Inside Out 2: New Emotions Through the Lens of Neuroscience

A Journey into the Human Mind, Exploring How Emotions Shape Behavior and Relationships

The Pixar animated film “Inside Out” (2015) stood out for its innovative approach to portraying human emotions. Through the story of Riley, an 11-year-old girl, the film invites us on a unique journey through different areas of her mind, where five personified emotions reside: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust.

Inside Out 1 (2015) — Pixar

New Emotions, New Discoveries

The highly anticipated sequel to “Inside Out,” released in 2024, expands upon the original film’s premise by introducing new emotions and delving deeper into the complex world of human psychology and emotional intelligence. Through Riley’s mind, now a developing teenager, we dive into an even richer and more intriguing universe: Riley’s control center expands to accommodate new emotions:

  • Anxiety
  • Envy
  • Boredom
  • Shame
Inside Out 2(2024) — Pixar
Inside Out 2 (2024) — Pixar

This article aims to explore these new emotions from a neuroscientific perspective and discuss their implications for understanding emotional intelligence. NO SPOILERS INCLUDED

Neuroscience: It is a broad field that studies the nervous system as a whole, encompassing everything from the structure and function of neurons to complex neural networks. Its goal is to understand the functioning of the nervous system at molecular, cellular, and systemic levels, and how it relates to behavior, cognitive functions, and neurological diseases.

Neuroemotion: It is a relatively new term that has emerged from the convergence of two areas of knowledge: neuroscience and the psychology of emotions. Neuroemotion seeks to understand how the human brain influences and is influenced by a person’s emotional world, investigating how brain structures are involved in the generation, processing, expression, and regulation of emotions.

Photo by Milad Fakurian on Unsplash

Studies and research seek to understand the complex relationship between the brain and emotions, offering a comprehensive view of the different approaches and focuses within this multidisciplinary field:

Affective Neuroscience — Studies the neural mechanisms involved in the experience and regulation of emotions.

Emotional Neuropsychology — Focuses on how emotional processes are related to brain function and behavior.

Neurobiology of Emotions — Investigates the biological and chemical foundations of emotions.

Emotional Neuroscience — Explores the neurological basis of emotions and how they influence cognition and behavior.

Emotional Neuropsychiatry — Examines the interface between neuroscience, psychiatry, and emotions, including emotional disorders.

Emotional Neurophysiology — Studies the physiological and neurological responses associated with emotions.

Emotional Neuromodulation — Analyzes how neurotransmitters and other chemical modulators influence emotional states.

Emotional Neurocognition — Investigates the interaction between emotional and cognitive processes in the brain.

Emotional Neurodynamics — Studies the dynamics of neural circuits involved in the generation and regulation of emotions.

Neurophenomenology of Emotions — Combines neuroscience and phenomenology to explore the subjective experience of emotions and their neural bases.

Neuroscience, as a formal field of study, began to consolidate over centuries, but its development can be divided into several historical phases:

Ancient Egypt (around 1700 B.C.): The earliest records about the brain come from the Edwin Smith Papyrus, which describes cases of cranial trauma and their consequences, suggesting an initial understanding of the brain’s importance.

Ancient Greece:

  • Hippocrates (460–370 B.C.): Considered the father of medicine, he proposed that the brain was the center of thoughts and emotions.
  • Aristotle (384–322 B.C.): Contrary to Hippocrates, he believed that the heart was the center of mental functions, while the brain served to cool the blood.

Ancient Rome:

  • Galen (129–216 A.D.): Physician and philosopher, he studied the nervous system and proposed that the brain controlled behavior through nerves.

Renaissance (16th century):

  • Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564): Published “De humani corporis fabrica,” a detailed work on human anatomy that included precise descriptions of the brain.
  • René Descartes (1596–1650): French philosopher who proposed Cartesian dualism, separating mind and body, and suggested that the pineal gland was the seat of the soul and mental interactions.

18th and 19th Centuries:

  • Luigi Galvani (1737–1798): Demonstrated that electrical stimulation of nerves could cause muscle contractions, contributing to the understanding of neurophysiology.
  • Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828): Developed phrenology, a now-discredited theory that linked bumps on the skull to mental characteristics.
  • Charles Darwin (1809–1882): Through his work “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,” Darwin provided important insights into the universality of facial expressions and their relation to emotions.
  • William James (1842–1910): Considered the “father of American psychology,” James was one of the first to argue that emotions are not merely physiological reactions, but complex experiences involving mind and body.
  • Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852–1934): Considered the father of modern neuroscience, he used staining techniques to observe neuron structure and proposed the neuron theory, describing neurons as independent units of the nervous system.
  • Camillo Golgi (1843–1926): Developed the staining technique bearing his name, allowing detailed visualization of nerve cells. Cajal and Golgi jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1906 for their work on the structure of the nervous system.
  • Donald Hebb (1904–1985): Canadian neuropsychologist who proposed the theory of “reinforcement learning,” suggesting that the repetition of neural connections strengthens them, influencing our emotions and behaviors.
  • Joseph LeDoux (1945- ): American neurobiologist known for pioneering research on the role of the amygdala in fear and emotion processing.
  • Eric Kandel: Conducted studies on the molecular basis of memory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 2000.
  • James Olds and Peter Milner (1954): Discovered the brain’s reward system, implicating structures such as the hypothalamus in motivation and pleasure.
  • 1950s and 1960s: Significant advances in understanding synapses, neurotransmitters, and neural circuits. The development of functional neuroimaging techniques, such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), allowed visualization of brain activity during different emotional experiences.
  • Antonio Damasio: Portuguese neurologist investigating the relationship between emotions, consciousness, and brain function. His studies on the “emotional brain” shed light on the importance of emotions in decision-making and behavior regulation. His book “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain” (1997) popularized the term “neuroemotion” and solidified the importance of emotions in cognition and human behavior.

Contemporary Neuroscience

Neuroscience is advancing rapidly with innovative research in various areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and education. Significant discoveries have been made, such as pinpointing the areas responsible for language, vision, and movement. Studies have also revealed the brain’s plasticity, its ability to adapt and change in response to stimuli and experiences. This new scientific perspective on the human mind has revolutionized our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.

  • Large-Scale Projects: Initiatives like the Human Connectome Project and the BRAIN Initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) aim to map neural connections and enhance our understanding of brain function.
  • Advanced Technologies: The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze brain data, advancements in neuroprosthetics, and brain-machine interfaces.

Brain vs Mind

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

While the brain is the physical and biological substrate of our mental abilities, the mind represents the sphere of subjective experiences and psychological processes that emerge from these capacities. The relationship between them is complex and continuous, the subject of study in various scientific and philosophical disciplines.

Unraveling the mysteries of the human mind is crucial not only for its intellectual value but also for its significant impact across various spheres of society. With a deeper understanding of how the mind works, we can enhance teaching methods to promote more effective learning, develop more precise and efficient treatments for mental illnesses, make fairer decisions, and build healthier and sustainable interpersonal connections.

The human brain is a remarkably complex structure, organized into various specialized regions, each playing crucial roles in both body and mind function. Here are the key points about the major divisions of the brain and their specific functions:

Cerebral Hemispheres: The human brain is divided into two hemispheres, the left and the right, each associated with different types of cognitive processing. The left hemisphere is generally dominant for functions such as language and logic, while the right hemisphere is more associated with creativity and spatial perception.

Brain Lobes: Each hemisphere is further divided into four major lobes:

  • Frontal Lobe: Responsible for critical thinking, planning, voluntary movement, and impulse control.
  • Parietal Lobe: Involves sensory processing, interpretation of sensory stimuli, and spatial orientation.
  • Temporal Lobe: Related to hearing, memory, and language processing.
  • Occipital Lobe: Primarily focused on visual processing.

Midbrain: Also known as the diencephalon, it includes structures such as the thalamus and hypothalamus, which play important roles in controlling bodily functions like temperature, sleep, and hunger.

Brainstem: Located at the base of the brain, it includes the medulla, pons, and midbrain, regulating vital automatic functions such as breathing, heart rate, swallowing reflex, and sleep cycles.

Cerebellum: Located behind the cerebral hemispheres, it plays a crucial role in motor coordination, balance, postural control, and is involved in cognitive functions such as motor learning and language.

These divisions provide a basic framework for understanding the different functions and areas of the human brain, although neuroscience continues to uncover additional nuances about the complexity of this vital structure.

Emotions are complex processes involving multiple brain regions, with no single structure responsible for all emotions. Key areas involved in emotional processing include:

  • Amygdala: Located in the temporal lobe, associated with processing emotions, especially fear and fight-or-flight response, as well as emotional memory and interpretation of emotional stimuli.
  • Hypothalamus: Part of the diencephalon, regulates basic bodily functions and plays a role in stress response and emotion modulation.
  • Cingulate Cortex: Involved in regulating emotional responses, particularly in evaluating emotional pain, decision-making, and mood regulation.
  • Prefrontal Cortex: Involved in processing complex emotional information, regulating emotions, and planning appropriate social behaviors.
  • Hippocampus: Besides its association with memory, it plays a significant role in the emotional contextualization of past events and regulation of emotional reactions.

In addition to these specific areas, emotions result from interactions between various brain regions, including complex connections between the cerebral cortex and subcortical structures. The interaction between these regions allows the human brain to process, interpret, and respond to emotions in an adaptive and complex manner.

Understanding the neural bases of these emotions can help us develop better strategies for dealing with them healthily. By recognizing the physiological and psychological signals associated with each emotion, we can learn to regulate our thoughts and behaviors more effectively.

During adolescence, the brain undergoes significant neural reconfiguration marked by synaptic pruning, where inefficient neural connections are eliminated and the most used connections are strengthened, enhancing brain efficiency and paving the way for complex learning and abstract thinking. Simultaneously, the brain’s reward system, influenced by dopamine, becomes more sensitive to novel and risky stimuli, driving the pursuit of experiences and discoveries, but also increasing susceptibility to impulsive behaviors and the search for immediate rewards. Emotions intensify due to amygdala development, which, combined with changes in the reward system, makes teenagers more susceptible to mood swings, emotional reactivity, and the pursuit of social validation.

This period is also marked by an intense search for identity, with the prefrontal cortex, responsible for planning, decision-making, and self-reflection, gradually maturing. The maturation of this area, coupled with social experiences and exploration of individuality, leads adolescents to question beliefs, values, and social roles, gradually constructing their own identity. The brain changes during adolescence, though complex and challenging, also offer unique opportunities as neuroplasticity peaks, making teenagers more receptive to new information, skills, and perspectives.

The movie “Inside Out 2” illustrates these new emotions reflecting the complexities of adolescent brain development, highlighting significant changes in the prefrontal cortex and limbic system during puberty, crucial areas for decision-making and emotional regulation. Introducing these new emotions in the film not only enriches its universe but also provides a more comprehensive view of the range of feelings we experience as human beings.

Exploring Emotions in Action

Through functional neuroimaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalography, we can observe real-time brain activation during different emotional experiences. This allows us to understand how emotions:

Alter our physiology: Increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and sweating, preparing us for action.

Influence our cognition: Modifying our attention, memory, and decision-making abilities.

Modulate our behaviors: Motivating us to act according to our feelings, whether to seek rewards or avoid threats.

Emotional neuroscience, or neuroemotion, paves the way for new therapeutic approaches by identifying, understanding, and treating disorders such as anxiety, depression, and trauma. In anxiety, for instance, hyperactivity in the amygdala leads to exaggerated responses to stimuli. Neuroemotion helps identify patterns of brain activation that predict anxiety episodes, enabling preventive interventions. In depression, reduced activity in areas like the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus contributes to symptoms. Neuroemotion identifies biomarkers that assist in early diagnosis and selection of more effective antidepressants. In trauma, such as abuse or violence, permanent changes in brain structure and function can occur. Neuroemotion aids in understanding the mechanisms behind post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and developing new therapies to repair affected areas.

Research in neuroemotion offers hope for millions of people, bringing us closer to a future where emotional disorders can be diagnosed and treated with greater accuracy and effectiveness.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned “Riley’s mind expands to accommodate new emotions.” But how does this happen scientifically? According to neurological studies, the mind expands to accommodate new emotions through a fascinating process called neuroplasticity. This process reveals the extraordinary capacity of the brain to adapt, modify, and create new neural connections in response to experiences and stimuli.

Neuroplasticity manifests in various ways:

Formation of New Synapses: When we experience new emotional experiences, the brain forms new connections between neurons, called synapses. These synapses reinforce the neural patterns associated with that emotion, making it more familiar and accessible in the future.

Reorganization of Brain Areas: Specific areas of the brain such as the amygdala and hippocampus play crucial roles in emotional processing. Neuroplasticity allows these areas to reorganize and adapt in response to new emotions, enhancing our ability to understand and experience them.

Creation of New Emotional Memories: Each emotional experience generates new memories that are stored in different regions of the brain. These memories serve as a basis for recognizing and regulating emotions in the future.

Development of Emotional Skills: Neuroplasticity contributes to the development of important emotional skills such as emotional intelligence, empathy, and resilience. Through practice and learning, we can strengthen the neural connections related to these skills, making us better able to handle emotions in a healthy and effective manner.

Examples of Emotional Expansion Through Neuroplasticity

  • Learning New Emotions: By exposing ourselves to different cultures, landscapes, or works of art, we can experience new emotions that were previously unknown to us. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to adapt to these new experiences, creating new synapses and emotional memories.
  • Overcoming Emotional Traumas: Through therapies and psychological interventions, we can work to restructure the neural connections related to painful emotional traumas. This process, known as brain reprogramming, helps reduce the negative impact of traumatic emotions and makes room for new positive emotional experiences.
  • Developing Empathy: Empathy, the ability to understand and share the emotions of others, depends on neuroplasticity. By connecting with people who experience different emotions, we can strengthen the neural connections related to empathy, making us more sensitive and compassionate.

It is important to note that neuroplasticity has its limits. The speed and extent of mental expansion to new emotions can vary depending on individual factors such as age, genetics, and history of experiences. Additionally, it is crucial to seek qualified professional help to deal with complex emotional traumas, as brain reprogramming requires specialized guidance.

A deep understanding of emotions opens up a range of possibilities for their application in different areas:

Mental health: Understanding the neural bases of emotions can help develop new treatments for mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Education: The study of emotions can help understand how students learn and how we can create more effective learning environments.

Business: Neuroemotion can be used to understand consumer behavior, develop more effective marketing campaigns, and create more productive work environments.

Law: The study of emotions can assist in assessing witnesses and making decisions in courts.

Interpersonal relationships: Understanding emotions can help us improve our communication and build stronger relationships.

Exploring Emotions and the Social Brain

The school environment is crucial for the development of students’ socio-emotional and cognitive skills, essential for both individual and collective success. Through cinema, we can explore universal themes of human experience and promote engaging and meaningful learning. “Inside Out 2,” in particular, serves as a valuable pedagogical tool for addressing students’ socio-emotional development, especially in the context of adolescence.

The social brain is a complex network of brain areas that work together to enable us to perceive, understand, and interact with the world. The movie presents emotions as personified characters, facilitating the understanding of different facets of human experience. This personification allows students to explore the unconscious dynamics that influence the behavior and decisions of the characters, and by extension, of the students themselves.

“Inside Out 2” offers a valuable opportunity for educators to address students’ socio-emotional development in a playful and reflective manner. By exploring the transformative potential of cinema in education, we can support our students in their journey of self-discovery, emotional intelligence development, and building a healthier and happier future. The film can be used as a starting point for various classroom activities, such as:

  • Critical analysis of characters and scenes
  • Debates on topics related to adolescence
  • Self-awareness activities
  • Artistic expression activities
  • Creation of stories and scripts
  • Simulations and dramatizations

Strengthening Socioemotional Skills

Empathy and Social Understanding: By stepping into Riley’s and other characters’ shoes, students can develop the ability to understand others’ emotions and perspectives, promoting positive relationships and peaceful conflict resolution.

Self-awareness and Self-management: Through analyzing the characters’ actions, students can learn to identify, understand, and manage their own emotions, fostering self-awareness and self-regulation.

Self-acceptance and Self-esteem: Riley’s journey in seeking balance among her different emotions can inspire students to embrace their own imperfections and develop healthy self-esteem.

Creativity and Spontaneity: The vibrant cinematic language of the film can stimulate creativity and authentic expression among students.

Emotional Healing and Personal Growth: By relating to Riley’s challenges, students may feel less alone and more inclined to seek help when needed, thereby promoting emotional healing and personal growth.

Despite significant advances, there is still much to be uncovered about the human mind. However, the convergence of different fields of knowledge such as neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and artificial intelligence opens a promising horizon for new discoveries. With the advancement of research technologies, significant deepening is expected in understanding the neural bases of emotions and how they shape our behavior. These findings have the potential to drive the development of new tools and technologies to improve various areas such as mental health, education, business, and relationships.

In the future, new technologies like brain-computer interfaces may allow us to interact with machines in a more natural and intuitive way, while artificial intelligence becomes a powerful tool for diagnosing and treating mental illnesses. The philosophy of mind will continue to question the nature of consciousness, free will, and the meaning of life, contributing to a more empathetic and compassionate society. This progress can promote socio-emotional education and broaden our understanding of others’ emotions.

Just as neuroscience research continues to offer new insights into how the mind works, we can use this knowledge to support young people in navigating their own emotional journeys, preparing them for a healthy and fulfilling adult life.

May we always embrace our emotions with wisdom and compassion, building a path of self-discovery and personal fulfillment. Namaste.

Inside Out 2 | Official Trailer — Pixar


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Damásio, António. “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.”

Giovandro, Gustavo. “Psychology of Adolescence: An Introduction to Adolescent Development.”

Goleman, Daniel. “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.”

Jensen, Eric. “Teaching with the Brain in Mind.”

Jensen, Frances E. “The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults.”

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Kátia Brunetti — English / Español

Owner itanaliafranco, Educator, Teacher, Translator/Interpreter, Writer, Speaker, Coach, Holistic Therapist. Medium PORTUGUÊS @ katiabrunetti3