Researchers at Minnesota University have found that a complex thought process, once thought to only exist in humans, is also found in rats. The new study, published in the journal, Nation Neuroscience, details for the first time that rats are able to feel regret over past decisions they have made. The rats showed a level of consciousness that was once thought to not occur in any mammals other than humans.
Lead by Professor David Redish, he and his colleagues created “Restaurant Row”, a test that offered rats a couple of different options for acquiring food. Appealing to the inherent desire for instant gratification, one restaurant served lower-quality food that was available quickly, while the other served high-quality food that involved a longer wait time before it could be accessed.
When presented with these two choices, several rats spent a short period waiting at the nice restaurant before becoming frustrated and moving to the quicker restaurant. However, when the rats found out the food at the lower-quality restaurant wasn’t as tasty as the food served at the other restaurant, some of them paused to look back, communicating unique brain activity that clearly demonstrated feelings of regret.
While speaking with BBC Nature, Redish explained, “It’s like waiting in line at the restaurant. If the line is too long at the Chinese restaurant, then you give up and go to the Indian Restaurant across the street.”
Far more complex than simple disappointment, the rats were able to experience and demonstrate regret.
When first looking at the situation, the rats’ choice to look back and consider the first restaurant could have simply been displeasure related to choosing the least tasty of the two food options. However, after a closer look, the team discovered the primary areas of the brain connected to regret, or a feeling of profound disappointment over having made what is seen as a wrong choice, had been triggered.
Reddish went on to say, “Regret is the recognition that you made a mistake, that if you had done something else, you would have been better off. The hard part was that we had to separate disappointment, which is just when things aren’t as good as you hoped. The key was letting the rats choose.”
To reach this conclusion, the researchers examined the rats’ orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain that is also found in humans. This part of the brain is activated at anytime regret is felt. In the rats, this area was obviously signifying the regret they felt over their decision, as opposed to a simple sense of loss related due to missing out on the better reward.
Reddish also stated, “Interestingly, the rat’s orbitofrontal cortex represented what the rate 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.”
Essentially, research suggests that animals are significantly smarter than we had previously believed.
Source: Natural News
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