Can rats show regret?
New research has found that rats may be capable of having feelings of regret—a cognitive behavior previously thought to be unique to humans.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota Department of Neuroscience first defined regret as “the recognition that you made a mistake, that if you had done something else, you would have been better off.” They then aimed to measure regret in rats using a task that they called “Restaurant Row.” The rats were made to wait in line for “restaurants,” with various food options presented to them, but with limited time for each.
The researchers observed that the rats were willing to wait longer for certain food options, which implied that they had individual preferences. By measuring the rats’ unique preferences, the researchers were then able to measure whether the rats received relatively good or bad deals.
The study’s findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, revealed that the same part of the brain that is active in humans during regret—called the orbitofrontal cortex—became active in the rats’ brains when they recognized missing a good opportunity and regretted not making a certain decision. Researchers said that further research could help lead to a better understanding of humans’ motives and how regret affects decision-making behaviors.