Just like many of us humans, rats tend to regret bad decisions, and lament over things that might have been according to a new study led by David Redish, a neuroscientist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who found that when the rodents were presented with opportunities to visit rooms containing different foods, and they chose to bypass “a good deal for a worse one, they glanced back at the former room, rushed through eating the snack and were more likely to tolerate longer wait times for what they considered their favorite food, i.e. chocolate or a banana, etc.”
As the rats passed each pathway to a food room, the animals heard a tone that told them how long it would have to wait for the food. Aside from just observing their behavior, Redish and his team also made electrical recordings of the neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex of the rats’ brains (which signal regrets in humans), then “decoded them to ‘read the animals’ minds.’”
“To our surprise, when the rats were looking back at the food rooms ultimately passed up, their brains showed a representation of entering that place, not of the food they missed. The findings suggest the animals were expressing regret over what might have been, rather than just disappointment,’ he added.
To explain the difference, Redish defined regret as a feeling that “occurs when you make a mistake, but recognize there's an alternate action you could have taken that would have resulted in a better outcome. Disappointment, however results when the world's just not as good as you hoped, but it's not necessarily your fault."
Readers interested in learning more can find Redish’s full report in the June 8th edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience.