Are you a cat or dog person?
– why is this of any interest to you as a practitioner and why would you care other than if you are bonded with one or both of these species? Well, it seems that there is a cat dependent parasite that has the ability once you become its host to potentially alter your thoughts and moderate perception of risk and whilst this has been known for some time in terms of its manipulation of its host (mainly rodents) to ensure progeny – more and more data suggests it also impacts on human thoughts and patterns of action!
Its common, wide spread and likely if you are a cat lover to be invested in your survival right now!
Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii) is a protozoan parasite currently estimated to infect over 2 billion people worldwide. Being infected with it, is rarely associated with acute pathology but latent infections have increasingly been linked to subclinical outcomes such as car accidents, neuroticism and suicides through their potential influence on personality and risk-taking behaviours. It sexually reproduces only in the intestines of cats yet can maintain itself indefinitely in any warm-blooded host (including you). Infected cats shed millions of their oocysts in their faeces. Taken up by all kinds of animals, including dogs, rodents and humans, they then infect muscle and the brain to escape attacks by the relevant host’s immune system.
Hidden away, they remain dormant as cysts, surrounding themselves with a tough cell wall. Yet this quiet stage of infection, called toxoplasmosis, is deceptive. Violating all rules of good hospitality, these invaders make the host’s brain do things counterproductive to its own survival!
Toxoplasmosis has been most thoroughly studied in rats and mice. Both species have a deep-seated, innate fear of cats for obvious reasons. When researchers spray a bit of cat urine into a corner the uninfected rodent will avoid this location. In contrast, an infected animal loses its innate fear of cats. By some measures, it even appears to be mildly attracted to and aroused by the smell of felines. This is an unfortunate turn of events for the rodent, because it is now more likely to be successfully hunted by a cat. However, this is a great outcome for T. gondii. When the cat devours the rodent and its contaminated brain, T. gondii moves into its final essential host, where it reproduces, completing its unpleasant life cycle.
T. gondii, it seems can through the skilful manipulation of core brain processes turn a rodent’s strong innate aversion to cats into an attraction, luring it into the jaws of its No. 1 predator. Even more amazing is how it does this: the organism rewires circuits in parts of the brain that deal with such primal emotions as fear, anxiety, and sexual arousal in part through the induction of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
The psycho-behavioural linkages between T. gondii and human behaviour raise an intriguing question: to what extent do the effects of infection on behaviour affect individual and population level patterns in the success of many risk related activities including new business ventures and other risk-taking activities?
You see, infection and the associated hormonal and neurological changes have the potential to amplify impulsivity, sensation-seeking, and risk-taking behaviours, as well as an individual’s focus on ego, ambition, material possessions and self-achievement (at least in men)—characteristics often associated with entrepreneurial activity.
Now as a budding entrepreneur, looking to enhance your career and practice development it may be the time to consider your relationship with our feline friends – this may even explain why they (Cats) are taking over you tube and the internet?
A recent paper out in the Royal Society Journal actually explores the association between infection and entrepreneurial activity and identifies an associative link – but apart from whether the reduction in risk aversion you need or at least appear to require to enhance entrepreneurial activity – consider also when discussing behavioural aspects with your clients and patients, that it is statistically likely they are infected, even more so if they share their home with cats, and that accordingly some of their ‘irrational behaviours’ may be in response to their parasites impact on neurotransmission rather than a direct lack of rationality!
The additional influence of biological factors generally and of infectious microorganisms in particular on this cornerstone assumption have rarely been examined but should you be interested you can read more about it here.