Can regret save your life? Woodland creatures seem to love road games. Like the large doe that ran next to my driver’s door for a few hundred yards before speeding up and turning right in front of me. Or the birds and squirrels that wait until you’re almost on top of them before they get out of your way. Remember when you learned that playing chicken can have a bad ending?
Spring is the big season for the wildlife vs. car derby. Ask any road crew. Raccoons, opossums and skunks have moved to the suburbs in large numbers because our garbage cans provide easy pickings for hungry carnivores. More houses mean more food, but also more cars. Add to that the distraction of mating season, and we have the recipe for skunk a la truck.
Early this morning a raccoon crossing the road stopped when he saw my headlights. Then, instead of taking the last 2 steps to safety, he ran back across my lane toward his starting point on the opposite side of the street. Wait for it. Nope. Lucky for him there was no one coming from the other direction.
What was he thinking? Uh-oh. Better get back to where I was safe? Anybody see the flaw in that logic? Did he regret crossing the road? And if so, did he learn from it?
It’s possible. Turns out animals, like humans, are capable of regretting their decisions. To test the theory, the University of Minnesota planted electrodes in the brains of rats, and put them in a maze. Brain activity revealed that rats really do feel regret for bad decisions, and will even alter their future behavior.
Regret is powerful, especially when it inspires change. Here’s hoping it keeps us all on the right road, and lowers the mortality rate of the creatures we share it with.