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2/1/2016 A Conversation With the Psychologist Behind 'Inside Out' - Pacific Standard

BOOKS&CULTURE

AConversationWiththe
PsychologistBehind'InsideOut'
EmotionsexpertDacherKeltner,whoadviseddirectorPeteDocter
throughoutthemakingofthenewPixarhit,divesdeepintothe
scienceofemotion,andtellsushowInsideOutcouldteachWestern
cultureanimportantlesson.
J.WESLEYJUDD JUL8,2015

Pixarhasaproudtraditionoftakingthingsthatareincapableofexpressinghumanemotionrobots,
toys,rats,carsandimaginingaworldwheretheycan,infact,feel.Thestudio'smostrecenteffort,the
boxofficetoppingandcriticallyacclaimedInsideOut,takesviewersinsidetheheadofayounggirlnamed
Riley,imaginingwhatitwouldbelikeifherfeelingscouldfeel.

WhileInsideOutisultimatelyananimatedchildren'smovie,theperfectionistsatPixar(whichisownedby
theWaltDisneyCompany)stilltookthetaskofpersonifyingemotionsveryseriously.Toensurethey
translatedcomplexpsychologicalissuesaccuratelyandclearly,theyturnedtotwooftheleadingmindsin
thestudyofemotions,PaulEkmanandDacherKeltner.WerecentlyhadachancetospeakwithKeltner,a
professorattheUniversityofCaliforniaBerkeley,whosharedwithuswhatthefilmmakersgotright,how
itcanchangethewayWesternersthinkaboutemotion,andwhattheinsideofalustfulcollegestudent's
mindmightlooklike.

Sotakemetothebeginning:HowdidyougetinvolvedwiththemakingofInsideOut?

Imet[InsideOutdirector]PeteDocteratanAssociationforPsychologicalScienceconferencesevenor
eightyearsago.Iwasaskedtobeonapanelaboutexpressionwith[psychologistandcoInsideOut
consultant]PaulEkman.HewastalkingaboutotherPixarfilmsandhowtheyportrayemotions.

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2/1/2016 A Conversation With the Psychologist Behind 'Inside Out' - Pacific Standard

Petecalledmeuplikefiveyearsagoandsaid,"Iwanttotalktoyouaboutthisideaforamovieallabout
emotion."Myinvolvementreallyhadacoupleofdifferentpieces:OnewastovisitPixarandmeetwith
Pete'scorecreativeteamandjusttalkaboutscience,talkaboutwhatweknow,talkaboutthebrain,talk
aboutexpression.SecondwasansweringPete'semails,whichheliterallystillsendsmetothisday,where
heasksmereallyspecificsciencebasedquestionslike,whatisjoy,intermsofitsphysiology?

Let'sstartreallybroad:Whatdidthefilmgetright?

Well,Ithinkthatthefilmreallygotacoupleofbigideasaboutemotionsright.One,[emotions]arereally
criticaltohowwelookattheworldourperceptionandourattentionandourmemoriesandour
judgment.Theyguideusinourhandlingofreallyimportantlifecircumstances,likemovesand
developmentalchanges.

Thesecondthingismoresubtletoperceiveinthemovie,andit'ssomethingthatwe'vebeenarguingfor
inmylab:Peopleindifferenttraditionsliketorefertoemotionswithasocialidiomoragrammarof
socialinteractions.Emotionsarethestructure,thesubstance,ofourinteractionswithotherpeople.IfI'm
fallinginlovewithsomebody,everythingthatIdointhateuphoriaoflovebuyingflowers,reciting
poetry,touchingtheindividual'shairit'stexturedbythefeeling,anditsetsupthesepatternsofhowwe
relatetoeachother.ThosescenesinparticularwithRiley'sfightswithparentsandrunningawayand
comingbackareallaboutsadness.That'swhatitreallygotright.Emotionsshapehowwerelatetoother
people.

Howaccuratewasthefilm'sdepictionofthecontrolthatemotionsexertonourmemories?

ThereareprettygoodstudiesbyLindaJ.LevinedownattheUniversityofCaliforniaIrvineandearlierby
GordonBowerthatshowifI'minacurrentstatelet'ssayI'mfeelingashamedandyouaskmetorecall
somethingfromthepast,thatemotionisgoingtobiaswhatIrecallfromthepast,andI'lltendtodredge
upmoreshamefulqualitiesoftheexperience,comparedtoifIwasfeelingproudorjealousorwhatever.
Wedon'tknowhowstrongthisishowmuchcurrentemotionsbiasustoignorefactualpropertiesof
thepastbutitistrue.Ithinkthatstrikespeople,particularlywiththelossofchildhoodsowellcaptured
inthefilm.

Thereweremomentsinthefilmwhensadnesswouldtouchamemoryanditwouldbecomepartially
blue,orinsomecasesentirelyblue.Howdidthefilmmakersdoinportrayingthemalleabilityof
emotions?

It'ssointeresting:Youmaythinkyourmemoriesareafactualrepresentationofevents,butinfactwelose
alotofinformation.Memoryisimperfect,that'sOK,andemotionsarepartofthereconstructionofthe
past.Peoplesaytheygetit,butonceyouportraythatartistically,thenpeoplearecryingandstruckbythe
existentialtruthofthatnotion.

Whatdidyouthinkofthevisualrepresentationofitalltheislands,thememoryballs,etc.?

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2/1/2016 A Conversation With the Psychologist Behind 'Inside Out' - Pacific Standard

That'swhereyoujusthavetosimplifyforthesakeofartisticnarrative.ThefiveislandsofpersonalityI
likedtheirchoicesalot.Ilikedthattheyhadagoofballislandforan11yearoldkid.Butifwethinkabout
therealstructureofthemindandtheyonlybrieflytalkedtomeaboutthisit'sgoingtoinvolvenot
onlyfriendshipandfamilyandtheimagination,butit'sgoingtoinvolvegeneticallybasedtraits:AmI
reallyoutgoingornot?It'sgoingtoinvolvecontext.Theretheysimplified,butIthinktheycapturedsome
fundamentaltruthsthatourmindsarerelational.Ithinkpeoplereallyresonatewiththat.

Speakingofsimplifyingthings,theyusedfiveemotions,andobviouslytherewerenarrativereasonsfor
that,butwhatdidtheyleaveout?Dowegainsomecoreemotionsasweage?

Thefirstwaveofemotionsciencefocusedonthose[five]emotions.There'sapapercomingout,authored
byPaulEkman,wherehesurveyedacouplehundredemotionscientistsandthere'salotofconsensus:
Yeah,thosearetheemotionsthatareapartofournervoussystemandouridentity.ButI'vedevotedmy
careertothestudyofneweremotionslikeembarrassment,amusement,awe,andsympathy.

I'vetalkedtoPete[Docter],saying:"Hey,therearetheseotheremotionsthatarereallyinteresting.
ImagineifRileyhadhadoneexperienceofawe.Howfunthatwouldbetoportray?"Petewaslike,"Look,I
recognizethatthereare15to20emotions,butifwehad15to20charactersitwouldbemayhem."Andhe
wasright.Ithinkhehadtosimplifyandhechosewiselybecausethoseareprettywellunderstood
emotions.

Sooutofanyfive,doyouthinkthosewerethemostappropriatefive?

Well,Idon't.It'sreallycomplicated.Likehowcanyounottalkaboutlove?PaulEkman,theother
consultantonthefilm,thinksloveisnotanemotion,butIdo.Orwhataboutamusement,thenon
serioushilarityoffeelingamused?Orsympathy?Thereareprofoundlyimportantemotionsthatdidn't
makethecut.

I'mcuriouswhatchangesyouthinkwewouldseeifwewereinsidetheheadofanadultasopposedtoa
10yearoldkid?

That'sagreatquestion.One:Weknowduringtheteenyears,asthefrontallobesmatureanddevelop
reasoning,westarttolearnhowtoreallyreflectonouremotionsandbeawareofthemwithlanguageand
metaphorandrepresentationandstories.Ithinkyou'dhavetoconsiderwhatpeopletypicallythinkofas
therationalresponsetoouremotions.Dowesuppressthemorelaborateonthem?

Youngerkids'emotionsarepurerinasense.Ithinkthata50yearoldlikemestartstohavethesereally
interestingmixedemotions.Ifeelsojoyfulthatmydaughtersaregettingolder,butIfeelsadthatthey're
ontheirwayoutofthehome.Ithinkthat'dbefascinatingtograpplewith.Andthentherearegoingtobe
emotionsthatbecomemoreprominentaswebecomeolderweknow,forexample,thatpeopleget
kinderastheygetolder.Theywanttovolunteermoreandtheyfeelmorecompassion.

Whatspecificpsychologicalconceptwouldyoumostliketoseeanthropomorphized?

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2/1/2016 A Conversation With the Psychologist Behind 'Inside Out' - Pacific Standard

Wouldn'titbeamazingtohaveRileybean18or20yearoldandsuddenly,likethecollegestudentsI
teachatBerkeley,heremotionallifebecomesreallydifferent?Yeah,angerandfearandsadnessarethere,
buttheydon'tcareasmuchaboutsocialanxiety.They'restartingtofeelsexualdesire,lust,andthatcould
bereallyfunnymaybenotinaDisneymovie,though.Weknowan18or20yearoldisawestruckalot.
They'reawestruckbytheoriesandbigideasandscienceandspiritualityandmeditation.Theystarttoget
thesepoliticalemotions;they'rereallyangryatthepoliticalstatusquo.Ifeelthatwouldbea
tremendouslyambitiousmovie,andoneworthmaking.

It'sbeenthreeweekssinceInsideOutwasreleased.Whatdoyouthinkoftheresponse?

I'venowseenitthreetimesitreallyblowsmeaway.TheemailsI'mgettingareastounding.Ivegotten
emailsfromgrandfatherswhoarelike,"IwentwithmygrandkidsandIwascrying."Sixtyyearoldmen
aresayingthismovieischangingtheirrelationshiptotheirwife.Igotanemailfromamomwhotookher
highlyfunctioningautisticboytothemovie,andseeingthemoviewasthefirsttimethatthisyoungguy
hadinsightintohisemotionaldifficulty.Hesaid:"Mom,IknowIhaveanger,fear,anddisgust,butI
reallystrugglewithsadnessandjoyIdon'tknowwheretheyare."Andshesaiditwastheirbreakthrough
moment.Iwasblownaway.

Itmustbereallyneatforsomeonewhohasdedicatedhisprofessionallifetotheacademicpursuitof
thissubjecttoseeitaffectsomanypeople.

Ithinkanysaneacademicknowsthatontheirgooddaystheirideasreach,Idon'tknow,20people.The
thingthatI'vealwaystaughtmyundergrads,andI'vetaughtthisfor20years:Emotionsaregoodforyou.
Putasidetheseoldideasoforiginalsinandthatpassionisanimalisticandbase.Darwinandotherssaid
wehavetheseemotionsandthey'regoodforus,theyhelpusaccomplishthings.Peoplegetlostinthe
academicterminology.Butthismovieistellingpeopletoembraceyouremotionsit'sOKifyouget
angryfromtimetotime.Thereissomereasonwhyyou'redoingit.Italsoshowsyouhowimportantartis
inadvancingourunderstandingofhumannature.

Ithinkthefilmdidagreatjobofthatwithsadnessinparticular.Ittoldkids,orpeoplewhowould
otherwisenotknow,thatfeelingsadisperfectlynormal,andcanevenleadtosomethingbetter.

IwroteaNewYorkTimespieceonthat:WeknowscientificallythatagirlRiley'sageisgoingtolosealot
ofjoy.They'regoingtofeelsad,andthey'regoingtoreallyloseasenseofselfconfidence;theyhavethis
dropinselfesteem.Parents,whentheyseeit,areabsolutelyshellshocked.Andthensometimespeople
aresaying,"Maybeyoushouldputheronmedication."Butwhatthefilmsaysisthisisjustpartof
growingandit'sOK.Ifeelthatisthemostimportantmessageinthemovie.

OneofthethingsIreallyresonatedwithisthatwehaveanaiveviewintheWestthathappinessisall
aboutthepositivestuff.Buthappinessinameaningfullifeisreallyaboutthefullarrayofemotions,and
findingthemintherightplace.Ithinkthatisasubtextofthemovie:TheparentswantRileytojustbe
theirhappylittlegirl.Andshecan't.Shehastohavethisfullcomplementofemotionstodevelop.Ithink
weallneedtorememberthat.ThisisaweaknessinWesterncultureandtheUnitedStates.Youneed
sadness,youneedanger,youneedfear.

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2/1/2016 A Conversation With the Psychologist Behind 'Inside Out' - Pacific Standard

Thisinterviewhasbeeneditedforlengthandclarity.

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