Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Inside Out photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar

Disney Explores Emotional Intelligence, 5 Signs You've Got It

by James Porter October 01, 2020

For those of you who haven't seen it, Disney has done a really good job of bringing awareness of emotional intelligence into the public eye with their movie, INSIDE OUT. I’ll be talking about how Disney/Pixar used Paul Ekman's emotional intelligence expertise in the movie to bring these concepts to life.

Developing emotional intelligence, in ourselves and as part of our wellness programs, has become an essential leadership skill. 5 Signs That You Are Emotionally Intelligent is a quick checklist that you can use and pass along to your team.

Disney, Brain Science and Emotional Intelligence.

I never thought seeing a kid's movie would become the inspiration for a new blog on emotional intelligence. Seeing Inside Out, the new movie from Disney/Pixar got me thinking about how we think.

(photo courtesy of Disney/Pixar)

Almost the entire animated movie takes place inside the brain of a young girl named Riley. We watch her grow up from a small baby to age eleven through the eyes of five characters named Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust who are situated INSIDE her brain, hence the title Inside Out. (Interestingly, and with no explanation, the characters Anger and Fear are male, while Joy, Sadness and Disgust are female.) Through the first act of the movie, Joy is running the show. But something happens when Riley turns eleven that lets the other characters take over the controls of her life for a while. It's kind of like when one of the lesser characters on Star Trek takes over the controls of the Starship Enterprise and everything seems to just run amuck.


This film combines elements of brain science, emotional intelligence and science fiction. It focuses on the work of former UC Berkeley Professor, Paul Ekman who spent almost his entire career studying facial expressions. Ekman was a pioneer in studying the emotional life of the brain. Long before University of Wisconsin researcher Richard Davidson came along and started using an MRI machine to map emotional regions of the brain, Ekman was studying these emotions on people's faces.


In Ekman's day there were no instruments to peer inside the brain, so, in order to study emotions, he had to work with facial expressions. Just like psychologists Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck who co-created Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and even BF 

Skinner who raised the study of Behaviorism to new heights, this was the era where the mind was literally considered a black box. You could look at what went IN the black box and you could observe what came OUT (like Pavlov's Dog: ringing a bell would be an input and seeing him salivate would be an output) but you could never presume to KNOW what actually went on INSIDE the black box.   

5 Signs You Are Emotionally Intelligent 

  1. When someone is upset or angry, you can stay calm and empathetic. 
  2. You have a highly developed sense of your own emotions.
  3. You can recognize when you are getting upset and calm yourself down.
  4. Other people recognize you as someone who gets along well with others.
  5. Motivation is something you can do well. You can stick with long term goals and don't necessarily need immediate gratification.

James Porter
James Porter


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