A new study done by the University of Minnesota Academic Health Center suggests that rats feel regret after making poor decisions in the same way that humans do.
The small rodents were given a test, called ‘”restaurant row,” where they had the option of choosing several different rooms, each one with a different treat in it. When a rat chose a room with a less desirable treat, it looked back at the other rooms. The researchers believe that this is because they felt regret about choosing wrongly.
The researchers also used imaging to study the brain activity of the rats. They noticed that when the rats made a mistake, the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain lit up. That is the area of the brain that is believed to control emotions like regret in humans.
“Regret is something we think of as very human and very cognitive. We’re seeing that the rats are much more cognitive than we thought,” said A. David Redish, co-leader of the study.
The rats also ate the less desirable food very quickly, while waiting a long time for a chance to eat the better food. Prior to this study, it was thought that only humans could feel emotions like regret. If this study is confirmed by other findings, it could be a breakthrough for animal cognition research.
“Regret is the recognition that you made a mistake, that if you had done something else, you would have been better off. 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 explained.
Although they are not sure, the researchers believe that other animals may also feel regret or disappointment. More tests will have to be done to figure that out, however.
The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.