Psychology and Art: “Inside Out”

Inside_Out_2015_film_poster

Disclaimer: I haven’t seen this movie yet, though I have weekend plans to do so. But I’ve been reading so many articles about what it’s gotten right about psychology, that it seemed to tie-in perfectly with the S.T.E.A.M. goal of the marriage of science and art that I had to share something on the subject. There will come a follow-up post concerning my thoughts on the film.

First, in case you’ve been living under a rock, a synopsis:

“Inside Out” is about the inner emotional life of 11-year old Riley. Her five dominant emotions, (joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust) are personified as technicolored characters vying for dominance in a control center within her brain. When some of the core memories that make up Riley’s personality are accidentally removed, and Joy and Sadness lost off in the depths of Riley’s mind, the latter two must recover the core memories and return to the command center before Riley emotionally unravels.

Riley’s core emotions at her internal command center

  1. Sleep used to store long-term memories

“Inside Out” depicts the day’s memories in the form of spheres being sucked up a vacuum tube to be housed in long-term memory while Riley, sleeps. A study published in 2013 by the American Psychological Society notes that “initial theories posed a passive role for sleep enhancing memories by protecting them from interfering stimuli, current theories highlight an active role for sleep in which memories undergo a process of system consolidation during sleep.”

I’ll be interested to see if the movie addresses the role of dreams in the formation of long-term memory as well.

  1. Re-labeling the dominant emotions of our memories

Riley repeatedly remembers a time she misses a winning goal during a hockey game. At first, the memory orb is blue, for sadness. When her teammates rally around her to cheer her up, however, the orb changes to yellow, for joy. When you’re miserable and determined to be so, any attempt to cheer you up, like a reminder of a happy memory, will probably result in you only recalling the worst aspects of that particular experience. When I first was dumped by my college boyfriend, all my memories of Sarah Lawrence, from my classes to my professors and friends seemed like just a twist of the blade in my heart, (sorry to get melodramatic, but it’s true). But, four years later, I can look back at that time and smile once again.

  1. “Negative” emotions are not always so

The emotional upheaval of the film begins with Riley’s family moving from Minnesota to San Francisco, and Sadness reigns as Riley’s dominant emotion. Riley recalls in the third act that it was her obvious outward sadness about losing the hockey game that made others want to help her, and that denying one’s unhappy emotions will not make them go away. I’m bipolar, and while manic episodes and crashes are few and far between thanks to a cocktail of medications and regular talk-therapy, I embrace the extremes when they happen. The mania is always a state of great energy and creativity, in which I’m super productive and can’t seem to write enough, draw enough, photograph enough. The lows I try to just see as “down time” after so much frenetic excitement. Neither are so extreme these days, thanks to the aforementioned treatment.

Inside Out - Emotion Poster Collaboration

Whatever my emotional state, manic, crashing, or somewhere in-between, I expect “Inside Out” to run me through the full gauntlet of emotions before the credits roll. I’m sorry to say that in researching this post, one of the reviews I read resulted in a major spoiler that already had me tearing up, so, needless to say, I’m very excited to see what else this movie has to offer.

And please listen to this great NPR interview with the creative team.

And now, because it’s Wednesday, your weekly S.T.E.A.M.-themed cartoon:

Yes, it's not really a cartoon, but it's still funny; no one likes a nitpicker

Yes, it’s not really a cartoon, but it’s still funny; no one likes a nitpicker

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One thought on “Psychology and Art: “Inside Out”

  1. Pingback: Movie Review: Inside Out | Project S.T.E.A.M. TV

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