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Strange parasite in cat faeces could reduce people’s fear of failure, but increase risk of car accidents, study suggests

The behaviour-altering parasite Toxoplasma gondii infects an estimated 2 billion people worldwide

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 2:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 8:22pm

A parasite found in cat faeces could reduce humans’ fear of failure, leading more people to become entrepreneurs, according to a new study.

Researchers found that Toxoplasma gondii – the behaviour-altering parasite that infects an estimated 2 billion people worldwide – could be responsible for breaking down the mental barriers that stop people from taking risks, like launching a business, the study, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found.

Conversely, Toxoplasmosis might also increase the risk of “car accidents, mental illness, neuroticism, drug abuse and suicide”, the study’s authors write in the paper – which doesn’t prove a causal relationship between the parasite and a decrease in people’s fear of failure.

Stefanie Johnson, a business professor at the University of Colorado and an author of the study, teamed up with her husband – a biology professor at the university – to look at college students and business professionals to determine the parasite’s influence.

They saliva tested nearly 1,700 subjects for antibodies to toxoplasma. About 22 per cent of the people they tested had once been infected.

Students who tested positive for T. gondii were 1.4 times more likely to major in business and 1.7 times more likely to focus on management and entrepreneurship compared to other business-related areas of study, the team found.

Among professionals at entrepreneurship seminars, T. gondii-positive individuals were 1.8 times more likely to have started their own businesses compared to other attendees.

Johnson said she’ll continue testing links between the parasite and human behaviour.

“Our next research is conservatism, whether toxoplasmosis affects conservatism,” she told NBC News.