A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

By Nina Pajak


Do you remember how scientists figured out that mice and rats enjoy running on a wheel as an activity, and don’t only engage in it as a means of expressing their anxiety and misery as a result of living short and powerless lives in captivity? I know, annoying. I mean, who really enjoys running for its own sake? Even avid and accomplished runners sort of hate running. Showoffs.

Well, how the mighty have fallen. Now researchers at the University of Minnesota have figured out that rats actually experience regret as it pertains to food. The experiment, described in great detail here, provided rats with a “restaurant row” scenario. Best to click the link and at least look at the pictures before you get all carried away imagining a charming block lined with a variety of adorable, tiny bistros, brasseries and sushi joints (complete with teeny weeny sake sets and miniature cheeseburgers and impossibly small bowls filled with kale salads). Trust me, you’ll just be disappointed. The “restaurant row” is just a little cardboard trail around which capsules of various flavors are located. In a nutshell: rats were forced to wait various lengths of time for each flavor. They could make a decision to visit the next station if they felt the wait wasn’t worth the reward, and when they abandoned a “good deal” for what turned out to be a worse one, they looked back. In regret. You get the picture.

Here’s the sentence that struck me the most: “instead of taking their time eating and then grooming themselves afterwards, the rats in the regret conditions wolfed down the food and immediately took off to the next restaurant.”

Oh, rats. We’ve all been there. You leave the popular, busy restaurant in favor of readily available tables at that empty place across the street. How bad can it be, right? Next thing you know, you’ve eaten your weight in cherry flavored capsules when you know all you wanted was the banana one, and even though you’re going to be running on that wheel all day tomorrow you just know you won’t get it out of your head until you get it. Sure, you can try to trick yourself into feeling satisfied with low-sugar banana capsule flavored pudding when you get home, but it won’t work. It never works. When all is said and done, you’ll have spent three times as long and eaten twelve times the calories by the time you just get that darn banana capsule you should have held out for all along.

I only hope that the researchers go on to learn that the rats can learn from their mistakes and correct course in the future. Although if I’m being honest, I haven’t yet mastered this skill, so I’m not exactly pulling for the rodent with the pea-sized brain to figure it out before I do. Although if they do, I’d love to know about it.

Oh my god, I finally understood the practical application of these studies! Clearly, the key to weight loss and behavior modification lies within here. Somewhere. Get on it, rats. With all that gym time you so enjoy logging, it shouldn’t cost you much.

Bet you wish you’d taken the enthusiasm down a notch in that exercise study, huh? Too late! Now head back to restaurant row, and do me a favor and pick me up an artisanal burrito the size of a pencil eraser while you’re down there. I know I’ll regret it in the morning, but those little buggers are just irresistible.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!

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