Rats regret bad decision making. No wonder we all say "Rats!"


The old adage "rats" appears to be more accurate than previously thought, according to new research. The study shows that, just like in humans, rats experience forms of regret, giving additional background into the animals' cognitive abilities.

The study, published in the recent issue of the academic journal Nature Neuroscience, shows that animals -- the research was done on rats and looked at their brain activity -- experience forms of regret over the choices that they are making. The new findings should continue to prove that animals are cognitively aware of their surroundings, despite popular belief in the past that animals did not feel or have emotional states.

"The rat is representing the counterfactual, the 'what might have been,' " said David Redish, a neuroscientist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and senior author of the study detailed June 8 in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

The study also shows rats communicate with one another through means of communication previously unknown. It delivers a greater understanding of animal behavior and shows many mammals have similar emotional states as humans.

The research showed that when a group of rats are shown a number of foods, rats will often go to the "worse" one first in order to give more time for other rats to get a chance to eat. They are also likely to wait longer periods of times before eating again if they ate the entire snack before another rat gets an opportunity.

What makes this study monumental is that no other study has shown that animals experience forms of regret. Now, it appears that animals besides humans have a full array of emotional feelings and their brain activity is proof.

Redish said observers must be vigilant in differentiating between regret and disappointment. He argued that regret happens when someone recognizes a mistake and then realizes that an alternative path could have been made to create a better outcome.

Disappointment happens when "the world's just not as good as you hoped, but it's not necessarily your fault," he said.

Either way, the new study should give more backing to the idea that humans are not the only animals on this planet who have regret and a full assortment of emotional feelings. Animals, and notably rats, are equally inclined to have similar emotions as humans.

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