Published: July 26, 2018

Interested in the risky business of entrepreneurship? You may have your cat to thank.

New research from faculty member Stefanie Johnson and the Evolutionary Biology department at CU Boulder linked a common parasite with entrepreneurial characteristics. The parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, is found in cat feces and is lives in the brain, causing personality changes in a person’s willingness to take risks. Those infected are less fearful and as a result, take more risks.

The parasite can be transmitted to a person through cat feces or eating raw meat. While flu-like symptoms and a weakened immune system may be a result of hosting the parasite, those who are infected rarely know they have it. The effects of the parasite were originally observed through the interactions of mice and cats. The research showed that mice infected with the parasite, were more likely to act in risky behavior, approaching the cats living environment without fear.

Further research was conducted by Dr. Stefanie Johnson, a University of Colorado Leeds School of Business Professor, and her husband, Pieter Johnson, who teaches in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EBIO) at the University of Colorado Boulder. The two professors found that students who tested positive for Toxoplasma gondii were 1.4 times as likely to major in business and 1.7 times as likely to choose an emphasis in management and entrepreneurship.

It is estimated 2 billion people around the world are infected with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. While the parasite can theoretically lead to successful entrepreneurial activity, it can also lead to other issues including road rage, car accidents, and neuroticism. Pieter Johnson elaborates, “As humans, we like to think that we are in control of our actions. But emerging research shows that the microorganisms we encounter in our daily lives have the potential to influence their hosts in significant ways.”

Read more about the full study at