By Lisa Feldman Barrett and Daniel J. Barrett | WBUR | July 5, 2015
Pixar’s Inside Out is the latest in a long tradition of animated entertainment that teaches us about science.
Chemistry, as I learned from Saturday morning cartoons, is about mixing colorful, bubbling liquids in test tubes until they explode. “Roadrunner and Coyote” cartoons—those fine nature documentaries—taught me physics: if you run off a cliff, you’ll hang in mid-air until the unfortunate moment that you look down. Computer science is apparently about robots that kill you. And now, with Inside Out, we finally have cartoon neuroscience.
Your brain, it turns out, is populated with characters for each emotion, and they press buttons to control your expressions. This is all good fun and a sweet movie. What is surprising, however, is that some scientists have taken this model seriously for a century and actually search for these characters in the brain. Not as animated creatures, mind you, but as blobs of brain circuitry.