Anterior Cingulate and Prisoners    by    Ruth Utnage

“The anterior cingulate becomes activated when we see others with angry facial expressions…” (Louis Cozolino, “The Neuroscience of Human Relationships” pg. 107)

I read this line and chuckled to myself. Prison is chalked full of angry facial expressions and I wonder what the long-term impacts of exposure to this is on our anterior cingulates. Intuition says that I become desensitized to angry facial expressions, but I know this isn’t true.

In fact, I am quite sensitive to angry facial expressions. I spend a great deal of time in conversations consciously analyzing facial expressions for signs of emotional changes. I’ve done so since I was a kid. What gets me is that for many guys in prison the angry facial expression is normal and the smile is an alert of potential threat. Not in all cases obviously but we are certainly sensitive to situationally out-of-place expressions like a smile in a dangerous place (a sign of madness or pleasure, neither makes a sane person comfortable).

But I can’t but wonder what happens to our anterior cingulates when we are exposed long-term to angry facial expressions? What negative impacts this has on my neurobiology. When an officer scowls at me and spits a dark stream of chewing tobacco spit in the grass and wipes his chin for the thousandth time and I know he’s disgusted by my mere existence, what does my brain do? Just as important, what does their brain go through in order to produce so much effort in anger? My understanding is that the more an area used the more neurological connections get made, the gray matter is either denser or more abundant in that area. What does that mean for me getting out of prison and reentering the community?

Just a bit of food for thought. What does your environment do, I’d love to hear about it.

With Love
Ruth Utnage
(For interviews or media inquiries please contact me directly!)

Ruth Utnage fka jeff 823469 C-510-2
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Monroe, WA. 98272

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Jeff Utnage