"You are not a single entity, but a multiplicity of selves. Each part of you has its own voice and deserves to be heard." - Richard C. Schwartz

I recently found myself in a small, cozy movie theatre in Sidney, surrounded by a packed audience that spanned generations. From families with young children to teens on a night out, to retired couples enjoying a date night, we were all there for the same reason: to watch Inside Out 2. As the lights dimmed and the opening credits rolled, I felt a familiar excitement mixed with curiosity. I was moved to tears many times throughout the film, struck by its relevancy and accuracy. It was clear that Pixar had once again captured something profoundly true about our emotional lives. I left the theatre determined to understand why this movie resonated so deeply and to explore its therapeutic implications for all ages.

Introduction to Inside Out 2: Evolution of Emotions

Inside Out fans last saw 11-year-old Riley—and Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust, a.k.a. the five core emotions in the headquarters of her brain—finally accept her feelings in the conclusion to Pixar’s beloved, Oscar-winning 2015 film. In return, she received a brand new “expanded console” control board. On it flashed a red emergency light labeled “Puberty.” “What’s ‘Poo-berty?” asks Disgust. “It’s probably not important,” says Joy.

Two Pixar years later—or nine years in real time—Riley is 13 and puberty is proving pretty important indeed in Inside Out 2, a sequel by Dave Holstein and Meg LeFauve. Inside her now teenage brain, four new emotions are moving in whether she likes it or not: Envy, aquamarine and teeny-tiny in stature with sparkling big eyes; Embarrassment, bright red and comically large and always (unsuccessfully) hiding behind his hoodie; French-accented limp noodle Ennui, or as she says, “what you would call, the boredom”; and Anxiety, arguably the most complicated emotion in the bunch, with frazzled hair and arms full of baggage.

But don’t be fooled by the twinkles in Envy’s eyes or Anxiety’s raised-right-off-her-head eyebrows; these adorable animated characters—and everything else in the brain-based film—are actually far more complex and neuroscience-rooted than they seem. Even if kids don’t understand it the first time around, the film’s science is real, complicated, and correct. And in order to get it right, Pixar has brought in the professionals.

Consulting the Experts: Neuroscience Meets Animation

Dr. Dacher Keltner, a Stanford graduate, Berkeley professor, and co-director of the Greater Good Science Center, was part of the Inside Out consulting team, alongside psychologists Paul Ekman and Lisa Damour. Dr. Keltner and Inside Out writer-director Pete Docter initially bonded over the challenges of parenting preteen daughters before deciding to collaborate. Keltner’s job was to ensure that Inside Out’s creative, innovative story about the voices inside a kid’s brain reflected actual, factual neuroscience. Naturally, it wasn’t always easy.

“I’ve taught a human emotion course for 30 years at Berkeley—it’s my pride and joy,” Dr. Keltner shared. “In the early days before podcasts, we’d do recordings of the course, and Pete Docter saw one. One day, he called me out of the blue and said, ‘Hey man, I’m thinking about making a movie about emotions. Come on down.’ It went so well that he called me again for Inside Out 2, and here we go again.”

The New Emotions: Envy, Embarrassment, Ennui, and Anxiety

The introduction of new emotions in Inside Out 2—Envy, Embarrassment, Ennui, and Anxiety—mirrors the more complex emotional landscape of adolescence. Teenagers become very self-conscious and are highly interested in other people’s opinions, leading to the emergence of these more social emotions. Dr. Keltner’s research on emotions like embarrassment highlights how these feelings play crucial roles in social dynamics and personal development.

Embarrassment, for example, has a distinct facial expression and physiological process (the blush). It makes us aware of other people’s judgments and helps protect social norms. “Embarrassment is painful to experience, but it’s essential to our social lives,” Keltner explained. Envy, on the other hand, can drive us to achieve more, provided it’s the benign form rather than the malicious kind that leads to undermining others.

Anxiety, perhaps the most relatable and challenging emotion for many viewers, was portrayed with particular care. Dr. Lisa Damour, a psychologist specializing in teenage girls and author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, was a consultant on the film. She explained how anxiety, often seen as a negative emotion, can be protective and motivating. “Anxiety can tip into unhealthy territory if you use it to justify illogical decisions,” Damour noted. However, she emphasized that anxiety can also be a tool, helping us to pay attention and make better decisions.

Internal Family Systems (IFS): Understanding Multiplicity of the Mind

Inside Out 2 also resonates with the principles of Internal Family Systems (IFS), a therapeutic model developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz. IFS posits that the mind is naturally multiple, containing various subpersonalities or "parts," each with its own perspective, emotions, and memories. According to Schwartz, every part has a positive intention and is trying to protect the individual, even if its methods are counterproductive.

IFS helps clients by acknowledging, externalizing, and compassionately addressing the concerns of these parts, thereby reducing their insistence and making them less disruptive. This therapeutic approach is rooted in the understanding that the mind is naturally multiple, containing various subpersonalities or "parts," each with its own perspective, emotions, and memories. According to Richard Schwartz, the founder of IFS, every part has a positive intention and is trying to protect the individual, even if its methods are counterproductive. By fostering a compassionate dialogue between the client's core Self and their parts, IFS enables individuals to unburden these parts from extreme roles and traumas they have carried, leading to greater harmony and balance within the internal system. This method has proven effective in treating a wide range of mental health issues and promoting emotional intelligence by encouraging self-leadership and internal cooperation. Inside Out 2’s depiction of Riley’s emotions can serve as a gateway for viewers to understand and accept their own internal complexities, reflecting the principles of IFS in a relatable and visually engaging way.

Imagination, Memory, and the Subconscious

Inside Out 2 takes us deeper into the realms of imagination, memory, and the subconscious. The film explores how Riley's memories shape her personality islands and sense of self, illustrating the powerful impact of past experiences on our present behavior. The depiction of Imagination Land, the deep subconscious, and the memory dump where forgotten memories reside adds layers to our understanding of the mind's inner workings.

Dr. Daniel Siegel’s book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain further elucidates the changes occurring in the adolescent brain. Siegel highlights how the brain undergoes significant remodeling during these years, enhancing capabilities for abstract thinking, self-reflection, and social relationships. This period is marked by increased emotional intensity and a heightened need for peer connection.

Siegel’s insights into brain integration—how different parts of the brain work together—mirror the dynamics seen in Inside Out 2. The film’s representation of various emotions collaborating (or conflicting) to influence Riley’s decisions is a vivid depiction of the integrative processes described by Siegel. He emphasizes that understanding these changes can help adults support teenagers in navigating this tumultuous period.

According to Siegel, adolescence is a time of great challenge but also great potential. The brain changes during these years create four primary features: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration. These features drive teenagers to seek new experiences, connect deeply with peers, feel emotions more intensely, and think in innovative ways. While these qualities can lead to risk-taking behaviors, they also foster growth, resilience, and a sense of purpose.

Implications for Therapy and Emotional Well-being

"Inside Out 2" offers a unique opportunity to discuss the therapeutic implications of understanding and managing emotions. By personifying emotions, the film makes it easier for viewers of all ages to recognize and articulate their feelings. This aligns with several therapeutic practices that encourage clients to identify and express their emotions as a step toward healing.

For example, Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy helps clients by acknowledging and compassionately addressing their various internal parts, thereby reducing their insistence and making them less disruptive. Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP) focuses on processing emotions in a supportive environment, emphasizing the importance of experiencing and transforming emotional pain into resilience and healing. By creating a safe space for clients to explore their emotions, AEDP helps them develop a more integrated sense of self.

These approaches highlight how the film’s accurate portrayal of complex emotions and brain development can be a valuable tool for therapists working with individuals of all ages, not just adolescents. The film can help demystify the emotional turbulence experienced throughout life, fostering a more compassionate and informed approach to supporting people in understanding and managing their inner worlds.

Conclusion: Connecting Back to the Theatre Experience

As I left the small theatre in Sidney, I reflected on how Inside Out 2 had moved me to tears and laughter. It wasn’t just a delightful animated film; it was a profound exploration of the human psyche, made accessible to audiences of all ages. By capturing the intricacies of adolescent emotions and grounding them in real neuroscience, Pixar has created a film that is not only entertaining but also deeply educational and therapeutic.

The journey through Riley’s evolving emotional landscape reminded me of the universal experiences we all share, regardless of age. Whether you’re a parent trying to understand your teenager, a young adult navigating the complexities of growing up, or someone reflecting on your own emotional development, Inside Out 2 offers insights and comfort. It reassures us that all emotions, even the uncomfortable ones, have their place and purpose in our lives.

So, if you haven’t seen Inside Out 2 yet, I encourage you to do so. Allow yourself to be moved, to reflect on your own emotional journey, and to appreciate the beautiful, messy, and essential role of every emotion in shaping who we are.


Damour, L. (2016). Untangled: Guiding teenage girls through the seven transitions into adulthood. Ballantine Books.

Damour, L. (2023). The emotional lives of teenagers. Ballantine Books.

Holstein, D., & LeFauve, M. (Writers), & Mann, K. (Director). (2024). Inside Out 2 [Film]. Disney/Pixar.

Keltner, D. (2024). The science behind Inside Out 2 [Interview]. Greater Good Science Center. Retrieved from Greater Good Science Center

Schwartz, R. C. (1995). Internal family systems therapy. The Guilford Press.

Siegel, D. J. (2014). Brainstorm: The power and purpose of the teenage brain. Scribe Publications.

Volpe, A. (2024). The psychology of Inside Out 2. Time. Retrieved from Time