Study reveals rats show regret, a cognitive behavior once thought to be uniquely human

June 8, 2014
Hucky rat. Credit: AlexK100/Wikipedia.

New research from the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota reveals that rats show regret, a cognitive behavior once thought to be uniquely and fundamentally human.

Research findings were recently published in Nature Neuroscience.

To measure the of regret, A. David Redish, Ph.D., a professor of in the University of Minnesota Department of Neuroscience, and Adam Steiner, a graduate student in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience, who led the study, started from the definitions of regret that economists and psychologists have identified in the past.

"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."

In this task, which they named "Restaurant Row," the rat is presented with a series of food options but has limited time at each "restaurant."

Research findings show rats were willing to wait longer for certain flavors, implying they had individual preferences. Because they could measure the rats' individual preferences, Steiner and Redish could measure good deals and bad deals. Sometimes, the rats skipped a good deal and found themselves facing a bad deal.

"In humans, a part of the brain called the orbitofrontal cortex is active during regret. We found in that recognized they had made a mistake, indicators in the orbitofrontal cortex represented the missed opportunity. Interestingly, the rat's 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," said Redish.

Redish adds that results from Restaurant Row allow neuroscientists to ask additional questions to better understand why humans do things the way they do. By building upon this animal model of regret, Redish believes future research could help us understand how affects the decisions we make.

Explore further: Poor sleep, fatigue linked to clinical-decision regret in nurses

More information: Behavioral and neurophysiological correlates of regret in rat decision-making on a neuroeconomic task, Nature Neuroscience, dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn.3740

Related Stories

Poor sleep, fatigue linked to clinical-decision regret in nurses

January 5, 2014
(HealthDay)—Among critical care nurses, clinical-decision regret is associated with sleep disturbances and the resulting fatigue, according to a study published in the January issue of the American Journal of Critical Care.

Rats and men: Study finds parallels in neural processing of 'adaptive control'

October 20, 2013
People and rats may think alike when they've made a mistake and are trying to adjust their thinking.

Lack of relationships, education top list of common American regrets

June 8, 2011
we've all had a few. Although too many regrets can interfere with life and mental health, a healthy amount of regret can motivate us to improve our lives, say researchers Mike Morrison of the University of Illinois and Neal ...

Learning early in life may help keep brain cells alive

May 27, 2014
According to a recently published study in Frontiers in Neuroscience, Rutgers behavioral and systems neuroscientist Tracey Shors, who co-authored the study, found that the newborn brain cells in young rats that were successful ...

Recommended for you

Firing of neurons changes the cells that insulate them

August 22, 2017
Through their pattern of firing, neurons influence the behavior of the cells that upon maturation will provide insulation of neuronal axons, according to a new study publishing 22 August in the open access journal PLOS Biology ...

Activating brain region creates intense desire to use cocaine

August 22, 2017
Researchers have identified a portion of the brain that intensifies one's desire for certain rewards—in this case, mimicking addiction to cocaine.

Study suggests serotonin may worsen tinnitus

August 22, 2017
Millions of people suffer from the constant sensation of ringing or buzzing in the ears known as tinnitus, creating constant irritation for some and severe anxiety for others. Research by scientists at OHSU shows why a common ...

Brain region mediates pleasure of eating

August 22, 2017
Providing the body with food is essential for survival. But even when full, we can still take pleasure in eating. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried and the Friedrich Miescher Institute ...

Chronic stress induces fatal organ dysfunctions via a new neural circuit

August 22, 2017
Hokkaido University researchers revealed that fatal gut failure in a multiple sclerosis (MS) mouse model under chronic stress is caused by a newly discovered nerve pathway. The findings could provide a new therapeutic strategy ...

Contact in sports may lead to differences in the brains of young, healthy athletes

August 22, 2017
People who play contact sports show changes to their brain structure and function, with sports that have greater risk of body contact showing greater effects on the brain, a new study has found.

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Diogenes Tha Dogg
2 / 5 (2) Jun 09, 2014
Has it been demonstrated that rats feel pain of loss (death/separation)?
Jonseer
1 / 5 (2) Jun 10, 2014
Amazing saying the same thing about whales, dogs Etc., and you'll get a legion of people slamming such statements as anthropomorphizing.

Even worse was the recent article about fruit flies making choices like humans do.

It seems the more insignificant the creature the more willing science is to tolerate describing abilities as similar to humans.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.