This cat-borne parasite might just make you more entrepreneurial


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.

A study has found that infection with the toxoplasmosis parasite, which is spread in cat faeces, could increase entrepreneurial tendencies.

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.

It looked at professionals attending business events and found they were nearly twice as likely to have started their own businesses if they had been infected with the parasite.

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The main hosts of the parasite T. gondii - cats, but the intermediate host can become a man. A 2007 study by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a research psychiatrist at the Stanley Medical Research Institute, found that people with schizophrenia were 2.7 times more likely to have antibodies against the parasite - which indicate that someone has been infected - than healthy people. But that's not to say that all of those businesses will work out or that T. gondii necessarily deserves credit or blame for any individual outcome, the researchers said.

Stefanie Johnson, a business professor at the University of Colorado and the lead author on the study, teamed up with her husband, Pieter, a biology professor at the university, to determine the parasite's influence by studying college students and business professionals.

Meanwhile, students with the parasite were 1.4 times more likely to study business as their main subject and 1.7 times more likely to specialise in entrepreneurship than in another area of the subject.

The students who were infected were 1.4 times more likely to be business majors and 1.7 percent more likely to have an emphasis in "management and entrepreneurship", the team found.

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They set up a study testing students and people who attend seminars on entrepreneurship. And people who died "in a risky way" were more likely to have had the toxoplasma infection, she said. The scientists found that the participants who tested positive for the parasite were 1.8 times more likely to have started a company.

"Countries with higher level of toxoplasma had higher levels of entrepreneurship", Johnson said.

It might be affecting message-carrying chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters, or hormones such as testosterone, they wrote. Do they on average outperform other businesses? The study also found a negative correlation between those who did not have the parasite, and those who said they were unlikely to start their own business.

"So what if all the businesses started by toxoplasma-positive people fail? There's got to be many, many more", she said.

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"There's this insane finding that if you get infected with this parasite, you could get neurotic and nobody wants to get more neurotic", she told NBC News.