Rats Can Feel Regret, Says Scientists

"I regret nothing." (Pic-Joanna Servaes.)

“I regret nothing.” (Pic-Joanna Servaes cc)

Sounds like it’s about time we get an apology for bubonic plague, then.

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 cognitive behavior of regret, A. David Redish, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience 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.

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

10 Comments on "Rats Can Feel Regret, Says Scientists"

  1. emperorreagan | Jun 9, 2014 at 10:15 am |

    When I worked at Bob Evans, I could never figure out why people were willing to wait in a line for 30 minutes+ for scrambled eggs and some toast that might’ve been dropped on the floor. Maybe they could study the failure of regret mechanisms in humans next.

    • Liam_McGonagle | Jun 9, 2014 at 12:10 pm |

      Makes you wonder what the rats’ biggest regret is. Like, “Damn. Wish I’d chewed that species’ face off when they were still forest dwelling baby primates. Now it’s all this.”

      • InfvoCuernos | Jun 9, 2014 at 4:37 pm |

        Are you kidding? Rats LOVE us! Just think of the wonderful and exotic places we’ve taken them! And someday, we’ll cure rat cancer.

        • Rhoid Rager | Jun 9, 2014 at 4:54 pm |

          Not to mention all the perfectly good food we give as offerings to them in those giant metal boxes!

          • emperorreagan | Jun 10, 2014 at 11:08 am |

            Plus they can still have their revenge in the end – there’ll be plenty of faces to eat when we’re stuffed in mega cities and too fat to leave our beds.

  2. BuzzCoastin | Jun 9, 2014 at 12:21 pm |

    so if rats feel regret
    do their evoloutionary predecessors the Homdland politician
    feel any regrets as well?

    proly regret not being avericious enough

  3. InfvoCuernos | Jun 9, 2014 at 4:35 pm |

    Rats feel regret, so don’t be a rat!

  4. I’m a little disappointed this story’s lead-in continues the anti-rodent bubonic plague agenda.

    Current research indicates it’s highly likely neither rats (nor their fleas) were to blame, and that the plague was more likely pneumonic and transmitted by humans, in order to spread it as quickly as it was.

    Rats have been patsies for filthy, malnourished meatbag two-leggers for too long.

  5. learned behaviour is hardly regret.

  6. The Sheeple | Jun 11, 2014 at 11:02 am |

    I have news …. animals all have a similar set of built in ‘feelings’ which are necessary to help guide them through life … just as they do for us. We are arrogant to think we are so different from the the rest of the animal life on this planet.

    I am sure a lot of the Rat’s regret is meeting up with scientists.

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