject to an ever-developing emotional path, those “Islands” tend to evolve, fall-apart or re-evolve over time.

Riley (and so everyone in general) needs transition time while adjusting to new circumstances. During such processes, the more she experiences positive emotions, the more she has resilience tendencies and can draw on resources to help her out much faster (positive attenuation). Positive attenuation is noted as being essential in protecting against depressive symptoms. During childhood, one strives for acceptance of and patience for own feelings (from their parents, close relatives, friends, etc.), otherwise, as the movie portrays, Riley feels disapproved of and alone (without the help of an adult family member) to process difficult and painful feelings. The movie also shows in detail Riley’s self as being comprised of events, experiences, relationships and places, which are all (differently) colored by the emotions that are associated with them. During an early stage of the movie, Riley loses her hockey game, and her teammates, as well as her parents, comfort her; she associates joy with losing, and not sadness, because she has support from loved ones, meaning, negative emotions bring people closer for resilience to negativity. Riley’s parents’ accepting and welcoming her sadness allow her to connect to her emotions, resulting in a stronger connection to family ̶ a core trait (“Personality Island”; the foundation for which Riley frames her experiences) ̶ and a return of her joy ̶ a core emotion. The movie points out how Riley, being at an age when change and adjustment are embraced more easily through proper support of and the position taken by her parents, manifests positive reactions.

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