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Riley's original core memories in place

"But the really important ones are here. I don't want to get too technical, but these are called Core Memories. Each one came from a super important moment in Riley's life, like when she first scored a goal. That was so amazing! And each core memory powers a different aspect of Riley's personality. Like Hockey Island."
Joy, opening narration

Core memories are objects of major importance in Inside Out. Like all memory orbs, core memories represent past events of Riley's life. However, they have a much greater importance than usual memories. They represent key moments that have defined Riley's current personality. Core memories appear brighter than any other memory and power each Island of Personality.

Core memories are usually stored in the center of Headquarters in a dedicated circular tray, from which they emit a beam of light through a glass tube all the way to their respective Island of Personality.

Known Core Memories

Riley's First Core Memories

Riley's five original core memories represented the following events:

Sadness holding the core memories

All five were formed when Riley was around age 3, and were joyful memories. Riley kept them until she was 11, when she moved to San Francisco. Following the trip, some of the memories became unstable, such as one instance where the goofball core memory fell off from the tray.

All five core memories were lost on Riley's first day of school. Following a fight between Joy and Sadness, they ended up being ejected out of Headquarters along with Joy and Sadness. On their journey back to Headquarters, Joy kept them preciously with her, while forbidding Sadness from touching them so that they could remain happy.

When they finally get back to Headquarters, Joy, having realized the value of Sadness in the meantime, gives the core memories to her, letting them become sad after all.

Sad Core Memory

The sad core memory

A core memory was created the day after Riley moved to San Francisco. Presumably the first core memory Riley had formed in a long time, it represented the moment she cried in class over her old home she missed. Joy forcefully prevented this memory from being used, and after an unfortunate incident in the Memory Dump, later brought it back for Sadness, who ultimately decided to create new ones instead.

Riley's New Core Memories

Riley's core memories at age 12

By the time she turned 12, Riley had created nine new core memories, replacing her original five. All were of more than one emotion at once. The known ones are as follows:

  • One for the time her parents comforted her after she tried to run away. It was the first new core memory to be created, two days after Riley lost all her childhood core memories. It was both joyful and sad, and powered a new, stronger Family Island.
  • One depicting Riley playing hockey. Both joyful and angry, it likely powers Hockey Island.
  • One showing Riley reading a book. Both fearful and disgusted, it likely powers Tragic Vampire Romance Island.
  • Anger mentions an opened Section of Friendly Arguments on the Island of Friendship, implying that the island is powered by another Core Memory, angry and happy.

The contents of the other core memories are unknown although the emotion of some can be determined. They consist of:

  • An unknown sad and angry memory.
  • An unknown sad and frightened memory.
  • An unknown disgusted and angry memory.
  • An unknown disgusted and happy memory.
  • An unknown happy memory, likely bearing another unknown emotion.

This leaves one core memory which is not shown in any form in the film.