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CU study finds possible link between cat feces parasite and entrepreneurship

Posted: 12:31 PM, Jul 25, 2018
Updated: 2018-07-25 18:31:36Z

BOULDER, Colo. – People infected with a parasite found in cat feces may be more likely to start a business, according to new research from the University of Colorado Boulder.

The study looked at Toxoplasmosa gondii, a parasite found in the excrement of domestic and wild cats that infects about 2 billion people worldwide. 

The researchers tested nearly 1,500 undergraduate college students and found that those who tested positive for Toxoplasmosa gondii were 1.4 times more likely to select business as their major course of study and were 1.7 times more likely to choose management and entrepreneurship as an area of focus.

The researchers also surveyed adults attending entrepreneurship-related events and found that those who were infected with the parasite were 1.8 times more likely to have started their own business than other people at the events. The effect seems to extend to other parts of the world as well, even when controlling for things like relative national wealth and opportunity, the study found.

Toxoplasmosa gondii Infections in humans don’t typically produce symptoms but other research has associated the parasite with increases in impulsive behavior. Scientists theorize that because the parasite needs cats to survive, the organism makes humans act in ways that make them more likely to fall prey to the animals.

That increase in impulsivity could explain the boost in entrepreneurship that CU researchers found, since infected people may be more likely to take business risks they wouldn’t otherwise.

But even if Toxoplasmosa gondii infections might increase tendencies toward starting a business, there’s no saying whether infected people are any more successful in the field.

“We can see the association in terms of the number of businesses and the intent of participants, but we don’t know if the businesses started by T.gondii-positive individuals are more likely to succeed or fail in the long run,” said lead author and CU Boulder associate professor Stefanie Johnson. “New ventures have high failure rates, so a fear of failure is quite rational. T.gondii might just reduce that rational fear.”

It’s important to note that the study only highlights a correlation between the parasite and entrepreneurship and doesn’t establish a causal connection. People who are more likely to engage in risky behavior in the first place may be more likely to start a business and take actions that may expose them to Toxoplasmosa gondii.

Read more in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B .