Parasite alters human culture

“I hardly know what to make of this one.”, reports Time senior writer Michael D. Lemonick.

Now For Something Truly Bizarre

A biological scientist from the U.S. Geological Survey–of all places–have published a paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biology, suggesting that human culture may be significantly influenced by a parasite that commonly infects cats, but also targets humans.

“In populations where this parasite is very common, mass personality modification could result in cultural change,” says the scientist, Kevin Lafferty, who’s based at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

In a press release, variations in the prevalence of Toxoplasma gondii “may explain a substantial proportion of human population differences we see in cultural aspects that relate to ego, money, material possessions, work and rules.”

Toxoplasma infection is actually quite common in humans, and varies from one region to another.

About a third of Americans show antibodies to the parasite, but in Brazil the number rises to nearly 70%, while in South Korea it’s under 5%.

Those differences could explain, at least in part, why people from different nationalities have developed different cultures.

Link to story

Another story indicating human social-scale chemistry:
via mindHacks

Can differences in national levels of trust be partly explained by nutrition? Zack Lynch picks up on an interesting research paper that suggests it can.