Positive Self Help

The Inside Out Film: Psychological Analysis

The premise of the 2015 film Inside Out is based on a girl named Riley whose father is unable to secure a job, leading the family to move away. A peculiarity of the plot is that it features different individuals placed in Riley’s consciousness. These are depicted as symbols of anger, sadness, joy, disgust and anxiety. As the story unfolds, Riley finds herself struggling to fit into her new environment. In addition to portraying emotional metaphors and inner personalities, this film explores emotions as they interact with each other.

Psychological Concepts in the Film

1. Sublimation

The idea of how the mind grows is shown in an in-depth look at the film Inside Out. In this, we see the idea of sublimation. This means that people turn strong feelings into something useful or good, such as a hobby or sport, to make themselves feel better. This helps relieve stress and promotes creativity. In the movie, Riley does this while playing hockey while feeling very angry. Instead of taking her anger out in a bad way, she uses it to excel in sports, showing a clear case of sublimation.

2. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of human needs starts at the bottom, the “physiological” to be reached before moving to the “safety” and then the “psychological” levels. Unfortunately, throughout the film, Riley suffers a loss of her basic needs. When Family Island falls apart in her mind, it means she doesn’t have the third level of hierarchy called belongingness and love needs.

Read More: Remembering B.F. Skinner and His Contributions to Psychology

3. Theory of Operant Learning

Another theory observed in this cartoon is Skinner’s theory of operant learning. This idea is about how people or animals behave because of things they like or dislike. What people do is mostly shaped by good things, gifts, thoughts or treats. In Inside Out, memory is very important as Riley often looks back on her happy memories to make herself feel better when she is upset. On the other hand, her feelings determine how she acts: in difficult times.

4. Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is described as the choice to perform a behaviour to obtain promised rewards or avoid impending punishment. Riley suggests this as he lives down in Minnesota. He has plenty of motivation to do well in school and in the higher curriculum, just like any younger toddler.

5. Emotions and Memory

The most important part of the plot is the interaction between emotions and memory. The film flawlessly shows how memories can change when you recall them. The emotional nature of events often changes as we remember them. Some events over the years end more horrifyingly as depicted in the film. Additionally, in most cases, memories are much more amazing in hindsight. The film also shows the relationship between sleep and memory.

Sleep is considered a time to store all memories in the brain and store information. Sleep is a technique that strengthens memories. In addition, desires are shown as factors in the events of the day, only distorted and with the addition of fantastic and absurd factors. It shows how ideas link memory and offer meaning to what is being studied.

Read More: Understanding the Neurobiology of Sleep: Brain Function, Sleep Stages, and Impact on Mental Health

6. Intrapersonal & Interpersonal Communication

This is perfectly illustrated in the scene in the film where Riley gets explosively angry at her family dinner table. This observable interpersonal behaviour (anger) occurs due to an intrapersonal technique in which emotions (anxiety, sadness, disgust, and joy) engage with each other to produce the following behavioural outburst. To the observer, it seems like an explosion that happened immediately, but with insight into the intrapersonal method we feel the increase and therefore the reason for this behaviour.

7. Stress

In addition to feeling, there are other instances of stress in psychology in the film. Connection number seven defines stress as a word that is the process of perceiving and reacting to some specific events called stressors that we evaluate as threatening or challenging. Various stressful situations can be seen in the film. For example, after leaving her hometown and moving to a new school community, Riley is under a lot of pressure. Likewise, when Joy is taken away from headquarters, all the other emotions start to worry because, without joy, there would be no happiness for Riley.

Read More: Grounding Exercise for Reducing Stress


Each character in the film was different and covered emotions like Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Disgust. From these feelings, Joy was the leader of Riley’s thoughts, but that wasn’t the case for all of us. Riley’s father, Mr. Anderson, was guided by Anger, and her mother, Mrs. Anderson, was guided by Sadness. This could be seen as — an irritable father and a depressed mother.

However, the fact that these emotions drive these characters would not necessarily define them, reports the completion of Inside Out. At the end of Inside Out, Riley’s inner Joy learns that it’s not always healthy to always be content. Throughout the film, she tries to push sadness out of the way because she believes that being unhappy is bad and that moving her family to San Francisco would make it even harder.

Read More: Psychology behind intense emotions

However, it wasn’t until Joy allowed grief to intervene and deal with the scenario that Riley should bond with her mom and dad and heal. Joy was still the boss of the show, but she found that every emotion wanted its time to shine, so Riley could be a balanced individual.

References +
  • The Inside Out Film: Psychological Analysis | Psychology Paper example. (2024, January 31). PsychologyWriting. https://psychologywriting.com/the-inside-out-film-psychological-analysis/
  • Sutori. (n.d.). Sutori. https://www.sutori.com/en/story/psychology-found-in-inside-out–mwi8gQwr8ne3EWY7qjPHWgZJ
  • Walk in My Shoes. (2019, August 21). Inside Out – A psychological Insight. Walk in My Shoes. https://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/library/blogs-and-articles/2016/july/inside-out-a-psychological-insight
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