A New Study Argues a Cat Parasite Might Make You More Ambitious

iStock
iStock

We don’t normally associate parasitic infection with entrepreneurship, but a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B makes an argument that a common cat parasite could be connected to having business ambition.

When you come in contact with cat feces, you open yourself up to the risk of exposure to Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite also found in undercooked meat and contaminated water. (Half of infected humans in the U.S. get it from food.) Despite its rather dire profile—it’s a brain parasite that can form cysts in hosts—T. gondii typically doesn’t result in any noticeable symptoms. In fact, as the authors note, one-third of the world’s population may be infected. It's mostly of concern to pregnant women, because a new infection can cause potentially fatal birth complications.

The University of Colorado study looked at 1495 U.S. students who submitted a saliva sample and were grouped according to whether they tested positive for T. gondii. Those who did were 1.4 times more likely to major in business and 1.7 times more likely to place an emphasis on management and entrepreneurship. In another part of the study, they found that of 197 attendees at entrepreneurial events, those infected by T. gondii were 1.8 times more likely to have started their own company compared to those who tested negative.

They also looked at the past 25 years of data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor of entrepreneurial activity, and say that countries with a higher infection rate have more entrepreneurial activity and fewer people who cited a "fear of failure" as a reason to avoid starting a business.

It bears mentioning that filtering results of T. gondii through people at business events—a self-selecting group—will likely net results different than those collected among a general population, especially because T. gondii infections are so common. The authors note: "While correlational, these results highlight the linkage between parasitic infection and complex human behaviours, including those relevant to business, entrepreneurship and economic productivity."

While the effects of T. gondii on our brains and behavior are still being puzzled out, there's some evidence the microbe can influence the inhibitions and fears of its host. Scientists found that rats infected with the parasite lose their fear of cats, which are the microbe's natural host (it lives in cats' guts). In humans, T. gondii might also correspond with an increased risk of suicide, possibly due to an immune system response that can affect cytokines, molecules that affect various cells in the brain. It's possible it's not the infection but our body's reaction to it that prompts a change in behavior. Until scientists understand more about how this parasite affects our brain chemistry, it's probably best to keep washing your hands after cleaning the litter box—even if you're hoping to launch a startup.

[h/t New Scientist]

Mystery Solved: Scientists Have Figured Out Why Some Squirrels Are Black

Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images
Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images

It can be something of a surprise to see an animal sporting a fresh coat of paint. Blue lobsters occasionally surface after being caught in traps. A pink dolphin was spotted in Louisiana in 2007 (and several times since). In the Chinese province of Shaanxi, a cute brown and white panda greets zoo visitors.

Another anomalous animal has joined their ranks. Black squirrels have been spotted in both the United States and the UK, and now scientists believe they know why.

Like many animals with unusual color schemes, black squirrels are the result of a genetic detour. Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge University, and the Virginia Museum of Natural History collaborated on a project that tested squirrel DNA. Their findings, which were published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, demonstrated that the black squirrel is the product of interspecies breeding between the common gray squirrel and the fox squirrel. The black squirrel is actually a gray squirrel with a faulty pigment gene carried over from the fox squirrel that turns their fur a darker shade. (Some fox squirrels, which are usually reddish-brown, are also black.)

A black squirrel is pictured
sanches12/iStock via Getty Images

Scientists theorize a black fox squirrel may have joined in on a mating chase involving gray squirrels and got busy with a female. The black fur may offer benefits in colder regions, with squirrels able to absorb and retain more heat, giving them a slight evolutionary edge.

In North America, black squirrels are uncommon, with one estimate putting them at a rate of one in every 10,000 squirrels. In 1961, students at Kent State University in Ohio released 10 black squirrels that had been captured by Canadian wildlife authorities. The squirrels now populate the campus and have become the school’s unofficial mascot. Their coloring might help them hide from predators, which might come in handy at Kent State: The campus is also home to hawks.

[h/t The Guardian]

15 Scientific Ways to Relax for National Relaxation Day

iStock/anyaberkut via Getty Images
iStock/anyaberkut via Getty Images

Today is National Relaxation Day, so you have a great excuse to take it easy. Here’s how science can help you have the most laid-back day of the year.

1. Get a house or office plant.

Spending time in nature improves your overall wellbeing, but it turns out even just a little greenery is great for your health. Studies have shown patients in hospital rooms with plants report lower stress. Even just stepping into a lush space can reduce your heart rate. Plus, plants are effective at increasing oxygen and clearing out toxins, which should help you breathe easier—literally.

2. Avoid screens before bedtime.

Artificial light from TV and computer screens affects melatonin production and throws off circadian rhythms, which messes with your sleep. Studies have found that young adults were more likely to suffer from sleep disorders, high stress and even depression if they reported intensive use of cell phones and computers at night.

3. Eat a banana.

Potassium helps your body regulate blood pressure. Keeping that under control should help you bounce back more quickly from what’s got you stressed.

4. Indulge in some citrus.

Still hungry after that chocolate and banana? Try citrus. Recent studies show that vitamin C helps to alleviate the physical and psychological effects of stress.

5. Listen to classical music.

Portrait of a beautiful young woman lying on sofa with headphones on and closed eyes, relaxing
BartekSzewczyk/iStock via Getty Images

Any music you enjoy is bound to make you feel better, but classical music, in particular, has been shown to slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and even decrease levels of stress hormones.

6. Drink green tea sweetened with honey.

Green tea contains L-theanine, which reduces stress, and honey—unlike cane sugar—has been shown to counteract free radicals and reduce inflammation, which is sometimes linked to depression.

7. Give yourself a hand massage.

Especially if you spend all day typing, hands can get really tense. A quick massage should be doable at your desk and if you incorporate some lavender-scented lotion, you’ll get extra relaxation benefits.

8. Lock lips with someone.

Romance is relaxing! Kissing releases oxytocin, a chemical that is shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

9. Chew some gum.

No matter what flavor it is, the act of chewing gum has been proven to lower cortisol and improve reported mood.

10. Blow up a balloon.

Young woman blowing up a blue balloon against a yellow background
Deagreez/iStock via Getty Images

Reacting to stress with short, shallow breaths will only exacerbate the problem—your body needs more oxygen, not less, to relax. Blowing up a balloon will help you refocus on your breathing. No balloons around? Just concentrate on taking a few deep breaths.

11. Mow the lawn.

Research shows that a chemical released by a mowed lawn—that fresh-cut grass smell—makes people feel happy and relaxed. Plus, knocking it off your to-do list will give you one less thing to stress about.

12. Find something to make you laugh.

Watching a funny video online does more than just brighten your afternoon, it physically helps to relax you by increasing the endorphins released by your brain.

13. Grab some chocolate.

What’s also good at releasing endorphins? Chocolate. Studies show that even just 40 grams of dark chocolate a day can help you de-stress.

14. Focus on relaxing all of your muscles.

Take a break from whatever you’re doing and, starting at your toes and working upwards, spend a few moments slowly tensing, and then releasing, the muscles of each part of your body.

15. Take a mental vacation.

Man takes a break from work to meditate at his laptop
AaronAmat/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, take a moment to close your eyes and picture a particularly relaxing scene. It may sound cheesy, but numerous studies show that just a few minutes of disengaging from your stressors rejuvenates your ability to tackle the work.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER