The relation of Toxoplasma infection and sexual attraction to fear, danger, pain and submissiveness
Flegr, J., Kuba, R.
Evolutionary Psychology 2016; 1-10, DOI: 10.1177/1474704916659746
Click for abstract
Behavioral patterns, including sexual behavioral patterns, are usually understood as biological adaptations increasing the fitness of their carriers. Many parasites, so-called manipulators, are known to induce changes in the behavior of their hosts to increase their own fitness. Such changes are also induced by a parasite of cats, Toxoplasma gondii. The most remarkable change is the fatal attraction phenomenon, the switch of infected mice’s and rat’s native fear of the smell of cats toward an attraction to this smell. The stimuli that activate fear-related circuits in healthy rodents start to also activate sex-related circuits in the infected animals. An analogy of the fatal attraction phenomenon has also been observed in infected humans. Therefore, we tried to test a hypothesis that sexual arousal by fear-, violence-, and danger-related stimuli occurs more frequently in Toxoplasma -infected subjects. A cross-sectional cohort study performed on 36,564 subjects (5,087 Toxoplasma free and 741 Toxoplasma infected) showed that infected and noninfected subjects differ in their sexual behavior, fantasies, and preferences when age, health, and the size of the place where they spent childhood were controlled ( F (24, 3719) ¼ 2.800, p < .0001). In agreement with our a priori hypothesis, infected subjects are more often aroused by their own fear, danger, and sexual submission although they practice more conventional sexual activities than Toxoplasma -free subjects. We suggest that the later changes can be related to a decrease in the personality trait of novelty seeking in infected subjects, which is potentially a side effect of increased concentration of dopamine in their brain.