4 Movies That Touch Upon Cognition & The Brain

Movies are often used as an escape from reality. They let us slip away for an hour or two, forgetting about the rest of the world around us. But what if movies teach us valuable lessons about our brain and the way humans think? This can be true for many movies and shows available today. Lots of them touch upon cognition in unique ways, giving us cinematic examples of the mental process of acquiring knowledge, and understanding this knowledge with thought, experience, and our senses. Take a look at this list of six movies that teach us a thing or two about cognition.

The Matrix

This Sci-Fi/Action film first hit theatres in 1999 with a hit cast. The main question of the movie is “What is the Matrix?”, with the main character Neo trying to discover this truth. The movie has a central theme that artificial intelligence has imprisoned humanity in a simulation. Looking through a psychology lens, it dives into the fable of the brain in a vat. Those who believe in the Matrix believe that our brains receive sensory input from an outside source. While the movie is a great watch, it is important to note that we are not living in the Matrix.


From the director M. Night Shyamalan, known for his intense physiological thrillers, Split follows a man with dissociative identity disorder (DID), which came from suffering through childhood abuse, as he kidnaps three teenage girls. In the main character Kevin’s case, he suffered from 23 different personalities, all different from each other. According to Psychology Today, “DID is a severe condition in which two or more distinct identities, or personality states, are present in—and alternately take control of—an individual. The person also experiences memory loss that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.” The movie even shows Kevin using therapy to help himself through his DID. It is a great watch to understand dissociative identity disorder, and how those affected go through life in struggle.

Inside Out

The Disney movie  Inside Out follows the story of an eleven-year-old girl navigating through her family, as the five basic emotions live inside her head and color her experience. Her emotions of disgust, joy, sadness, anger, and fear all take on a different personality in Riley’s brain. The movie helps us look at emotions differently since it strays away from the notion that self is linked to the brain. It creates a narrative that aligns with the complex concept of interactivity of emotion. A family friendly favorite, Inside Out is a great way to introduce emotions to children, and help them understand how emotions work.

The Vow

In the romantic movie The Vow, Paige suffers from a brain injury, leaving her with retrograde amnesia that clears all her memory of the five last years of her life. This movie looks at cognition through memory loss and brain injury. Typically after a traumatic brain injury (TBI), retrograde amnesia results in memory loss for certain events, where they are temporally graded. More remote memories are still present, since they were not affected in the brain during the injury.

Margaret Davis

Margaret Davis is a junior studying advertising at Temple University. She is thrilled to be joining the HappyNeuron Pro team as the Content Marketing Intern. With her previous experience working on PR and Social Media campaigns, Margaret hopes to bring a variety of skills to the team.

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