Columbia University in the City of New York

What the Film Inside Out Can Teach Us About the Brain, the Mind and Ourselves

A conversation with two Columbia scientists who consulted on the Oscar-nominated film.

Memories are fundamental to everything we are and everything we do. Memories guide our choices, our emotions and form the foundation of our personalities. However, the mechanisms behind how all of this works remain shrouded in mystery.

But that did not stop the creative minds at Disney Pixar from using the brain as the backdrop for their Oscar-nominated film Inside Out. As moviegoers peer inside the mind of the main character, 11-year-old Riley, they see the innovative ways the filmmakers represent memories, emotions, relationships and personalities. But this striking imagery did not just come from film’s writers. It also came from leading experts in neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry at Columbia who served as scientific advisors to Inside Out.

We spoke with Michael Shadlen, MD, PhD, and Daphna Shohamy, PhD, both principal investigators at Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute. The two scientists were part of a group the filmmakers consulted with while making the film.  Drs. Shadlen and Shohamy told us what the film means to them as scientists, as teachers and even as parents.

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