Thinking About the Poor   /   Fall 2014   /    Notes And Comments

Brother Rat?

Paul Nedelisky

Hapalotis penicillata; flickr.

The regretful rat?

The journal Nature Neuroscience recently published an article titled “Behavioral and neurophysiological correlates of regret in rat decision-making on a neuroeconomic task”—not exactly eye-catching, as titles go. Nevertheless, over the next few days the article was cited in dozens of mainstream news sources, including the Washington Post, Time, and Huffington Post. We might wonder what sparked the public interest in this technical scientific article…until we grasp the upshot of the study: Rats feel regret.

Now that’s something to get people wondering. After all, we think the chasm between us and rats is vast. They’re rodents and a scourge; we’re human beings and the measure of all things. But if rats feel regret, doesn’t that change things? What could be more human than reflecting back on one’s actions, seeing the error of one’s ways, and feeling the pain of an irretrievable bad decision? Perhaps rats are more like us than we thought.

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