A common parasite toxoplasmosis can trigger anger outbursts in humans.
Cats are cute and cuddly and usually show affection to humans, but new research has found that this gentile feline can trigger serious road rage. Actually, the cat itself is not dangerous but its feces carry a common parasite called toxoplasmosis and exposure to this parasite can cause angry outbursts in humans.
Researchers have found that people who show sudden anger towards other drivers and furious response while driving are twice as likely to have the parasite in their body than mentally healthy individuals. The reaction can be in the form of verbal or physical abuse.
“Our work suggests that latent infection with the toxoplasma gondii parasite may change brain chemistry in a fashion that increases the risk of aggressive behavior,” said co-author Emil Coccaro from University of Chicago.
“However, we do not know whether this relationship is casual and not everyone that tests positive for toxoplasmosis will have aggression issues.”
Overall, the response is known as intermittent explosive disorder (IED), a mental condition characterized by explosive outbursts of anger and aggression. IED affects as many as 7.3% adults - almost 16 million Americans.
Researchers recruited more than 300 adults for the study who were evaluated for IED, personality disorder, depression and other psychiatric disorders. Then divided them into three groups based on their conditions. Roughly, one third was diagnosed with IED. Some were healthy individuals with no psychiatric history while others had some mental disorders but not IED.
Researchers conducted the blood tests of the participants and found that IED diagnosed group was 22% more likely to test positive for toxoplasmosis compared to the healthy control group (9%).
The outcome showed a link between the parasite and aggressive behavior but researchers are not sure whether it’s actually the parasite that leads to increased aggression or IED.
“Correlation is not causation and this is definitely not a sign that people should get rid of their cats,” said co-researchers Royce Lee. “We don’t yet understand the mechanisms involved- it could be an increased inflammatory response, direct brain modulation by the parasite or even reverse causation where aggressive individuals tend to have more cats or eat more undercooked meat.”
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Researchers suggest that further studies are needed to examine the relationship between parasite, aggression and IED. The better understanding of the relation will help craft improved strategies to diagnose and treat IED in future.