How much do you listen to your emotions? We've been speaking to Dacher Keltner, the psychological consultant for Inside Out, about how important they all are...

inside out

“We’re often told to subdue our emotions; that they’re a distraction; that they’re dysfunctional,” says Professor Dacher Keltner, the lead psychological consultant for Disney Pixar’s Inside Out. “But science suggested that emotions have very important purposes and benefits for us.”

We spoke to Dacher not long ago about his work on Vodafone’s #BeStrong anti-bullying emoji campaign, but today, with Inside Out now available to buy in the UK, we’re talking about our feelings. Or more specifically, the good they can do us…

Inside ‘Inside Out’

A smash hit at the cinema this past summer, Inside Out focuses on the emotions that live inside and influence the mind of 11 year-old Riley. It’s a heartfelt and incredibly clever movie, and that’s thanks in part to Dacher’s influence.

dacher thumb“Eight or nine years ago I was on a panel at a conference about emotional expression and Pete Docter, Inside Out’s co-director, was on the panel too. Then about six years ago he gives me a call, and says ‘hey, I have this crazy idea; I want to do a movie about emotions, and about how they influence the mind and social interactions of an 11 year-old girl.’”

Dacher’s response? “I thought: ‘Wow, this is heavy stuff.’” But the movie sounded important, because it was going to give emotions the kind of spotlight he felt they deserved:

“I went to the Pixar campus to talk to Pete’s team to talk about plot, about the representation of emotions, and what they do to the mind. Pete would ask for lot of my articles and other literature on the subject, and would email me specific questions at all hours – I was there as a sort of walking scientific textbook for emotions.”

But Dacher’s overall influence on the final film is much more than just as a resource. In fact, one of Inside Out’s most pivotal scenes might not have made it in if it weren’t for his research. (Warning: the next bit contains spoilers):

“I’ve studied vocal bursts [of comfort]– those small sighs people make when their comforted by someone – at length and there’s a moment at the very end of the movie where Riley is embraced by her parents and makes a very small sigh, and I’d like to think I influence that in a small way..

“I think that the prominence of sadness in the movie, in a minor way, came from some conversations I had with Pete and Ronnie Del Carmen (the film’s co-director). And that’s because I’d done research on the wisdom of sadness, and the benefits of it. I think those are brilliantly portrayed in the film.

“I also talked to Pete about emotion and memory, and about how, while we may remember things from our past, we don’t always call them up accurately. We spoke a lot about how emotions are recalled, and there’s a lot of that in the movie.”

“When we first started and I was asked how many emotions we should put into the movie, I told Pixar that there are 15 core emotions.”

There’s no doubting that Dacher’s work and scientific knowledge runs through the backbone of Inside Out, then, but we wanted to know if there was anything he’d change about the finished product. He tells us that if he had his way, there’d be a lot more players in Riley’s head: “When we first started and Pete asked me how many emotions we should put into the movie, I told him that there are 15 core emotions, which, on top of the five in the movie, include things such as awe, amusement, desire, love, sympathy – emotions that I’ve devoted my career to that didn’t make it into the film.”

But that minor niggle aside, Dacher says he’s been thrilled with the critical and public reaction to Inside Out’s candid take on our emotional ups and downs

“The viewer response has been really incredible,” he says. “I’ve been absolutely blown away. I’m getting emails and phone calls from people who have seen the movie and feel like it’s been this awakening. It’s as if it’s offered them a deep insight into the value of sadness, or that it’s ok to be frightened, or that anger has its place.

“It’s been almost like an epiphany for a lot of people: sometimes we need those tough emotions Dacher says in closing. “We needn’t be wary of them.”

#BeStrong Online… You can check out our other chat with Dacher, about our pioneering #BeStrong anti-bullying project, right here.