by Brian M. Sweis, Mark J. Thomas, A. David Redish
Regret can be defined as the subjective experience of recognizing that one has made a mistake and that a better alternative could have been selected. The experience of regret is thought to carry negative utility. This typically takes two distinct forms: augmenting immediate postregret valuations to make up for losses, and augmenting long-term changes in decision-making strategies to avoid future instances of regret altogether. While the short-term changes in valuation have been studied in human psychology, economics, neuroscience, and even recently in nonhuman-primate and rodent neurophysiology, the latter long-term process has received far less attention, with no reports of regret avoidance in nonhuman decision-making paradigms. We trained 31 mice in a novel variant of the Restaurant Row economic decision-making task, in which mice make decisions of whether to spend time from a limited budget to achieve food rewards of varying costs (delays). Importantly, we tested mice longitudinally for 70 consecutive days, during which the task provided their only source of food. Thus, decision strategies were interdependent across both trials and days. We separated principal commitment decisions from secondary reevaluation decisions across space and time and found evidence for regret-like behaviors following change-of-mind decisions that corrected prior economically disadvantageous choices. Immediately following change-of-mind events, subsequent decisions appeared to make up for lost effort by altering willingness to wait, decision speed, and pellet consumption speed, consistent with past reports of regret in rodents. As mice were exposed to an increasingly reward-scarce environment, we found they adapted and refined distinct economic decision-making strategies over the course of weeks to maximize reinforcement rate. However, we also found that even without changes in reinforcement rate, mice transitioned from an early strategy rooted in foraging to a strategy rooted in deliberation and planning that prevented future regret-inducing change-of-mind episodes from occurring. These data suggest that mice are learning to avoid future regret, independent of and separate from reinforcement rate maximization.