The science of ‘Inside Out’: 5 TED-Ed Lessons to help you understand the film

Author: Alex Rosenthal


Inside Out, Pixar’s latest animated masterpiece, is not only an emotional rollercoaster, but also a vehicle for some solid scientific storytelling. Of course, the film can’t be taken literally, as it’s a visual interpretation of abstract concepts: memories are not spheres, and the train of thought is not … actually a train. To help clarify the trickier science, we’ve rounded up 5 TED-Ed Lessons that explain some of the neuroscience and psychology introduced in the film. 


Memories drive both the plot of Inside Out and most of the inner workings of Riley’s brain. But how do our brains actually store them for later retrieval? And are there different types of memories?

This TED-Ed Lesson answers those questions and more with the story of a patient with a remarkable brain.


If Joy is the captain of this movie, Sadness is the navigator. It’s also pretty prominent in our brains when we sit in the audience. I’m only a little ashamed to admit that I cried. Twice.

Inside Out stresses the importance of sadness—it’s not something we can just push away or blissfully avoid all of the time—because it’s critical for our emotional and social health. And the science supports that idea. This lesson explains how.


Our brains are pretty complicated, and they’re doing a lot of things, all at the same time (not the least of which is keeping us alive). This lesson helps connect the visual metaphor of Inside Outwith the various functions our brains manage.


What’s so great about a good night’s sleep? Why do we even need to sleep at all? “Inside Out” gives a clue for one major reason in the moments when Riley falls asleep and her memories head to long term storage. That’s not far from the truth, as you’ll see in this lesson.


Is the song from “Lava” (the digital short before Inside Out) stuck in your head? Or the Bing Bong song? Because like Riley’s toothpaste commercial, I can’t shake either one. What’s going on? This is actually an ongoing scientific mystery with a surprising history.

Want to see more TED-Ed explanations of cinematic science? Check out this piece onInterstellar. »

Also, subscribe to TED-Ed’s YouTube channel for more pieces on the science of Inside Out.Stay tuned in the next few months for videos on topics like how stress affects your brain, memory loss, and why we dream.

Featured image courtesy Disney/Pixar.