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This Is Your Brain on Parasites

July 25, 2016 |

braindead

If you’re a fan of the new show BrainDead, this title may strike you as particularly funny. Kathleen McAuliffe’s new book This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society is entirely serious, though.  New research indicates tiny organisms that can only live inside another animal may have a much more profound influence on our thoughts, behaviors and reactions than previously understood.

With astonishing precision, parasites can coax rats to approach cats, spiders to transform the patterns of their webs, and fish to draw the attention of birds that then swoop down to feast on them.

We humans are hardly immune to the profound influence of parasites.  Organisms we pick up from our own pets are strongly suspected of changing our personality traits and contributing to recklessness, impulsivity—even suicide.  Microbes in our gut affect our emotions and the very wiring of our brains. Germs that cause colds and flu may alter our behavior even before symptoms become apparent.

Beyond this, McAuliffe explores the cultural impact of our fear of contagion, arguing that our fear of contamination is an evolved defense against parasites ultimately leading to some of the cultural and class divides we see today.

The publisher describes this book as: In the tradition of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel and Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish, This Is Your Brain on Parasites is both a journey into cutting-edge science and a revelatory examination of what it means to be human.  Personally, I’m starting to rethink that whole premise behind BrainDead.  It could explain a lot, you know!

This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society by Kathy McAuliffe (Health – Human Body – Brain Mca)