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August 16, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsMind Matters

Pixar brings insight to the world of feelings in new movie

For the majority of this summer, I have been told again and again that I have to go see the new Pixar movie “Inside Out.” However, I was confused because I remembered seeing the preview for it some-odd number of months ago and being underwhelmed.

The combination of my lack of enthusiasm and extreme avoidance of spending money allowed me months of putting off seeing the new animated feature. This week, though, I found out that a neuroscientist, Dacher Keltner of the University of California at Berkeley, was included in the creation of “Inside Out.” Pixar and neuroscience? Count me in.

The movie depicts the lives, actions and musings of five emotions: Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust. These five were chosen based on the research of psychologist Paul Ekman, who, along with colleagues, created a facial coding system by studying the patterns of facial expressions across multiple cultures. While not every emotion is included, the characters were modeled to fit the findings of Ekman’s research.

The five sit and view life through the eyes of a young girl named Riley, providing reactions to the highs and lows of her adolescent life. Moving, starting school, making friends — it’s an emotional rollercoaster. What is most fascinating are the roles each emotion-character plays. Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust all have distinct personalities but work together and are constantly in communication.

Emotions do not work separately from one another, but rather work as a team to create the feelings, reactions and attitudes we have. Emotions are far less concrete and discreet as the five in the film, but they lay the groundwork for a deeper understanding of human emotion. Giving children the opportunity to begin learning about the roles of emotions in their lives could help them to prepare for the tough journeys they are about to embark on.

Most Pixar films provide morals and lessons, but “Inside Out” is one of the first to have a scientific-based takeaway. Though it may be disguised by the jokes and silliness of a children’s movie, the film offers a true depiction of the inner workings of the human mind that is applicable to more than just the adolescent target audience.

We as humans know very little about the inner workings of our emotions, and science still has a long way to go until we completely understand the complexities. But Pixar has given us, though in its most rudimentary form, a gateway to start understanding one of life’s most confusing challenges: feelings.