People often joke that cats control humans: They eat the food we provide for them, sleep in the beds we give them, play with us only when it suits them.
A group of experts said that there is a connection between exposure to T. gondii and entrepreneurial behavior.
A newly released study by the University of Colorado Boulder points to toxoplasma gondii, a cat-borne parasite, as potentially being responsible for increased entrepreneurial spirit and risky behavior in business decision-making.
Part of the study found that professionals attending business events were nearly twice as likely to have started their own enterprise if they were T. gondii positive. About 22% of the people they tested had once been infected.
Toxoplasma gondii is a parasite that affects many warm-blooded animals, but cats are its only known definitive host, in which it can reproduce.
Learning that may forever change your relationship with your cat.
However, Stefanie Johnson of the University of Colorado and her colleagues warned against taking Toxoplasma gondii to be the secret weapon of tycoons.
Economics research has historically emphasized the importance of rationality in explaining human decisions, with individuals considering benefits and risks before acting in their self-interest.
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"These findings emphasize the "hidden" role of parasites as potential drivers of complex human behaviour and economic outcomes", they wrote in the study.
Analysis of databases from 42 countries found that places with high levels of T. gondii infection were a "consistent, positive predictor of entrepreneurial activity". Only time, and more research, will tell. The human gut microbiome contains bacteria that have been linked to mood, diet and immune system functions in previous studies.
"There's this insane 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.
"Countries with higher T gondii prevalence generally had a lower fraction of respondents who cited "fear of failure" as a factor preventing them from initiating a business-related enterprise".
For their study, Johnson and colleagues tested the presence of T. gondii antibodies in almost 1,500 undergraduate students attending biology and business classes. In an additional survey of 197 adult professionals attending entrepreneurship events, infected individuals were 1.8 times more likely to have started their own business compared with other attendees.
"Being a professor is literally the most risk-averse job you can do", she said. This is the first time that an infection is associated with reduction of this rational fear.
This research revealed that business majors were 1.4 times more likely to have the infection than non-business students.
"So what if all the businesses started by toxoplasma-positive people fail?"