Last updated July 25, 2018 at 1:47 pm
Study suggests it reduces the fear of business failure.
The words “business” and “parasite” don’t usually sit well together, but in a physical sense they might do.
New research suggests people infected with a parasite found in cat poo are more likely to have an entrepreneurial spirit and less likely to fear failure when considering new ventures.
It even shows that countries with low rates of Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii), including Australia, have fewer people intending to start their own business.
T. gondii is a protozoan that infects over two billion people worldwide. While it is rarely associated with disease, latent infections have increasingly been linked to subclinical outcomes such as car accidents, neuroticism and suicides through the parasite’s potential influence on personality and risk-taking behaviours.
In a new study, a team of researchers led by Stefanie Johnson from the University of Colorado studied data from university students, business professionals and global databases and found a consistently positive link between T. gondii exposure and entrepreneurial behaviour.
“Disciplines such as business and economics often rely on the assumption of rationality when explaining complex human behaviours,” they write in a paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “However, growing evidence suggests that behaviour may concurrently be influenced by infectious microorganisms.”
Among nations, the researchers found, higher levels of infection were associated with a reduction in the population’s fear of failure in business, consistent with higher overall levels of entrepreneurial intent or activity. And this persisted even when controlling for previously identified co-variates such as financial need, institutional or governmental support, educational opportunities and social norms.
They note, however, that the complex associations between T. gondii and behavioural patterns among countries may depend on geographical variation in the strain or lineage of the parasite.
The findings also raise questions about the implications of infection for individual entrepreneurs, aggregate societies and the associated economic outcomes.
“Entrepreneurship has been characterized as a high-risk, high-reward endeavour, for which the risk often comes at the cost of economic stability for an individual,” the researchers write.
“Because the risk almost always outweighs the reward, such that the probability of high-reward is generally low, economic models indicate that entrepreneurship is rarely a rational decision for the individual.
“Any factor that increases the tendency of an individual to engage in entrepreneurial activities would, therefore, in all likelihood, amplify the probability of negative financial outcomes, except among the very poor for whom the opportunity costs are lowest.
“Among individuals who have already elected to become entrepreneurs, the potential effects of T. gondii on individual-based outcomes will depend on whether infection leads to poor decisions or simply limits the ‘fear of failure’ that would have otherwise impeded an entrepreneur from engaging in a successful endeavour.”