Your Political Views Could Be The Result Of A Parasitic Infection

Your Political Views Could Be The Result Of A Parasitic Infection

Your political views may be shaped by a parasitic infection called toxoplasmosis, a new study has found. Toxoplasma gondii is one of the most common parasites in the world, mainly contracted by humans through contact with cats that are infected, and also by eating food (especially lamb, pork and heart) that is infected with the parasite. It is estimated that about a third of the population is infected.

“People infected by Toxoplasma gondii do not express specific symptoms, but manifest higher incidence of many diseases, disorders and differences in personality and behavior,” wrote the team in their study, published in Evolutionary Psychology. “The purpose of this study was to compare the political beliefs and values of Toxoplasma-infected and Toxoplasma– free participants.”

The team used a survey to measure the political beliefs of 2,315 people, of whom 477 were infected with Toxoplasma, controlling for factors such as age, sex, and the area where they lived. Compared to the control group, people who had toxoplasmosis were generally found to score higher in tribalism, and lower in cultural liberalism and anti-authoritarianism than their uninfected peers.

There were differences between male and female participants, with men infected with Toxoplasma shows a slight negative association with tribalism, as well as an increased preference for economic equality and a less competitive society, which the researchers did not expect. Infected women, meanwhile, scored higher in tribalism and lower in cultural liberalism. Both men and women with toxoplasmosis have previously been found to score lower for conscientiousness and generosity.

The team speculated that the differences in political beliefs could be attributed to poorer physical health (shown in both infected men and women) and poorer mental health (especially found in infected women). However, when they controlled for these factors, the associations were not reduced, “suggesting that reduced health of infected subjects is not the cause of changes in political beliefs,” the authors write. “The same conclusion was also supported by the fact that the changes go in the same direction in men and women, because stress treatment-associated behavioral and personality changes usually go in different directions in men and women.”

The team offered a few possible explanations for the change, including that differences might be due to a long-term mild inflammatory response due to the parasites.

“Although the direction of causality needs further study and while the human-centered field of parasite-induced changes in personality traits is unfortunately understudied and quite complex, we can at least expect some effect of infectious diseases on political attitudes caused by shifts in personality traits,” the authors write in their discussion. Given the prevalence of the disease, it could theoretically affect political climates in countries with high infection rates.

Toxoplasma is a very widespread parasite, and therefore its prevalence (which varies dramatically between and within countries) can not only affect the political climate in different countries and different social strata of the population,” study author Jaroslav Flegr told Psypost, “but also real-world politics and, therefore, history.”

The study was published in Evolutionary Psychology.

[H/T: Psypost]

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