Why Core Memories and Not Core Emotions – A Review of Inside Out.

You cannot claim to be a blogger on Emotional Intelligence and not blog about Pixar’s latest film “Inside-Out”. The film is getting terrific reviews. I saw the film last Friday afternoon (30/7/15) and it is brilliantly creative. Indeed some are describing it as the best film Pixar has ever made.

The film is about an eleven-year old heroine, Riley, who has lived her life in Minnisota, where she stars in ice hockey and collects a memory bank filled with joyful events. But then Riley is forced to move across the country, where she finds herself insecure, unhappy and out of control. In a few days she resolves these issues. As a plot the film is simple. What is different is that nearly all the film takes part in Riley’s head.

In the film five emotions — personified as the characters Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness and Joy sit around a console in ‘Headquarters’ and grapple for control of Riley’s mind. They control the way Riley feels, and therefore thinks and acts demonstrating that emotions are crucial in the life choices we make. In the film Joy and Sadness get ejected from ‘Headquarters’ and undergo a journey back to the centre of her control system via various parts of the brain: Abstract Reasoning, the Dream Factory, the Memory Dump, the Train of Thought, etc.. The sequences are simply brilliant. Meanwhile Anger, Fear and Disgust are now in charge and lead Riley into an impulsive set of self-destructive actions.

In the beginning Riley’s personality is principally defined by Joy. Sadness gradually takes control of Riley’s thought processes about the changes she is going through. This is most evident when Sadness adds blue hues to the images of Riley’s memories of her life in Minnesota. It guides Riley to recognize the changes she is going through and what she has lost, which sets the stage for her to develop new facets of her identity.

The film has a number of messages:

First, the search for happiness is not our ultimate life goal. We are best served by living from the inside out, using our emotions to inform our wishes and our choices to create a balance between intellect and emotion. Emotions can organize — rather than disrupt — rational thinking. Since the Ancient Greek Philosophers the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations.

Second, emotions can organize our social lives. Anger moves social collectives to protest and remedy injustice. Sadness prompts people to unite in response to loss. We see this first in an angry outburst at the dinner table that causes Riley to storm upstairs to lie alone in a dark room, leaving her dad to wonder what to do. It is also Sadness that leads Riley to reunite with her parents. So another key message it that you should embrace sadness rather than try to bury it with positive thinking.

A major theme of the film revolves around the concept of ‘core memories’. The core memories are objects of major importance in Inside Out. Memory is represented as a series of rolling balls, coloured by the prevailing emotion at the time they occur. Like all memory balls, core memories represent past events of Riley’s life. However, they have a much greater importance than usual memories. They represent key moments that have defined Riley’s current personality. Core memories appear brighter than any other memory and power each Island of Personality. Core memories are usually stored in the centre of Headquarters in a dedicated circular tray, from which they emit a beam of light through a glass tube all the way to their respective Island of Personality. In the film these core memories get separated when Joy and Sadness are ejected from ‘Headquarters’ and subsequently are carried around by Joy in a bag.

The question I have is about emotions. Paul Ekman, who was the scientific consultant to Pixar, has put forward the hypothesis that there are six core emotions: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness, Joy and Surprise. In addition he has stated our identities are defined by specific emotions, which shape how we perceive the world, how we express ourselves and the responses we evoke in others. Other people have said there are only four arguing that the difference between anger and disgust and between surprise and fear were socially, not biologically, based.

I would argue that your dominant core emotions are driven by your temperament – what you are genetically born with. Based on a study of 11,000 identical twins nature is around twice as important as nurture. I have found the 7MTF/Humm-Wadsworth model of seven core emotions the most practical tool for people to use and once understood (takes a day) dramatically lifts their emotional intelligence. This is the key to emotional intelligence, understanding your core emotions compared to your transient emotions. If you want to learn about the Humm download a free white paper on using Emotional Intelligence in either selling or management .

My e-books available in Kindle format explain the technique in more detail.

The film is also described as suitable for people between 4 and 94. I would quibble with the lower limit. In the film I saw there were two children aged between 4 and 6 who found some of the sequences quite frightening. Eight would be my lower limit.

Finally watch the credits at the end. There is a whole swath of simple 10 second scenes where you visit the ‘Headquarters’ of different characters (including a dog). They are very funny and very perceptive.


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Chris Golis - Author


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