Do you ever say “Rats!” after making a mistake? It now has a whole new meaning:
They [scientists] developed a task called Restaurant Row, in which rats decided how long they were willing to wait for different foods during a 60-minute run.
“It’s like waiting in line at the restaurant,” Prof Redish. “If the line is too long at the Chinese restaurant, then you give up and go to the Indian restaurant across the street.”
The rats waited longer for their preferred flavours, meaning the researchers could determine good and bad food options.
Occasionally the rats decided not to wait for a good option and moved on, only to find themselves facing a bad option – the scientists called this a regret-inducing situation.
In these cases the rats often paused and looked back at the reward they had passed over.
They also made changes in their subsequent decisions, being more likely to wait at the next zone and rushing to eat the reward that followed. The scientists say such behaviour is consistent with the expression of regret.
When experiments were carried out where the rats encountered bad options without making incorrect decisions, such behaviour was not present.