Business development · 25 July 2018

Could a brain parasite be your secret weapon as an entrepreneur?

Infection of Toxoplasma gondii was linked to risk-taking behaviour and fearlessness

New research has suggested that a single-celled parasite that infects the brain could make you more likely to take risks and succeed as an entrepreneur.

According to researchers at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, if entrepreneurship is defined as a “high-risk, high-reward” activity then there may be some unexpected advantages to infection from the Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) organism.

The parasite, which is spread by cats, was found to cause certain personality changes that appeared to increase the willingness among infected people to take risks.

After studying almost 1,300 students, those infected with the parasite were 1.7 times more likely to be studying business, with a specific focus on “management and entrepreneurship”.

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Researchers also studied professionals at business events and found that those who were T. gondii positive were twice as likely to have started their own business.

Examination of 42 different countries revealed that the parasite’s presence in the brain was a “consistent, positive predictor of entrepreneurial activity”.

Dr Stefanie Johnson and her co-authors at the Leeds School of Business wrote in their report: “Populations with higher T. gondii infection had greater intentions to start a business and higher levels of active entrepreneurship behaviours.

“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.”

Rats infected with the parasite demonstrated similar behavioural changes, taking more risks around natural predators like cats. Infected rats were less likely to find the smell of cat urine as repulsive and were more likely to stray into a cat’s living environment.

Around one in every three people worldwide carry the parasite in their heads, however it can only reproduce in domestic cats and their relatives. The NHS has published guidance on the symptoms of Toxoplasmosis.

The research was originally published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Simon Caldwell is deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool, and has previously worked as a content editor in local government and the ecommerce industry.

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