News

The co-pilot in your head - How a parasite turns people into young entrepreneurs


Toxoplasma gondii makes people more willing to take risks in their professional lives

An astonishing result: According to an American study, the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which is widespread in cats, is said to help people to take risks in their working life and to have their own company more often. The explanation behind these changes in behavior is as disturbing as it is fascinating: the parasite apparently influences the decisions of its host and encourages it to take more risk-taking behavior.

Infection with the globally widespread cat parasite Toxoplasma gondii could increase the likelihood of the human host to pursue entrepreneurial activities and set up their own company. This is the result of a recent study by the University of Colorado, which was recently published in the journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society B". The study results suggest that the parasite is capable of influencing human behavior.

From a risk-taking mouse to a young entrepreneur

The behavior-changing effect of the cat parasite Toxoplasma gondii has already been reported in mice. If the parasite attacks a mouse, it then changes its behavior. It becomes more risk-taking and increases the risk of being eaten by a cat. This is in the spirit of the parasite that the cat needs to reproduce. The current study paper suggests that these risk-increasing effects can also occur in humans.

Cat parasite promotes entrepreneurial activity

A team of researchers from the University of Colorado found that people infected with the widespread parasite Toxoplasma gondii are up to 1.8 times more likely to have their own company than people without the parasite. Statistics from 42 countries with data from the last 25 years were taken into account. The researchers consistently recognized the infection prevalence of the parasite as a positive factor for entrepreneurial activity.

About 30 percent of the world's population is affected

The parasite is anything but a rare guest in humans. Toxoplasma gondii reproduces in wild and domestic cats and can also be transmitted to humans via these. The University of Colorado estimates that 2 billion people are infected worldwide. The consequences of such toxoplasmosis are still largely unknown. Other studies have already reported the effects of the pathogen on the human organism. The infectious disease is said to have a negative impact on the health of newborns. In addition, serious long-term effects in the brain of older people are often suspected.

Toxoplasma gondii promotes impulsive behavior

As the Colorado research team reports, the occurrence of Toxoplasma gondii is associated with increased impulsive behavior by the host. This would increase the risk of car accidents, rage, mental illness, neuroticism, drug abuse and suicide among human hosts. Another study also reports that cat owners have an increased likelihood of aggression and hot temper due to the parasite.

A hidden mastermind behind human behavior?

The study's scientists highlight the hidden, little-explored role that transmissible microbes could have on human behavior. If these assumptions are correct, it is an influencing of human decision-making on an unprecedented scale.

The co-pilot in the brain

"As human beings, we like to think that we have our actions under control," reports Pieter Johnson, co-author of the study and professor at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, in a press release on the study results. However, emerging research would increasingly show that the microorganisms we encounter in our daily lives have the potential to significantly affect their hosts.

Numerous examples from nature

As the professor reports, there are numerous examples in nature of such parasite interactions. For example, the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis takes over the brain of ants, which then behave in a self-destructive manner to promote the fungus. There are other examples in humans too. According to Johnson, human gut microbes can influence the host's mood and immune system.

Greater risk taking does not mean greater success

However, the researchers warn that greater risk taking in working life does not automatically mean greater success. Just because statistically more people with toxoplasmosis start a company does not have to be successful. "We do not know whether the companies that are started by Toxoplasma gondii positive individuals tend to be successful or fail in the long run," explains lead author Professor Stefanie K. Johnson. New companies have a high failure rate, so the fear of failure is fairly rational. Toxoplasma gondii could reduce this rational fear. (vb)

Author and source information

Video: How social entrepreneurship will change the world. Erica Wenger. TEDxUSC (August 2020).