Thanksgiving and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex

Did anybody decompensate at your Thanksgiving Day feast, when there were no pearl onions in cream sauce, notwithstanding the fact that nobody has ever eaten a single pearl onion in cream sauce, since Great grandma Libby died forty-five years ago?

Was it you?

I think I figured it out. Unfortunately, this flash of brilliance came to me yesterday morning, in my hypomanic surge that prepared me for my speed pie-making. Not in time for you to prevent the scene by preparing said onions.

Somebody's anterior cingulate cortex blew a fuse.

Of course, I don't know for sure. It is one more hypothesis that I would like to test in that Million Dollar fMRI machine that I am not getting for Christmas. But here is the hypothesis:

The bad economy, the fear-mongering health care debate, the single-payer stillbirth, the war in Afghanistan, global warning -- your anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is doing all that it can to calm your amygdala. That is one of its jobs, partnered with the prefrontal cortex, to exercise executive function over your amygdala, which is convinced that you are about to die and is sending out messages to your adrenal gland, telling it non-stop to keep pumping out those glucocorticoids that are destroying your hippocampus, not to mention your heart. The amygdala must be brought under control! So your ACC has plenty of work to do already, and needs for you to help out by deep breathing. And yoga. And crystals.

But it also has another job, which is to detect abnormalities in patterns. You know those games where you are supposed to find five details that differ in two nearly identical pictures? That's a job for the ACC. But what with global warming and all that other stuff (and we still don't have any snow in Iowa the day after Thanksgiving, so my amygdala keeps telling my ACC, "I do so need to worry"), when somebody's ACC detected a variation in the Thanksgiving feast day table, i.e., the missing pearl onions, that was just one thing too many. And it blew a fuse, releasing the amygdala from its cage. And this time, the amygdala did not send out the message to freeze. It came out fighting.

So now you know. Or would know, if somebody who does own an fMRI machine would construct the experiment. Any takers?


  1. Hey, fellow only other blogger who has ever written about the ACC. You won't believe MY ACC weekend, and you are part of the pattern. Thanks to you, I will be doing another ACC blog very soon.

    To readers: This may be brain science, but it is not esoteric. Willa is breaking this down in a way that we can understand and apply to our own recovery.

    Looking forward to more ...

  2. Thanks, John. A friend insisted that I read your comment before I ate my pie, saying, "He really gets what you are doing." Which is true.

    I will be looking for YOUR ACC post.

  3. Hey, Willa. I just posted my ACC blog, with more to follow:

    See what you started? :)

  4. Okay, people. Now head over to

    where this conversation continues. About the ACC and brain surgery, not about our respective blogs.


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