Jul 29, 2014 By Fikri Birey
What’s the difference between you and a rat? The list is unsurprisingly long but now, we can cross a universal human experience — feelings of regret — off of it.
A newstudyshows for the first time that rats regret bad decisions and learn from them. In addition to existentialist suggestions of a rat’s regret — and what that takes away from, or adds to, being “human” — the study is highly relevant to basic brain research. Researchers demonstrated that we can tap into complex internal states of rodents if we hone in on the right behavior and the right neurons. There is a significant literature on what brain regions are representative of certain states, like reward predictions and value calculations, but the study, powered by a novel behavioral test, is able to put together such discrete behavioral correlates into a “rat” definition of regret.
Finding better animal models of human behavior constitute a long-standing challenge in neuroscience: It has been difficult to authentically recapitulate mental states inanimal modelsof neuropsychiatric disorders: For example, an attempt to model depression in rodents can often go no further than relatively coarse approximations of the core symptoms like guilt or sadness, which often translates to behaviors like social avoidance or anhedonia in rodents. The inability to efficiently approach the questions of mental abnormalities is a major problem. Depression is currently ranked as the leading cause ofdisabilityglobally, and it’s estimated that by 2020, depression will lead 1.5 million people to end their lives by suicide.