Monday, September 12, 2005

Should Friday Cat-Blogging Come With A Health Advisory?

Not exactly breaking news, but interesting nonetheless.

On September 21, 2003, the Sunday Times reported on research into toxoplasma gondii, a parasite carried by many cats. The cats get it from and pass it to rats. The article doesn't report on the effects of toxoplasma gondii on cats; its more immediate focus is the effect the parasite has on the human hosts who acquire it from their pets.

The percentage of cat-owners who've acquired the parasite is pretty impressive: half of Britain's population, about half of America's population, and a staggering 80-90% of France and Germany's population are infected with the parasite. (I would guess that in France and Germany there are more outdoors cats.)

Now for the effects of the parasite. It was long assumed to be mostly harmless, although pregnant women and people with damaged immune systems have been warned against hanging out with cats. But the study targeted behavior and personality--oh, hell, I'll just quote it:
Infected men, suggests one new study, tend to become more aggressive, scruffy, antisocial and are less attractive. Women, on the other hand, appear to exhibit the “sex kitten” effect, becoming less trustworthy, more desirable, fun- loving and possibly more promiscuous. [...]

The institute has already published research showing that people infected with the toxoplasma parasite are at greater risk of developing schizophrenia and manic depression.

The study into more subtle changes in human personality is being carried out by Professor Jaroslav Flegr of Charles University in Prague. In one study he subjected more than 300 volunteers to personality profiling while also testing them for toxoplasma.

He found the women infected with toxoplasma spent more money on clothes and were consistently rated as more attractive. “We found they were more easy-going, more warm-hearted, had more friends and cared more about how they looked,” he said. “However, they were also less trustworthy and had more relationships with men.”

By contrast, the infected men appeared to suffer from the “alley cat” effect: becoming less well groomed undesirable loners who were more willing to fight. They were more likely to be suspicious and jealous. “They tended to dislike following rules,” Flegr said.
Surely, the importance of this research for the blogosphere cannot be underestimated.

(The entire article is reproduced at Zwichenzug.)


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