A recent neuroscience study at the University of Minnesota has shown that rats are capable of feeling regret. This was previously thought to be a uniquely human emotion, and yet, it is also experienced by furry creatures who live in the subway tracks and feed on discarded pizza crusts. Speaking with A. David Redish, Ph.D. and A. David Redish, Ph.D. who lead the study, Science Daily reports:
“Regret is the recognition that you made a mistake, that if you had done something else, you would have been better off,” said Redish. “The difficult part of this study was separating regret from disappointment, which is when things aren’t as good as you would have hoped. The key to distinguishing between the two was letting the rats choose what to do.”
Redish and Steiner developed a new task that asked rats how long they were willing to wait for certain foods. “It’s like waiting in line at a restaurant,” said Redish. “If the line is too long at the Chinese food restaurant, then you give up and go to the Indian food restaurant across the street.”
Considering life options of a lab rat, the specimens in this experiment had it pretty good, being served a variety of foods and having their individual preferences measured. Looking at their ultimate selection, the scientists were able to determine which rat got a “good deal” or a “bad deal.” Redish explains:
In humans, a part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex is active during regret. We found in rats that recognized they had made a mistake, indicators in the orbitofrontal cortex represented the missed opportunity. Interestingly, the rat’s orbitofrontal cortex represented what the rat should have done, not the missed reward. This makes sense because you don’t regret the thing you didn’t get, you regret the thing you didn’t do.