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Analysis of Inside Out

Posted By Samantha Picaro, Kean University, Union, NJ, Monday, June 4, 2018
Updated: Monday, June 4, 2018


Despite being college undergraduates or graduates, we all still cherish children's movies, especially Pixar. The purpose of the article is to highlight several psychology-related discussions that can be had after watching the film, Inside Out. I will try not to give away too many spoilers.

For those who have not seen or heard of the movie, it is about five emotions who reside in the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley, who moves with her parents to a new town and new school. The five emotions are Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. Joy is the leader, who ostracizes Sadness to protect Riley. However, Joy and Sadness are accidentally dragged out of Riley's head and into her memory bank, forcing them to get back because Riley cannot feel happiness without Joy.

The Importance of Sadness

Joy comes to see the importance of Sadness despite her undesirability. Sadness, both the character and concept, are important for Riley to adjust to moving away from her friends, home, and hockey league. For most of the film, she bottles her emotions in order to spare her parents' feelings but it causes her to break down. Only when she finally cries and confesses her feelings is able to adapt to her new situation. The emotion of sadness helps connect people and face realities, and ignoring/hiding sadness only makes matters worse.

The Complexity of Emotions

Accepting Sadness is also important in another way: it helps Riley grow up. At first, Joy sees emotions as simple and does not understand that a person can feel two emotions at once. Eventually she sees that a person can feel both sadness and happiness at the same time, thus memories are not cut and dry. The difference between children and adults is that adults come to accept that emotions are complex and no memory has just one emotion. In a pivotal scene, Joy sees one memory in which Riley's parents turn Riley's sadness into joy. This affects the way in which Riley views relationships and memories.

What I enjoy is how the character Joy outright explains the purpose of each emotion barring Sadness, at least in the beginning. Psych students are aware that emotions exist for a reason. Joy explains that Fear keeps us safe, Disgust also encourages caution, and so on.



Another psychological aspect in the movie is personality. Riley's mind contains five "islands": Goofball Island, Hockey, Friendship, Honesty, and Family. Each island deteriorates as Riley becomes more depressed, culminating in Riley running away and shutting off her emotions until Joy and Sadness finally return to the headquarters. Each island is rebuilt with time after Riley comes back home and expresses her true feelings to her parents. Personality indeed shapes our personality, making it understandable why there is a link between happiness and being outgoing, competitiveness and athleticism, and love and strong family ties.

In the absence of Joy and Sadness, the other emotions struggle to keep Riley functional but fail. Joy was the most dominant emotion but in her absence, Fear, Anger, and Disgust inadvertently increase Riley's stress and encourage her to run away to her old home, thinking this is the answer to her problems, and even plants the idea of stealing her mother's credit card. The growing dominance of these emotions and recklessness show Riley's conversion from childhood to adolescence because adolescence is a time of confused, strong emotions in which joy is not always the dominant one. This is where the stereotype of the moody teen comes from.

The movie isn't entirely accurate about the human psyche because the psyche is not that simple. Nothing about humans is simple. However, I applaud Inside Out's depiction of a girl's mind and how it is forced to mature. This is relevant not only to kids but to adults because even as adults we struggle with identifying and expressing our feelings. I would recommend it to every psychology major and would encourage professors to show it in class and discuss it.

Tags:  All Things Psych 

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