It’s too early to say whether the link between T. gondii infection and entrepreneurship is a good or bad thing, says Stefanie Johnson. “At this point it is just interesting — what we do not know is whether the businesses started by Toxo-positive people all fail miserably (in which case we might warn people to get tested before starting a business) or whether they succeed at the same rate,” she says.
Still, its link to risk-taking is well worth future investigation, if not for its implications for future entrepreneurs then for its intimation that human behavior might be — might have always been — subtly shaped by parasites, cat-borne or not.
Disconcerting as it is to think that we are not always fully in control of our brains, it bears reminding that parasites far more common than T. gondii ensure that’s rarely the case. The influenza virus, for one, forces our bodies into a sneezing response, and the rabies virus makes infected individuals more aggressive, Pieter Johnson points out. The spooky thing about T. gondii is that infections last far longer than rabies or the flu, and so its effects are longer-lasting.
“[The] intensity of behavioral and personality changes often increases with time from the infection, says Flegr, “suggesting that infection induces the changes in personality traits rather than that the people with a specific combination of personality traits have an increased risk of the infection.”
If future studies show us how to control it, T. gondii infection might not be a cat-borne gift or a curse but rather a tool we can wield for our own purposes. After all, judging by the success of Hollywood’s evil geniuses, who wouldn’t want a bit of occasional parasite-borne courage?
“Astronauts, musicians, actors,” says Stefanie, asked which fields might show a higher proportion of T. gondii-infected people today. “Any profession that involves a fair amount of risk, I would think.”