The Null Device

Parasites, intelligence and football

New research suggests that differences between average national IQs may be due to the prevalence of parasites. One theory posits that children from countries with high incidences of parasites devote energy to fighting them off which would otherwise be spent on brain development.
When the researchers analyzed each factor independently, they found that infectious disease burden was more closely correlated to average IQ than the other variables. "Parasites alone account for 67% of the worldwide variation in intelligence," Eppig says.
Meanwhile, a correlation has been found between incidence of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii (i.e., the crazy-cat-lady parasite) and a nation's success in football, though the cause of the correlation is still unknown:
Rank the top 25 FIFA team countries by Toxo rate and you get, in order from the top: Brazil (67 percent), Argentina (52 percent), France (45 percent), Spain (44 percent), and Germany (43 percent). Collectively, these are the teams responsible for eight of the last 10 World Cup overall winners.
Now, what does the Toxo parasite do that could possibly relate to soccer performance? Not much is known about its impact on the human brain, but there are clues. We know that infection increases testosterone in male brains, making them more likely to get into car accidents, more attractive to females, and more prone to being jealous, dogmatic, and dismissive of authority. Evidence even suggests that motorcyclists are more likely to have Toxo. Something like a James Dean effect. Generally, males with Toxo are more aggressive and less inhibited. Keep in mind that FIFA, in line with most sporting organizations in the world, bans testosterone supplements of any kind. But they do not ban Toxo, and if Toxo increases testosterone levels, we may be dealing with a form of inadvertent, cultural doping.

There are 1 comments on "Parasites, intelligence and football":

Posted by: Greg Wed Jul 7 13:50:28 2010

I shared house with the author of the second article when I was working in Palo Alto a couple of years ago. It was a share-house of Stanford postgrads. Patrick told us some pretty wild stories about Toxoplasmosis. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregwadley/2912979445/

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