A common parasite that is found in cat feces, and which infects an estimated 30 million people in the United States alone, according to the Center for Disease Control, also appears to affect the human neurological system in a way that can cause personality changes. In a striking discovery by researchers at the University of Colorado, the parasite may actually cause individuals to develop an affinity for business and become entrepreneurs.
The study, “Risky business: linking Toxoplasma gondii infection and entrepreneurship behaviours across individuals and countries,” was published on Wednesday in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. It allegedly shows that “infection prevalence was a consistent, positive predictor of entrepreneurial activity and intentions at the national scale.”
In other words, countries with higher levels of infection by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii also show higher rates of business entrepreneurship, the study’s authors say. The reason for the strange connection between the cat-poop parasite and an affinity for business may have to do with the parasite’s effect on the brain, which causes individuals to lose their fear of failure, Sky News reports.
While infection with Toxoplasma gondii can be deadly, and is especially hazardous to pregnant women, most people infected with the parasite show no symptoms because the human immune system successfully suppresses the parasite’s effects, the CDC reports.
Studies on rats have shown that infection with the parasite causes the rodents to lose their instinctive fear of the smell of cat urine, according to a report on the study by NBC News. The fearless rats are then more likely to be killed and eaten by cats, who then carry the parasite — allowing the single-celled organism to better promote its own survival.
The study surveyed about 1,300 American college students. The findings reportedly indicated that the students whose saliva carried antibodies to the parasite, which can be contracted by contact with cat feces, but is usually consumed through affected foods, were more likely to major in business. They were also more likely to pursue entrepreneurial and other business activities.
Unfortunately, the parasite can also cause other types of behavioral changes that may not seem as attractive as being a fearless business shark.
“There’s this crazy finding that if you get infected with this parasite, you could get neurotic and nobody wants to get more neurotic,” lead researcher Stefanie Johnson told NBC News.
The study also tested attendees at business events and found that carriers of the parasite were more likely to have started entrepreneurial businesses, Sky News reported.