How certain are you that your actions are YOURS? What if we tell you that there may be a parasite in your brain pulling strings? Will that be too much science fiction for you? Well, according to scientists a certain single-celled parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which burrows in the brains of domestic cats, can find its way into humans and control their actions.
According to scientists, these mind control bugs are responsible for, among other things, reckless driving and an increased risk of suicide.
Scientists say that the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, or Toxo for short, living in 40 percent of our brains affects our sense of fear and risk-taking.
Researchers found that rats, with which humans share a number of characteristics with, infected with the Toxo parasite were attracted to the smell of cat urine, instead of being afraid of it.
“Pathways that normally responded to the smell of cat urine with alarm had been damped down, while the pleasure hormone dopamine, normally released in response to female rodent urine, was now triggered by the whiff of cat,” The Telegraph reports.
Scientists say it’s all part of the parasite’s way of spreading from host to host – rats that aren’t afraid of cats are more likely to be eaten by them, thereby spreading the parasite to the cat.
In human studies, the findings were similarly alarming. While men infected with the parasite were more likely to become introverted and dress down, infected women behaved just the opposite – dressing up and acting more sociable. The more likely a person is to interact with others, the better chances the parasite has of passing itself on.
Joanne Webster, professor of parasite epidemiology at Imperial College London, told The Telegraph that parasites prefer the brain because it is removed from the body’s immune system and also because it gives them “direct access” to the mechanisms of behavior.
“There is strong psychological resistance to the possibility that human behavior can be influenced by some stupid parasite,” Flegr told the The Atlantic in March 2012.
He said he first learned of the ability of parasites to control their hosts 30 years ago after reading about how a certain flatworm can control ants by taking over their nervous systems. “It was the first I learned about this kind of manipulation, so it made a big impression on me,” Flegr said.
According to The Atlantic, “If Flegr is right, the … parasite may be quietly tweaking the connections between our neurons, changing our response to frightening situations, our trust in others, how outgoing we are, and even our preference for certain scents.”
According to Big Think global warming could be making things worse. “Schistosomiasis and toxoplasmosis may sound like something you would pick up in a developing country, but the reality is that more and more so-called “third world” parasites are becoming endemic to the United States. Already, some 60 million people — that’s right 60 million — are infected with toxoplasma gondii or, as it’s more fondly known as, the cat poop parasite.”
These parasites may also be responsible for the world “dumbing down” as they have the ability to control the individual’s IQ. These parasites may be creating an intelligence gap of the world population where the infected individuals suffer from reduced attention span, decreased ability to calculate, focus and process visual information. And on top of all this, the parasite stimulates the individual to feel rage and aggression.
According to The American Scholar, “When compared with those who did not harbor the virus, those infected were about 10 percent slower to make calculations and had a reduced attention span, suggesting that the virus compromised their ability to calculate, to focus, and to process visual information — disadvantages in the classroom, on the job, and in other familiar learning situations.”
These findings are disturbing on many levels and further reinforce the need for greater access to health care, especially for the nation’s poorest. If parasites aren’t reined in effectively, they not only threaten public health, but also could reduce human capital.
We should all take better care of our hygiene and our pets hygiene. Maintaining our mental health and sharpness with some mental stimulation, from time to time, is not a bad idea too.