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The Science Behind the Emotions in Inside Out 2

For National Geographic, Tony Hale (who played Fear in Inside Out 2) talks to psychologist and author Dr. Lisa Damour about Pixar’s new film, her role as a consultant for the filmmakers, and what science says about the emotions in the movie. From The Kid Should See This:

By blending Pixar’s storytelling with scientific expertise, the Inside Out films and this discussion help make the complex topic of emotional development approachable and more familiar. They offer viewers of all ages vocabulary to better understand and express their feelings, while normalizing the intricate emotional experiences we encounter throughout life.

I have heard a lot of good things about Damour’s books from other parents, particularly Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents.

Vox also has a really interesting article on the science of the emotions of Inside Out 2, with quotes from Damour and emotion scientist Dacher Keltner.

One of the things that happens when people become teenagers is that their brain becomes more sophisticated, and it allows for self-conscious emotions. Before age 13, kids are concrete in their thinking. They can’t always see things from another perspective. Then around 13 or 14, the ability to picture oneself on the outside, to imagine different scenarios, arrives as a result of brain development.

With that arrival comes the ability to be embarrassed and to imagine what other people think of you. Or to have envy, to want something somebody else has and to want to know why you don’t have it. Ennui is so funny and wonderful and really maps onto the natural disdain and over-it-ness teenagers can have for everything. Then, of course, anxiety is a major player in this movie. What anxiety requires is the ability to imagine and anticipate. Fear is our response to the threat right in front of us, whereas anxiety is picturing things that might happen.

See also The Making of “Inside Out 2” episode of Damour’s podcast.

As the parent of two teens and also as someone who perhaps remembers a little too much what it felt like to be a teenager, I found Inside Out 2’s portrayal of the emotions (and how to manage them) to be really convincing. (via the kid should see this)

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Anxiety in Inside Out 2 Is Too Real

NY Times critic Maya Phillips wrote about seeing her anxiety reflected in Pixar’s Inside Out 2.

When an emotion takes over in the “Inside Out” movies, a control board in Riley’s mind changes to that feeling’s color; Anxiety’s takeover, however, is more absolute. She creates a stronghold in Riley’s imagination, where she forces mind workers to illustrate negative hypothetical scenarios for Riley’s future. Soon, Riley’s chief inner belief is of her inadequacy; the emotions hear “I’m not good enough” as a low, rumbling refrain in her mind.

I’m familiar with anxiety’s hold on the imagination; my mind is always writing the script to the next worst day of my life. It’s already embraced all possibilities of failure. And my anxiety’s ruthless demands for perfection often turn my thoughts into an unrelenting roll-call of self-criticisms and insecurities.

And yet โ€” Anxiety isn’t the villain of this movie.

A cursory spin around social media reveals many other people who identified with that aspect of the film.

I really enjoyed this movie and loved that they didn’t make Anxiety the villain. It would have been so easy to do so โ€” Hollywood has a habit of really dumbing things down, especially in movies aimed at kids. The filmmakers seemed to understand that anxiety is the flip-side of a coin that includes some mixture of watchfulness, anticipation, and exhilaration. That emotion can be useful to people, until it spins out of the control as in the movie and then it wreaks havoc.

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The outside edition of Inside Out

Jordan Hanzon made an edit of Inside Out showing only the “outside” parts of the film…so, none of the stuff with Joy, Sadness, Anger, etc. I bet Pixar had an internal cut like this just to make sure the outside stuff hung together independent of the inside. (via devour1)

  1. I love Devour. They find great videos and curate their selection well. But they never credit their sources. More than a dozen times in recent months, I’ll post a video to and it’ll show up on Devour within 30 minutes or so. (How do I know they’re taking from me and not the place I originally found them? Because I often don’t post stuff right away because of my scheduling, pacing, etc.) Anyway, it’s not just me…they take stuff from Colossal and other places as well. It sucks. I’ve complained to them on Twitter and nothing changed. For the past few months, I’ve been using a tit-for-tat approach and not crediting Devour for finding a video on their site. Since it’s the new year, I’m giving them another chance. Come on, Devour, stop being a leech and credit your sources!โ†ฉ

The science of Pixar’s Inside Out

Psychologists Dacher Keltner and Paul Ekman served as scientific consultants during the production of Pixar’s Inside Out. Keltner studies the origins of human emotion and Ekman pioneered research of microexpressions. In this NY Times piece, they discuss the science behind the movie.

Those quibbles aside, however, the movie’s portrayal of sadness successfully dramatizes two central insights from the science of emotion.

First, emotions organize โ€” rather than disrupt โ€” rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations.

Second, emotions organize โ€” rather than disrupt โ€” our social lives. Studies have found, for example, that emotions structure (not just color) such disparate social interactions as attachment between parents and children, sibling conflicts, flirtations between young courters and negotiations between rivals.

I’ve thought about Inside Out every day since I saw it. Pixar clearly did their homework on the emotional stuff and it paid off.

Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking

Antidote Book

“Success through failure, calm through embracing anxiety…” This book sounds perfect for me. The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman.

Self-help books don’t seem to work. Few of the many advantages of modern life seem capable of lifting our collective mood. Wealth โ€” even if you can get it โ€” doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. Romance, family life, and work often bring as much stress as joy. We can’t even agree on what “happiness” means. So are we engaged in a futile pursuit? Or are we just going about it the wrong way?

Looking both east and west, in bulletins from the past and from far afield, Oliver Burkeman introduces us to an unusual group of people who share a single, surprising way of thinking about life. Whether experimental psychologists, terrorism experts, Buddhists, hardheaded business consultants, Greek philosophers, or modern-day gurus, they argue that in our personal lives, and in society at large, it’s our constant effort to be happy that is making us miserable. And that there is an alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty โ€” the very things we spend our lives trying to avoid. Thought-provoking, counterintuitive, and ultimately uplifting, The Antidote is the intelligent person’s guide to understanding the much-misunderstood idea of happiness.

I learned about the book from Tyler Cowen, who notes:

[Burkeman] is one of the best non-fiction essay writers, and he remains oddly underrated in the United States. It is no mistake to simply buy his books sight unseen. I think of this book as “happiness for grumps.”

Given Cowen’s recent review of Inside Out, I wonder if [slight spoilers ahoy!] he noticed the similarity of Joy’s a-ha moment w/r/t to Sadness at the end of the film to the book’s “alternative path to happiness and success that involves embracing failure, pessimism, insecurity, and uncertainty”. Mmmm, zeitgeisty!

New trailer for Inside Out

Ok, I’m starting to feel better about Inside Out, Pixar’s upcoming animated feature that takes place mostly inside the mind of a young girl. The first trailer featured a bunch of gender stereotypes and mostly left me scratching my head, but the second trailer is solid:

Inside Out, Pixar’s next film

2014 is the first year without a Pixar film since 2005’s gap between The Incredibles and Cars. The company has two films planned for 2015 and one of them will hopefully do something about one of my long-standing pet peeves about their movies: the lack of strong women characters. Inside Out takes place inside the brain of a teenaged girl, with her emotions as the main characters.

The film’s real protagonist is Joy (voiced by an effervescent Amy Poehler), one of five emotions who steer Riley through life via a control center in her mind that’s akin to the bridge from the Starship Enterprise. Joy and her cohorts โ€” including Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Anger (Lewis Black), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) โ€” all work together to keep Riley emotionally balanced, and for the first 11 years of her life, the primary influencer is Joy, as evidenced by Riley’s sunny demeanor.

But as adolescence sets in, Joy finds her lead role usurped. Suddenly, Sadness wants to pipe in at inappropriate times โ€” coaxing Riley to cry during her first day at a new school, for instance โ€” and as the two emotions jostle for control, both of them fall into the deepest reaches of Riley’s mind and have to work their way back. Meanwhile, left to their own devices, Fear, Disgust, and Anger collude to transform Riley into a moody preteen.

Holy cow, that sounds great.