Are individuals infected with toxoplasmosis parasite more likely to become entrepreneurs?

Did you know that individuals infected with the parasite toxoplasmosis gondii may be almost twice as likely to show entrepreneurial tendencies than the general population?

According to a study published in the Royal Society:

Students infected with the parasite were 1.4× more likely to major in business and 1.7× more likely to have an emphasis in “management and entrepreneurship

Among professionals attending entrepreneurship events, T. gondii-positive individuals were 1.8× more likely to have started their own business compared with other attendees.

Johnson et al 2018

WARNING: You may want to finish eating your breakfast before reading on…

Can Toxoplasma Infection make you an entrepreneur?
CC BY 4.0,

Everything you never wanted to know about parasites


1. an organism that lives in or on an organism of another species (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the other’s expense.

Oxford Dictionary

I’m sure that we’re all familiar with parasites in general – horrible little creatures that live on or in us in order to get a free ride.

Intestinal worms, fleas, lice and mites etc, yuck!

Most parasites are actually fairly innocuous – They may cause some minor discomfort, but usually it’s not in their interest to kill their host. This is not always the case however, with a fair number of parasites eating their hosts alive from the inside out before emerging as adults to lay their eggs in the next!

Did you know that there are actually more species of parasitic organisms than there are host organisms? There are 100s of different parasite species that can affect humans alone!

The weird and wonderful world of behaviour-altering parasites

As if parasites weren’t creepy enough as it is, things get really freaky when we enter the world of behaviour-altering parasites.

Toxoplasmosis gondii is a parasite that breeds in cats and spreads its eggs via their faeces.

These eggs infect other animals which become carriers. Unless this animal is a cat, however, the T. Gondii can’t sexually reproduce.

So what’s a lonely parasite going to do? Take over your mind and make you into a suicidal zombie slave of course! At least it will if you’re a rat.

When rats become infected with T. Gondii, the parasites travel to their brain where they form cysts. These cysts change the way in which the amygdala functions, the part of the brain responsible for fear.

Normally when rats smell cat urine they get scared and run away. Rats infected with toxoplasmosis however don’t exhibit this reaction. On the contrary, they become attracted to cat urine.

This change in behaviour makes the rats much more likely to get predated by a cat. Once safely in the belly of kitty, the toxoplasmosis gondii can get their jiggy on and sexually reproduce.

Life Cycle of Toxoplasmosis Gondii By LadyofHats - Public Domain,
Life Cycle of Toxoplasmosis Gondii By LadyofHats – Public Domain,

The best laid plans of rats and entrepreneurs

That toxoplasmosis can affect the behaviour of rats is certain. The big question that remains is whether this tiny parasite could also affect human behaviour?

Rats lose their fear of cats – could a toxoplasma infection also make humans less risk averse?

Could it be this reduction in risk aversion that makes infected humans more likely to exhibit an entrepreneurial streak?

To further explore this hypothesis, they surveyed the participants of the study an various topics, and found that the T. Gondii infected individuals exhibited much lower levels of “fear of failure”.

Before you go and lick a cat poo

Hold your horses Elon Musk wannabes – don’t go kicking down the door of your local cat lady just yet! A few things to bear in mind:

  1. The link between toxoplasmosis and entrepreneurship is only correlational
    There’s no evidence (yet) that toxoplasmosis “causes” a reduction in risk aversion. It could be that people that are already less risk-averse are more likely to get infected by parasites – More likely to eat undercooked meat, more likely not to wash hands thoroughly before eating, more likely to have travelled to less developed countries.
  2. Toxoplasmosis may have other less favourable effects
    Human carriers of the toxoplasmosis parasite have been shown to carry a much higher risk of being involved in a car accident – up to 2.6x more likely! Again, this could be correlation rather than causation. Another study however has indicated impaired reaction times in a computer-simulated test.
  3. Reduced risk aversion alone doesn’t make an effective entrepreneur
    The study only looked at people’s likelihood to found a startup or take a course – they did not measure any metrics of success. If the parasite does indeed actually cause you to be less risk-averse, it may also cause you to take unwise and unnecessary risks that lead your business to failure!

How to stay a parasite free and FounderFit

Overcoming fear of failure is an important step in becoming an effective entrepreneur. There are better ways to do this however than risking infection from a nasty parasite.

Whether you are a Founder or part of a StartUp, staying healthy is essential to ensure you can be effective and grow your business.

Good nutrition is an important part of this, which is why eating well is an essential part of the LNTL philosophy..

Another often overlooked aspect however is good food hygiene practices. An infection from a nasty parasite or food poisoning could have a severe impact on your health.

Here are the my top tips for avoiding food poisoning and parasite infections!

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before eating
    Germs and parasites are passed easily from surface to surface – The handrail in the metro, the keyboard on your shared desk. If someone’s been using that keyboard to post fluffy cat pictures the t. gondii risk could be incredibly high…
  • DO wash fruits and salad thoroughly before eating
    Foods eaten raw are particularly risky. Raw spinach leaves are one of the most common causes of food poisoning by E. Coli.
  • DON’T wash raw meat
    If there are bacteria or parasites on the meat, washing them could spread them around the kitchen to later be transferred to raw fruit and vegetables washed in the same sink. For the same reason, you shouldn’t handle or chop raw veg after handling raw meat without a thorough washdown.
  • DO ensure you cook meat properly
    Poultry and Pork are high risk. Ensure both are cooked all the way through to kill any parasites buried deep inside the muscle, mmm. (Use a meat thermometer). Beef and lamb can be left pink in the middle providing the outside is seared as this will kill any bacteria on the outside. This doesn’t apply for burgers though as the mincing can mix germs and parasites into the centre.
  • Watch your water when travelling
    When travelling off the beaten track avoid drinking unfiltered water. A portable water filter is a travel essential. When in developing countries avoid raw foods, ice cubes, and carry antibacterial hand gel.

I hope you’ve found our little post on parasites and entrepreneurs interesting, and that it hasn’t put you off your lunch!

Any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

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