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Risky Business: Linking Toxoplasma gondii Infection and Entrepreneurship Behaviours Across Individuals and Countries

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Risky Business: Linking Toxoplasma gondii Infection and Entrepreneurship Behaviours Across Individuals and Countries

Stefanie K Johnson et al. Proc Biol Sci.

Abstract

Disciplines such as business and economics often rely on the assumption of rationality when explaining complex human behaviours. However, growing evidence suggests that behaviour may concurrently be influenced by infectious microorganisms. The protozoan Toxoplasma gondii infects an estimated 2 billion people worldwide and has been linked to behavioural alterations in humans and other vertebrates. Here we integrate primary data from college students and business professionals with national-level information on cultural attitudes towards business to test the hypothesis that T. gondii infection influences individual- as well as societal-scale entrepreneurship activities. Using a saliva-based assay, we found that students (n = 1495) who tested IgG positive for T. gondii exposure were 1.4× more likely to major in business and 1.7× more likely to have an emphasis in 'management and entrepreneurship' over other business-related emphases. Among professionals attending entrepreneurship events, T. gondii-positive individuals were 1.8× more likely to have started their own business compared with other attendees (n = 197). Finally, after synthesizing and combining country-level databases on T. gondii infection from the past 25 years with the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor of entrepreneurial activity, we found that infection prevalence was a consistent, positive predictor of entrepreneurial activity and intentions at the national scale, regardless of whether previously identified economic covariates were included. Nations with higher infection also had a lower fraction of respondents citing 'fear of failure' in inhibiting new business ventures. While correlational, these results highlight the linkage between parasitic infection and complex human behaviours, including those relevant to business, entrepreneurship and economic productivity.

Keywords: Toxoplasma gondii; disease ecology; emerging infectious disease; entrepreneurship; human behaviour; parasite manipulation.

Figures

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Relation between T. gondii infection and entrepreneurial outcomes among university students and business professionals. Presented for each analysis is the odds ratio (±0.95% CI) for infection on: the likelihood a sampled student was a Business major relative to an Arts and Sciences major (n = 1293), whether Business majors self-selected into the management and entrepreneurship focus relative to other business-related subdisciplines (n = 273), and, among professionals in the community, the likelihood an individual successfully started a business (n = 197). For the analyses of student majors, GPA, and sex were included as covariates; for the professionals, sex was included as a covariate. (Online version in colour.)
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
Heat map illustrating the geographical distribution of T. gondii infection and the proportion of a country's population with entrepreneurial intentions. (a) The colour of the country reflects the fraction of surveyed respondents with intentions to start their own business (from light blue to dark blue), while the colour of the superimposed circle reflects the magnitude of infection (from light yellow to dark red). Only countries with surveys of T. gondii and entrepreneurial activity since 1990 are included. Infection data from Maseland [28] and sources therein while entrepreneurship information was derived from the GEM database. The relationship between T. gondii infection prevalence and the three specific variables related to entrepreneurial attitudes and activity are presented in the scatterplots. Response variables from the GEM database included the proportion of a country's population (b) with entrepreneurial intentions (intend to start a business within three years), (c) that are currently engaged in entrepreneurial activity, or (d) that cited ‘fear of failure’ as a factor inhibiting them from starting a business. All relationships were significant based on generalized linear models with a binomial distribution (see electronic supplementary material, tables S2, S3 and S4). (Online version in colour.)
Figure 3.
Figure 3.
Coefficient estimates (± 1 s.e.) for T. gondii infection prevalence on entrepreneur-related responses from the GEM database, both with and without standard covariates from previous analyses [25]. Estimates are derived from binomial models composed of data from 42 countries over the past 25 years. Overall, inclusion of covariates led to few changes in the estimates of T. gondii-associated effect sizes (see electronic supplementary material). (Online version in colour.)

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