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Do you ever look at someone and wonder... What is going on inside their head?
We've looked into this question in science and so has Hollywood.
Back in 1943, Disney released a short film called “Reason and Emotion”, which shows
emotions driving our behaviour beyond the control offered by reason or logic.
Skip forward 70 odd years and Disney Pixar's Inside Out gets up close and personal with some of our emotions – Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger.
The film mainly takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl, Riley, as she struggles
with her family moving from the Midwest to San Francisco.
So we spend a lot of time with what we often call negative emotions – think sadness,
fear and anger.
But, are they really negative? Is there such a thing as negative emotions?
In the 1960s, American psychologist Paul Ekman suggested that people have six basic emotions
– happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust and surprise. Ekman's research took him
from Japan to Brazil to a remote part of Papua New Guinea where he found that emotional expression
stays the same across cultures. It's universal.
He was inspired by Charles Darwin's 1872 book, The Expression of Emotions in Man and
Animals, where Darwin suggests that our emotional expressions are determined by our evolution.
For example, a fear reaction leads to a response of, say, running away from a predator that in turn, ensures your survival. Hopefully.
Although some psychologists have argued the way that we experience emotions is more individual.
And others have suggested that the basic emotions of fear/surprise and anger/disgust should be combined, because
they're biologically similar.
Still, Ekman's theories have been really influential over the past 50 years, so much so that Inside Out adopted five of his six basic emotions as pretty adorable characters.
Which was probably helped by the fact he acted as a scientific consultant on the film.
Though Inside Out shows us the power of what we normally describe as negative emotions.
Namely, sadness.
It's often culturally and socially reinforced that there's something wrong or shameful about
feeling sad. We tend to have this cultural bias towards valuing positive thinking.
But studies have shown that those who try and suppress negative thoughts actually experience
more of them, which can lead to overeating and stronger stress responses.
Another study found that people who experience happy and sad emotions at the same time, like
"I'm sad or disgusted that there's broccoli on my pizza but happy because it means I can
experience new things" show improvements in mental well-being over the next few weeks,
even if the mixed feelings were unpleasant at the time.
Inside Out shows us that our negative emotions can guide our rational thinking. Sadness is a
trigger for seeking comfort and bonding. We're often tough on sadness, but it's important
to our understanding of who we are.
In his 1621 work "Anatomy of Melancholy", Robert Burton wrote in experiencing melancholy,
"increaseth sorrow… increaseth wisdom." Even those emotions that we consider as negative
can help guide us to good, rational decisions.
So even if you're riding down or inside out the emotional roller coaster, remember that
your positive and negative emotions can and do team up. There's always an upside.
And if you don't already, make sure you subscribe to BrainCraft! I have a new brainy episode out every Thursday.
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The Power of Sadness in Inside Out

64006 Folder Collection
Rose published on August 19, 2015    Rose translated    Charlene Tai reviewed
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