In order to be an entrepreneur, it helps if you're not afraid of taking a risk or two. Well, a University of Colorado Boulder study indicates that if you lack the entrepreneurial spirit, it might help to become infected with a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii.

One of the most common parasites in developed countries, T. gondii produces no obvious symptoms in healthy human adults, apart from mild flu-like symptoms in the weeks immediately following initial exposure. In previous studies, however, infection has been associated with higher-than-average instances of impulsive behaviours such as road rage, drug abuse and suicide.

Theoretically, this behaviour could be caused by the parasite, in order to ensure the survival of its species. That's because although T. gondii is capable of infecting pretty much any species of warm-blooded animal, it can only reproduce in wild and domestic cats. It would then follow that if an infected small animal such as a rodent were behaving "without due care and attention," a cat would be more likely to catch and eat it.

We've seen such behaviour-altering parasites before – the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis sensu lato fungus causes carpenter ant workers to clamp their mandibles to the underside of leaves, where the insects eventually die and give the fungus an ideal environment in which to complete its life cycle.

In the U Colorado study, it was found that out of 1,495 undergraduate students, T. gondii-infected individuals were 1.4 times more likely to major in business and 1.7 times more likely to emphasize management and entrepreneurship in their studies. Additionally, when 197 adult professionals attending entrepreneurship events were surveyed, people with the parasite were 1.8 times more likely to have started their own business.

Although these increases aren't huge, when the scientists studied statistics from 42 countries over the past 25 years, it was found that T. gondii infection "proved to be a consistent, positive predictor of entrepreneurial activity." Additionally, in countries with higher rates of infection, fewer people cited a fear of failure as a reason not to start a new business.

"We can see the association in terms of the number of businesses and the intent of participants, but we don't know if the businesses started by T. gondii-positive individuals are more likely to succeed or fail in the long run," says associate professor Stefanie K. Johnson, lead author of the study. "New ventures have high failure rates, so a fear of failure is quite rational. T. gondii might just reduce that rational fear."

That said, the scientists note it's also possible that people prone to high-risk behaviour could be more likely both to become infected with the parasite, and to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.