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Rats Can Feel Regret Just Like You

Animals are usually much smarter we give them credit for being. My cat, while not the brightest in the bunch, has figured out how to open drawers and now has at least two dozen new napping spots, including our bathroom vanity. While her discovery isn't really all that impressive, some animals are continually surprising the researchers using them in studies. One tiny species of rodent has showed us that even animals know when they've made a mistake.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, rats may experience the emotion of regret just like humans do. A research team at the University of Minnesota carried out an interesting experiment to capture the rodents' emotions. You know that feeling of regret, like when you've eaten too many burritos or maxed out your credit card buying a fancy blender on Amazon. I think most of us wouldn't consider rats as smart as people, but this is a pretty deep and complex emotion.

When rats were given the opportunity to grab a snack from what scientists described as “restaurant row” for the animals, including some of their favorite treats, like chocolate. A tone would sound, giving them an estimate of how long they were going to wait for their meal. When the critters passed up a good deal for a worse one, they were observed to then look back at the room with the tastier treat, gobble up the less delicious one the already had, and then go back to the other door to wait for their meal. The scientists found that the rodents would wait longer for the better treat.

While picking a delicious snack and waiting for it may seem like instinct, there is a deeper layer to this experiment. The brain of each rat was monitored during the experiment to check for signs that they actually felt regret. The researchers looked at areas of the brain that also are active when humans experience the emotion. Initially, it was thought maybe the rodents were just disappointed, and while some if it may have been disappointment in the treat, the brain scans show it was more complex. The brain scans revealed that the rats were picturing entering the door to the restaurant they passed up, showing that they were feeling badly about their actions, not the prize.

So I'm sure you're asking yourself why knowing rats can be regretful is important. The research team suspects that if rats can feel regret, most mammals probably can, too. That means when your dog has an accident on the floor, they may actually feel bad about doing it. On a deeper level though, it shows that humans and other animals aren't all that different in going through emotions. I think it shows that while our kind may be running the show here on Earth, we aren't quite as unique as we think. And from now on, I suppose I won't question my cat when I find her snoozing on top of a stack of magazines or dirty laundry. I wouldn't want her to regret her decision.