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New study shows rats can feel regret at missed opportunities

Image: Flickr / Alexey Krasavin

Image: Flickr / Alexey Krasavin

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Sunday, June 15, 2014, 12:49 PM - Rats are famously scavengers, but that doesn't mean they don't know when they've missed a good meal.

Neuroscientists at the University of Minnesota say their experiments on the much-maligned rodents show that rodents did, in fact, feel regret when they've realized their actions caused them to pass on a superior choice of food.

The report's authors say that's different from disappointment.

"Disappointment entails the recognition that one did not get the value expected," they wrote in their report's abstract. "In contrast, regret entails recognition that an alternative ... option would have produced a more valued outcome."

The scientists monitored changes in the rats' orbitofrontal cortex, which in humans is active when regret is experienced. They made their subjects wait in a series of lines for particularly flavoured rewards.

The BBC reports that while many of them were prepared to wait for their preferred flavour, some of them lost patience and skipped ahead to another flavour. But when they realized that flavour was not as good as the first option, they were observed looking back at what they missed, while exhibiting activity in their orbitofrontal cortex.

Both observations, the researchers say, are consistent with regret, and the rats were then more likely to wait longer for their preferred meal to become available, and quickly rushed through eating it after the delay.

The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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