Study Finds Mind-Controlling Parasite Linked to Entrepreneurship

Bearded man with glasses pointing on a laptop on the street

It’s possible that a parasite found in cat feces may be controlling the way you think, and now a group of academics believes it could be a driving factor in entrepreneurship, through an induced willingness to take risks. But before you attempt to infect yourself with parasitic business acumen, you might want to read a little more…

The effects of Toxoplasma gondii, or T. gondii, have been well documented in rodents and grazing animals for quite some time, but only within the past decade has its effect on humans been placed under the microscope.

Toxoplasmosis, the disease borne by T. gondii, was discovered in 1908 and is the reason pregnant women are told to stay away from cat litter boxes. But while the disease can lead to death or mental illness in unborn babies, it typically goes unnoticed in adults. Today, it’s estimated that around 2 billion people carry the parasite, with roughly 23 percent of U.S. citizens infected.

The most clear-cut example of T. gondii’s mind control effects can be seen in rodents that become hyperactive, unafraid of predators, and actually attracted to their urine – most notably felines.

This is the parasite’s way of staying alive and spreading, by drawing mice toward a predator that eats it and becomes infected itself. The parasite is also known to manipulate the behavior of ants that are eaten by sheep or cows and then transmitted in undercooked meat to humans, who subsequently become carriers. Though, humans are considered a “dead end.”

But when an evolutionary biologist at Charles University in Prague began studying the effects displayed by T. gondii-infected animals, he wondered whether it might have some effect on human behavior or personality. That biologist, Jaroslav Flegr, recognized that he often displayed somewhat belligerent and self-destructive traits, like walking out into oncoming traffic, publicly challenging the communist government when he was younger, and being unafraid of living in a warzone. He decided to test himself for T. gondii exposure and found the results were positive.

Flegr then tested Czech subjects, a country that has an infection rate between 30 and 40 percent, giving them a standardized personality test and comparing them to uninfected subjects. He also used a computer test to assess their reaction time.

His results were astonishing; convincing evidence that the parasite did actually have an impact on human behavior and responsiveness. Infected subjects showed delayed reaction time and distinct, gender-specific personality traits that differed compared to non-infected subjects.

Men were introverted, apprehensive, unaware of other’s opinions of them, and prone to disobey rules. Conversely, women displayed rule-abiding traits, extroversion, trust, and self-consciousness.

That fearlessness displayed in male subjects is what University of Colorado Professor Stefanie Johnson and colleagues, refer to in their recently published paper linking T. gondii to personalities displaying a predilection for economics and business.

Their study showed that students who tested positive for the parasite were 1.4 times more likely to major in business and 1.7 times more likely to have an emphasis in ‘management and entrepreneurship.’ They also found that among professionals attending entrepreneurship events, T. gondii-positive individuals were 1.8 times more likely to have started their own business compared to other attendees.

But don’t go exposing yourself to T. gondii in order to close that deal just yet… The parasite can cause illness in people with weakened immune systems and in rare cases can lead to schizophrenia and neurosis in those already predisposed.

Johnson and her team plan to begin tests to see whether T. gondii-exposed subjects who started businesses were successful or failed, and whether there is a connection between those infected and their political leaning.

It would be interesting to also test whether businessmen and women infected with the parasite have a disposition toward socially and ethically sound business practices.


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