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New Study Shows Monkeys Feel Regret Over Poor Choices

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Think humans are the only ones who feel bad after making a crappy decision? According to researchers from the Yale School of Medicine, this may no longer be so.

The Rhesus monkeys, native to South, Central and Southeast Asia, were used to conduct a study of how primates react to ‘disappointing’ stimuli by a modified game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The monkey would play the game versus the researcher, and when the monkey won the round, it received a large container of juice as a prize. When the round was tied, the monkey received a smaller reward.

When the round was lost, the monkey was given nothing.

So where do the signs of regret come in? According to the study, each time the monkey lost, it would be more likely to use the gesture that would have allowed it to win (or at least tie) in the previous round (I.e., if the researcher used paper to beat the monkey’s rock, the monkey would use paper the next round).

Not convinced? In a second experiment, the monkeys’ neuronal function was recorded, and showed that when the monkeys lost, there was activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the orbit frontal cortex, the two regions of the brain that deal with memory and regret, respectively.

The two researchers, Daeyeol Lee and Hiroshi Abe hope that their findings can be used to help treat patients who suffer from mental illnesses like pathological regret, which leads the patient to obsess over poor past decisions.

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