Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ Reminds Us to Manage Emotions by Training Our Brain

If you could look at your own personality, which emotion leads others in managing your mind’s control room? Joy? Fear? Disgust? Anger? Sadness?

Through the lens of the new Pixar movie “Inside Out”, Joy calls the shots in the mind of the 11-year-old protagonist named Riley. In fact, this positive emotion — personified by actress Amy Poehler — finds it hard to step aside when other emotions are in many ways more appropriate for the situations Riley finds herself in, including moving to a new city and navigating school and friends.

The role emotions play in our lives has driven my research for 30 years and motivates the search for an answer to why some people seem more resilient than others to life’s slings and arrows. What is it about the resilient group that helps them better overcome adversity?

To begin to answer this question, we’ve taken a look at how these emotions work in the brain in a laboratory setting with tools such as fMRI scanners. Over time, we’ve not only documented that people indeed have emotional styles and predispositions, but there are also techniques that show great promise in helping adults and children to alter their emotions to improve well-being and decrease suffering.

Thanks to neuroplasticity, perhaps the most influential idea in the past several decades in neuroscience, we know that the brain’s structure and function can change throughout life, even as adults. It means you can train your brain to better manage which emotions surface when and for how long. So how do you move emotions like anger and sadness to the backseat to make room for more joy and to increase well-being?


There is growing neuroscientific understanding of joy and happiness, and one of the important things we’ve learned has to do with —> Read More