Inside out Movie Review: Memory and Emotions with Pixar’s Delightful Masterpiece

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The Disney Pixar Movie Inside Out is centered around a pre-pubescent girl, Riley, who is eleven years old, adjusting to her new life in San Francisco after moving from her beloved home in Minnesota.

Emotion Personification and Memory

At the beginning of the film, the character Joy is the first emotional character to be introduced, who is responsible for Riley’s feeling of happiness in her life. As Riley begins to develop in her early life, new emotions are introduced, such as Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.

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This is implied that as the older Riley gets older, the more complex her emotions become in working together to have her function as a normal adolescent. Joy is the character who seems to be the center of Riley’s.

Memory Management in Headquarters

In the headquarters, the emotions control Riley’s daily memories by capturing them into orbs that are color-coordinated to the emotion that was responsible for its creation. For example, Sadness is blue; therefore, all of Riley’s sad memories are captured into a blue orb. At the end of each day, all the memories are sent to the long-term memory section, a vast maze with thousands of shelves filled with memories via transportation tubes. Between the headquarters and long-term memory, that is a large abyss, the memory dump, where forgotten memories are sent by “forget workers.” They are responsible for going through the long-term memory shelves, sending faded memories to the memory dump, to declutter her thoughts to make room for new long-term memories.

Pete Docter, the director of Inside Out, the accuracy of memory formation is seen throughout the film by having memories sent to a long-term memory storage area, useless memories are tossed into a memory dump to disappear forever, and forget workers remove memories while Riley is asleep. However, these concepts are oversimplified for the film’s younger audience.

Memory Orbs and Memory Functions

Memory orbs represent the encoding of memories; at the end of the day, when orbs are sent to the long-term memory section symbolizes storage consolidation, and when orbs are sent back to headquarters, it is an example of retrieval. However, there is a scene in the movie where Riley forgets how to play hockey. This is an inaccurate depiction of procedural memory because, once a skill that required muscle memory, it is nearly impossible to forget, such as riding a bike.

Types of Long-Term Memory

Long-term memory is comprised of declarative and procedural memory. Declarative memory can be verbally explained, whereas procedural memory is more difficult to explain, such as how to ride a bike. The declarative memory processes are most accurately depicted in the Inside Out movie. These two types of memory work together to allow individuals to remember who they are, their perception of the world, and facts about their environment. Episodic memory is specialized long-term memories that pertain to an individual’s experiences of the world and autobiographical events (Mayes et al., 2004, p. 426). For example, Riley’s memory of her team losing a hockey game in Minnesota is an autobiographical memory. In order for short-term memory to become long-term memory, it must undergo three critical processes, encoding, storage or consolidation, and retrieval.

Encoding and its Significance

Encoding is the first process of converting an active memory, or short-term memory, into a declarative memory. This process is not done simply by trying to memorize something through repetition but through high exposure. For example, when studying for an exam, the best way to remember the material is through high exposure to the course content. Such as reading the textbook before a lecture, rereading notes after a lecture, and rereading the chapters before an exam. The reason for reading a chapter before a lecture is that having background knowledge on a subject allows the material to be encoded more efficiently. The encoding process is done in the hippocampus; therefore, illnesses, such as anterograde amnesia, occur when there is damage to this area of the brain. The brain is unable to encode the messages being sent, in turn ceasing the creation of declarative memory. However, when a healthy individual is highly self-aware or has prior knowledge of the information they are receiving, it makes the encoding process easier to make strong connections.

A study was done to determine whether present-moment awareness can enhance the encoding process of memory. The Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test, RAVLT, was used to test the participant’s retention rate. This test verbally recites a list of words that participants are asked to repeat back. In this experiment, the list consisted of fifteen words and was given a delay in between each trial that was done. The researchers found that the individuals who were ranked highly mindful had an enhanced encoding performance (Lueke & Lueke, 2019, p.1538). It can be assumed that those who are more self-aware and have previous knowledge about a subject will have better encoding processes than those who do not. This can explain why Riley, and many other preteens, struggle with managing their emotions as well.

Storage and Consolidation of Memory

The storage and consolidation process follows encoding. This process is strengthened during sleep; therefore, it is always recommended to get a good night’s rest before taking an exam. The example of storage done in Inside Out is at the end of the day when Riley goes to sleep; all the orbs get sent through a tube that sends them to their respective areas of her long-term memory. The movie oversimplifies this process and is not completely accurate because all her memories formed from one day get sent to her long-term memory, which is not true. At the end of the day, during sleep, the brain decides to store information that is relevant and discards information that is irrelevant. After the encoding process is done, during sleep, the information is stored or consolidated.

A study was conducted that compared the retention of information before and after sleep and discovered that people had the highest retention rate after resting. The participants were presented with a list of words and were asked to recite the ones they remembered back. Similar to Ebbinghaus’s original experiment of memory encoding and retrieval study. This study proposed that the reason for this is that during sleep, the brain reactivates the learning experience that happened prior to going to sleep (Hu et al., 2020, p.2). This consolidates or recalls the prior information given, causing the memory to be strengthened during storage in declarative memory. The results of this study found that people who were allowed to rest during the delay period had the highest retention rates due to encoding processes being strengthened during sleep, leading to higher rates of storage and consolidation.

The Retrieval Process

After a memory is encoded and then stored, this memory can later be brought back into conscious awareness; this is called the retrieval process. Without this process, people would not be able to remember simple tasks such as remembering how to brush their teeth or eat. The hippocampus is not only responsible for the encoding of messages but for the retrieval of memories as well. This is why people who have damage to the hippocampus, such as Patient H.M., cannot remember new information (Mauguiere & Corkin, 2015, p. 274). An example of retrieval in Inside Out is when the “forget workers” would send a gum commercial’s jingle up to headquarters via the same tube used to send the memory orbs to the long-term memory section of Riley’s brain. The emotions in headquarters would be extremely confused as to why Riley would randomly remember this jingle and have it stuck in her head for the day. However, retrieval of autobiographical memory is easier to recall than other memories, especially when linked to high emotional feelings.

A study was conducted to determine whether the memory retrieval process has a strong connection to intense negative emotions such as depression. The experiment used the Autobiographical Memory Test, which is used to identify specific autobiographical memories by using word negative or positive word cues (Matsumoto & Mochizuki, 2019, p.674). The results found that self-reflectance is high when negative word cues are present. Whereas when positive cues were present, less self-reflection and positive memories were retrieved (Matsumoto & Mochizuki, 2019, p.681). This means that the retrieval of negative memories and emotions was easier and quicker to remember than those of happy and positive thoughts. This can explain why Sadness was able to alter memory orbs that were once happy memories into sad memories easily.

Misrepresentation of Procedural Memory

Although Inside Out contains accuracies in their concepts of memory, one inaccuracy that can be noticed is when Riley forgets how to play hockey. This is not a correct depiction because learning how to play a sport or movement that requires practice is a part of procedural memory. Procedural memory is a part of long-term memory that allows individuals to remember how to use motor skills or how to do things in their daily life. This can go from knowing how to walk to riding a bike. This type of long-term memory is a part of implicit memory which is harder to explain verbally compared to declarative memory. Therefore, it is not possible for Riley to have been able to forget how to play her favorite sport in a short span of time. Even if Riley had not played hockey in years, she would have been able to pick up the techniques of the sport again after practicing in a shorter span of time than the first time she learned how to play the sport.

Procedural Memory Research

Studies have been done that show that procedural memories begin to form in infancy, beginning with learning how to grasp items such as a finger but are strengthened with age.

According to a study about procedural memory, procedural memories are how people learn skills and form habits in their daily lives. During this study, the serial reaction time, SRT, the task was used to measure manual motor control. The SRT is conducted by repeatedly presenting stimulus cues to the participants and recording their reactions. This study, in particular, measures infants’ and adults’ eye movement to a stimulus cue. The results found that adults were able to move their eyes twice as fast as infants. This supports the idea of procedural memories being strengthened when people grow older (Koch et al., 2019, p. 11). Supporting the idea of Riley forgetting how to play a sport she had been playing for years as a false representation of procedural memory loss.


Overall, Disney Pixar’s Inside Out contained more accurate information on how memories are formed and forgotten than inaccurate information. Surprisingly the correct processes of forming declarative memories, such as encoding, storage, and retrieval, were present in the film and were accurate in their functions of Riley’s brain. However, the concept of procedural memory was incorrect in this film. This film can be used to educate children on how their memories are created and why they forget certain things at times.

Works Cited

  1. Coatsworth, J. D., Duncan, L. G., Greenberg, M. T., & Nix, R. L. (2010). Changing parent’s mindfulness, child management skills and relationship quality with their youth: Results from a randomized pilot intervention trial. Journal of child and family studies, 19(2), 203-217.
  2. Corkin, S. (2002). What’s new with the amnesic patient H.M.? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 3(2), 153-160.
  3. Ebbinghaus, H. (1964). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology. New York: Dover.
  4. Koch, F. X., Farnworth, M. S., & Anderson, D. I. (2019). The role of sleep in the consolidation of procedural motor skills in infants. Journal of experimental psychology: General, 148(1), 1.
  5. Mayes, A., Montaldi, D., & Migo, E. (2007). Associative memory and the medial temporal lobes. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(3), 126-135.
  6. Hu, P., Stylos-Allan, M., & Walker, M. P. (2006). Sleep facilitates consolidation of emotional declarative memory. Psychological Science, 17(10), 891-898.
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Inside Out Movie Review: Memory and Emotions with Pixar's Delightful Masterpiece. (2023, Jun 21). Retrieved from