The next time you are feeling regret over your decision to change the line you are waiting in at the grocery store or have that piece of double chocolate fudge cake, think about mice–as it turns out they too experience regret, and learn to do what it takes to avoid feeling regret in the future.
Mice not only experience regret, but also learn to avoid it in the future
New research has discovered that mice are capable of learning to plan ahead in order to avoid regret down the road even if there is no additional gain in rewards.
Researchers designed a clever behavioral experiment in which mice were trained to run around a track, deciding to spend time waiting for food at different “restaurants,” each of which provided a different flavor of food. Each time the mouse encountered a restaurant, it had to wait to receive the food, and then decide to either wait or skip and try its luck at the next restaurant…
Because each mouse had an individual preference of which flavors it liked, they were willing to wait a different amount of time for each flavor.
“This means that we can define good deals (short delays) and bad deals (long delays) at each restaurant and that we can measure the economic strategies used.” -Dr. A. David Redish, researcher
The authors found that the economic strategies that the mice used changed over a period of months. Early in training, mice rarely changed their minds. But as the potential price increased (by increasing the time the mice had to wait), strategies that worked perfectly fine to earn plenty of food when prices were cheap no longer sufficed and the mice learned a new strategy to back out of bad deals that were initially accepted with haste. The authors found evidence for regret that impacted immediate valuations at subsequent restaurants following these change-of-mind decisions (mice were more likely to accept and wait for bad deals they normally wouldn’t, made those decisions faster, and rushed through consuming earned food). However, over the next month, strategies continued to change and mice learned to take extra time to plan ahead and avoid bad deals by skipping them altogether.
“The strange thing is that mice didn’t get any extra food out of this new deliberative strategy. That mice were willing to spend time deciding to skip tells us that there must be some hidden cost to the change-of-mind strategy. By planning ahead, mice learned to prevent getting themselves into situations that could lead to regret, instead spending time to make sure they avoided it altogether.” -Dr. Brian M. Sweis, researcher
Journal Reference: Brian M. Sweis, Mark J. Thomas, A. David Redish. Mice learn to avoid regret. PLOS Biology, 2018; 16 (6): e2005853 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2005853