Inside Out: Glimpse into the Adolescent Mind

The Pixar movie, Inside Out is where the main character Riley is an 11-year-old preteen girl who ends up moving from her hometown to a new city due to her father accepting a new job. The movie focuses in on how emotions and memories play a major role in an early adolescents’ life as they take on major transitions. This specific scene is Riley’s first day at her new school where every emotion – joy, fear, disgust, anger, and sadness all appear. 

There are three major developmental areas that drastically change from the ages of 10-25, but more specifically between the teen years of 11-13. Here we’ll look at what some of those:


  • Abstract thinking increases
  • Egocentrism (thinking everyone is looking at them) 
  • Memory ability increases
  • Able to multitask better
  • Selective attention
  • Metacognition skills (problem solving) 
  • Brain changes in the way it processes rewards and pleasure 
  • Increase in memorization skills
  • Increase in verbal and nonverbal communication skills
  • Begin thinking in existential thoughts or processes
  • Identity development


  • Making appropriate decisions to resolve conflicts with peers
  • Developing personal values 
  • Defining self through environment, peers, clothes, culture, music, TV. 
  • Beginning to analyze risk factors 
  • Understanding that there are consequences to their actions
  • Growing in how to express their independence/individuality in appropriate ways 
  • Identifying themselves with a peer group 
  • Participation in group projects or a lengthy project (skit, science project, art fair) 
  • Growing in personal and community responsibility 
  • Developing leadership skills
  • Examining and exploring rules to make sure they are fair 
  • Identify peer group, attempting actions they would never do by themselves
  • Engagement on social media 
  • Understanding communication patterns of self and others (peers specifically)
  • Accepting and learning new beliefs or values of others (culturally, familial, religiously, etc)
  • Setting short term and long-term goals 
  • Identity development 
  • Personality development


  • Illustrating empathy towards others 
  • Pinpointing more complex emotions 
  • Learning how to navigate emotions such as fear, frustration, and rejection.
  • Developing coping mechanisms
  • Romantic exploration through dating 
  • Repairing relationships that get broken 
  • Growth in self-control when situations arise 
  • Observing/modeling mentors or role models in emotionally tense situations
  • Identity development 

To watch the clip, click here!

Riley from Inside Out: First day of school 


  • Riley thinks everyone is looking at her or are focused on her 
  • Memory of playing hockey back in Minnesota
  • Abstract thought – List of potential disasters by the emotion “fear”, including quicksand, spontaneous combustion, or being called on by the teacher.


  • Desire to fit in with peers: “Let’s go talk to them!” And disgust says, “are you kidding, why would we talk to them, we want them to like us”.
  • Getting called on by the teacher to introduce herself in front of everyone. 
  • Recognition from the teacher that is hard to transition to a new school 
  • Everyone is staring at her while she is sharing which can be overwhelming and scary  


  • Once sadness touches the memory, Riley gets sad and starts to cry. Her memory of her old home hits her as she recognizes, her life isn’t the same as it used to be 
  • Moving to a new school can be very emotional for preteens in this age group, especially when she doesn’t know anyone
  • Core memories are not only recognized as positive and happy anymore – they can also be sad, as it showed in the scene. 
  • How her negative emotions impact her motivation and desire to engage in fun activities (all the different islands she has within the center of her brain)

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