Ultrasound and counter-factual thinking

Ultrasound and counter-factual thinking

New research in primates has shown for the first time that counterfactual thinking is causally related to a frontal part of the brain, called the anterior cingulate cortex. And scientists have proven that the process can be changed by targeting neurons (nerve cells) in this region using low-intensity ultrasound.

The study was led by Dr Elsa Fouragnan at the University of Plymouth and published Monday 15 April in Nature Neuroscience.

Counterfactual thinking is an important cognitive process by which humans and animals make decisions – not only based on what they are currently experiencing, but by comparing their present experience with potential alternatives. In typical circumstances, should these alternatives become available in the near future, one would adaptively switch to them. For example, if the sun was shining while working, one would go out and enjoy the sun as soon as work is done.

If neurons in the anterior cingulate cortex are not working properly, then it would not be possible to switch to alternative options, even when these alternatives are the best available. Scientists believe that this is what happens in some psychiatric conditions where people are stuck in dysfunctional habits.

The study showed for the first time how low-intensity ultrasonic waves can be used to non-invasively, and with pinpoint accuracy, modulate normal brain function – affecting counterfactual thinking and the ability to switch to better alternative.

Source: Low-intensity ultrasound can change decision-making process in the brain, research shows