In Inside Out animated film, in a scene where two personifications of emotions (Joy and Sadness) walk into the area of Abstract Thought, they undergo a dangerous process which consists of four phases:

  1. "Non-objective fragmentation" - the characters transform into crude 3D figures.

  2. "Deconstruction" - the characters fall apart.

  3. Unnamed phase, the characters become two-dimensional.

  4. "Non figurative", the characters transform into colored lines.

It may be up to interpretation what it exactly means in the film, but I'm sure that the terms "non-objective fragmentation" and "non figurative" aren't made up. So, my question is: what do these terms generally mean, and is this four-phase process a simplified representation of some well-known process, model or method in psychology (perhaps some model of abstract thought)?


People at Cognitive Sciences Stack Exchange told me that these terms do not exactly refer to any well-known psychological concept.

I don't have a hard proof, but apparently that scene is a reference to the concepts of abstract art.

Abstraction - begins in reality. Seeks the essence of an object. May be expressed through simplification, stylization, fragmentation, re-assembly, and/or distortion. Refer to artists such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, David Hockney, etc.

Non-objective abstraction - Abstraction which does not refer to an object.


nonobjective - of or designating an art movement in which things are depicted in an abstract or purely formalized way, not as they appear in reality


This is a film where the concept of abstract thought is discussed in significant detail, Riley's imaginary friend Bing Bong (Richard Kind) leading Sadness and Joy into a room dedicated to its four stages: non-objective fragmentation, deconstruction, two-dimensional and non-figurative. These oblique terms are actually used by the characters to describe what's happening to them as they morph into Picasso-esque shapes, fall apart into component pieces, become flattened and finally turn into rudimentary single-colour abstractions.


nonfigurative - not representing or imitating external reality or the objects of nature


  • 1
    Are you sure this is psychological term? Otherwise, it might be more appropriate for the TV and Film stackeschange.
    – Seanny123
    Oct 7, 2015 at 22:11
  • I'm not sure, but the movie is about thoughts and emotions, so... Frankly, at first when I saw Joy and Sadness getting flat, I thought of something else, but it was too disturbing for a kids movie. Oct 8, 2015 at 5:27
  • I googled but to no avail. Every second critic praises "non-objective fragmentation" as a smart bonus, but no one bothers to explain what it is. Oct 8, 2015 at 5:28
  • @alexanderlukanin13 Could you update your question to incorporate what you found after googling for these results? Do you still feel "I'm sure that the terms "non-objective fragmentation" and "non figurative" aren't made up"? However, besides that, if you would provide the necessary background in your question to explain those concepts (what they mean in the movie), this question could be on topic as a request for related scientific terminology. Oct 8, 2015 at 14:18
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the constructs are no cognitive science concepts.
    – MaríaAnt
    Oct 9, 2015 at 21:46

3 Answers 3


What it means is that things in the physical world are objectively real, like the Empire State Building. The stage before the building is non objective fragmentation as in it's the pieces of the building as it's being put together, the glass, the steel, the concrete. Each piece is a fragment. The stage before this is deconstruction. The pieces aren't even at the building site, they are not known to be heading there, they are in fragments in other places. The stage before that is two dimensionalisation which is the flat plan for the building, and the stage before that is just the space, the vague shape, the basic idea for some sort of building.

So the characters joy and sadness and Bing Bong enter the location of abstract thought as objectively real and end up as flat coloured shapes. So to reverse it, you might say, 'I want a coffee'. It's abstract. There is no coffee, there is no cup. It's all imaginary. It's non-figurative (not objective) because you haven't decided what your final drink is. You go to Starbucks. You order. Your order is like the two dimensional plan for your coffee but in words. You could write this down. Then the fragments of the coffee, the cup, water, milk and sugar, which had no prior relationship, the fragments, are put together. What you receive at the end is an objectively real cup of Starbucks coffee. This is the journey from abstract thoughts to objective reality.

  • A nice explanation of how abstract thought is consciously applied to construct real-world things. I upvote your answer. I don't see, however, how it's applicable to emotions, which are subjective reality. There is a message "construct your happiness out of hockey and pizza" in the movie, but it isn't connected to the discussed scene; and the "fragmentation" sequence is explicitly shown as something destructive and dangerous. I'm afraid this question has no definite answer, unless someone finds WoG about it. Dec 13, 2015 at 7:46

Non objective fragmentation speaks to the aesthetics of the characters, they are being fragmented and their bodies are no longer objectively represented. Deconstruction comes from Derrida -- you could easily take an entire university course on this concept alone. The two-dimensional phase in my mind is a nod to the modernist tendency to draw attention to the flatness of a work of art. Up until modernism painters would try to paint something in a way that would make it look real; modernists emphasize that a painting is nothing more than paint on canvas, thereby calling attention to its two-dimensionality. The non-figurative stage is exactly that - the objects no longer resemble themselves in terms of figure (i.e. they are no longer recognizable). This section of the movie is completely brilliant as far as I'm concerned! Hope this helps.


I read that abstract thought develops in children around the age of 10 which is the age the girl is in the film. Bing bong, her imaginary friend has never been through abstract thought before as it was not active. So before his shortcut was 'safe'. I see it as the abstract thought is then made into objective reality using the pieces (fragments) to make up the object. (In reverse to what happens to them). The art is used to visually demonstrate the process. Non objective is 'not objective' therefore it's subjective so the fragments of the characters or whatever they are can be made into many different things....but once they are reality they are the object, they are the characters. Probably the same as the design of the characters initially before animation. I love the concept of the film and although it is quite deep and thought provoking for adults I would guess it's quite simplistic and fun for children who would perceive it differently and connect with the characters in their own way, depending on their age and understanding of it.

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