A recent study carried out at the University of Chicago may bring new meaning to the term pussycat, as it relates to describing a person’s demeanor.
A study conducted by Professor Emil Coccarobut, revealed that cats are capable of transmitting a disorder called, Toxoplasmosis, as a result of a parasite they’ve been known to carry.
According to the research, Toxoplasmosis is condition that can lead to Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), which is a more formal term to describe so-called road rage.
The parasite, Toxoplasma Gondii, can be transmitted to humans as a result of food (namely, meat) which has not been cooked properly, tainted water or via contact with feline cat feces, which is most commonly transmitted by people not washing their hands after emptying a litter tray.
It is estimated that as many as one in three people world-wide may carry the parasite, which has been linked to causing cysts that form on the brain, which earlier studies have linked to conditions such as suicidal behavior, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
In addition, studies have shown, that drivers who have contracted Toxoplasmosis, have been found to exhibit slower reaction times when involved in a traffic accident.
In the case of Coccaro’s study, 358 adults were split into three groups – those who have IED, those with other psychiatric conditions, and a control group comprised of people who have been diagnosed with any mental health condition.
The study revealed, that the individuals demonstrating the greatest propensity toward IED, were twice as likely to have Toxoplasmosis, as compared to the control group. In addition, those with other psychiatric conditions also tested higher for it, and in each of the three groups, people with the parasite exhibited more aggressive behavior.
Coccaro pointed out however, that while a link had been established between the parasite and IED, that did not necessarily mean that T. Gondii in itself caused aggression, and further research is needed.
“Not everyone that tests positive for toxoplasmosis will have aggression issues,” he explained, adding however that the condition did appear to “raise the risk for aggressive behavior.”
However, Professor Jaroslav Flegr of Prague’s Charles University said that the study confirmed the research that he and his colleagues have carried out as well.
“We have found that prevalence of toxoplasmosis correlates positively with violence-associated injuries and mortality in particular countries,” he told Scientific American (link is external).
“It correlates also with diseases burden associated with bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and epilepsy.”
The parasite can also be hosted by rodents – past studies have shown that the more aggressive behavior it encourages in mice increases the chance that they will be caught by cats.
Commenting on Coccaro’s study, Paul Ewald of the University of Louisville in Kentucky told the New Scientist, “The findings make sense. A mouse that is preoccupied with attacks on another mouse may be easy prey for a cat.”
So, the next time you’re out riding, never mind worrying about a black cat crossing your path, instead think about who did or didn’t wash his or her hands after changing the litter box.
The full study can be read here: Psychiatrist.com
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