Pixar’s Inside Out is a movie about being a child and all the emotions that accompany this tumultuous time. Director Pete Doctor and producer Jonas Rivera chose the movie’s core emotions based on research from Dr. Paul Ekman. Dr. Ekman identifies six primary emotions that are universal throughout various cultures—happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, disgust, and fear—and all but one of these appear in the film.

Eleven-year-old Riley’s parents have just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, and she must come to terms with leaving her old school, best friend, and extracurricular activities. Although Riley is the story’s protagonist, the real characters are her emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear, which are personified inside her brain.

The film teaches that emotions play a significant role in the development of Riley’s personality. Joy is the leader—Riley’s predominant emotion—and she strives to protect Riley from Sadness. Later, Joy tries to banish one of Riley’s negative memories, and, as a result, she and Sadness get thrown out of Headquarters, the emotional control center. Only Fear, Anger, and Disgust remain, leaving Riley moody and irritable. Conflict ensues as each emotion grapples for control.

During the challenges of trying to return to Headquarters, Joy and Sadness learn important lessons as each begins to empathize with the emotion of the other. By the movie’s conclusion, Joy understands that she and Sadness must learn to coexist. In a Newsweek article, child psychologist Dr. Fadi Haddad comments, “I thought that was a brilliant ending in the movie, to see the importance of having a feeling like Sadness. That’s what connects us many times to families, to sad events, to friends, to understanding the meaning of empathy.”

The acceptance of Sadness leads to a breakthrough for Riley, who then shares with her parents her pain about leaving Minnesota, which in the movie is also a symbol for leaving behind her childhood. Riley’s emotions are reunited, and they begin working together, leading to Riley’s emotional healing.

For a children’s movie, Inside Out is surprisingly mature, accurately depicting how emotions interact, how they change during adolescence, and how they affect memory. It is a scientific yet kid-friendly portrayal of how the brain works, emphasizing the importance of all emotions—both the good and the bad. Emotions can be very complex for adults, and even more so for children. However, Inside Out has made them more accessible.

Do you think Inside Out accurately depicted the psychology of emotions? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!


Why did you choose to enter the field of psychology?
This was the best way I could think of to participate in the evolution of our world. I was fascinated by the complex task of identifying patterns to thoughts, feelings, and behavior that could help us predict a person's behavior. I could not find any field more complex, and all other fields seemed boring compared to this intellectual frontier.


What made you decide initially to develop the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2™ Child and Adolescent (STAXI-2™ C/A)?
The amazing paucity of anger measures currently existing, especially for children and adolescents. I knew the state-trait theory already had been overwhelmingly accepted by the field of psychological assessment. As a developmental psychologist in training, I approached Charlie Spielberger and suggested we develop a measure for children. He and I knew there was such a need since parents, teachers, and mental health professionals were all very concerned about the high prevalence of anger, but researchers seemed to have been giving most of their attention to anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, etc., classical conditions. Meanwhile, the public health problem of anger “snuck up” on our world. We see this with the school shootings that have occurred that now have everyone's attention.

What would you like to tell people about your product that they may not know?
This is a measure that can truly help get at the nuances of anger. As a practicing developmental psychologist who works everyday in the trenches with parents, pediatricians, teachers, etc., I have a keen sense of whether a measure is worth our time and energy as a practitioner who is very busy. The STAXI-2 C/A passes this test admirably. Why? Most people do not want to know if there is anger or not, rather, they want to know if the child is possibly harboring anger, how much they are struggling to control their anger, and to what degree might they be controlling anger much more than any adult appreciates. They also want to know if the anger is more just a temporary state or more like a trait, and thus, more concerning.

These are the most compelling question for our field, and for the adults working with children. And it is these questions that the STAXI-2 C/A provides answers to. Second, this is a necessary measure any time one is conducting a risk assessment, as again, this measure endeavors to assess covert anger that we have learned is “silent but deadly.” This anger measure provides a robust profile of a person's personality as it relates to anger. In this way, this measure is very practical.

What would you like to tell people about yourself that they may not know?
My experience with anger goes far beyond research and clinical settings, as I have a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, and am blessed with everyday appreciating the nuances of anger in my wonderful children. I learn from them every day. We, as parents, know there is nothing that can replace real-world experience with emotions like anger. I am also a competitive cyclist who most recently rode the Tour de Tucson, a 67 mile road race. My wife and I, with our two wonderful children, live in Tucson, Arizona, deep in the desert, my favorite place on earth.

How do you spend your free time?
Riding as fast as I can down the road, rain or shine. When not in the bike saddle, I am reading to my kids or we are outside enjoying the desert climate. I am currently learning about Transformers and He-Man from my son, and from my daughter, I am learning all about the importance of having tea parties for her dolls.