Episode 182: Your Brain on Parasites with Kathleen McAuliffe

In this week’s episode, Kathleen McAuliffe, the acclaimed author of "This Is Your Brain On Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society," shows Dr. Risk the intriguing world of parasitology and microbiology. With her extensive background in science writing, including contributions to prestigious publications like Discover, The New York Times, and Smithsonian, Kathleen sheds light on the hidden influence of parasites that manipulate not only human behavior but also the actions of various creatures in the animal kingdom. From ants to sheep, rats to cats, ticks to humans, these minuscule organisms are experts at manipulating behavior to create a more hospitable environment for themselves.

Topics in this episode:

  • Defining parasites and exploring how they interact with their hosts and the potential health risks they impose.
  • Exploring examples of parasite manipulation, such as the parasite that causes ants to sacrifice themselves to sheep (Dicrocoelium dendriticum).
  • Discussing the prevalence of parasitic infections worldwide and whether they are more common than commonly perceived.
  • Discussing controversial research linking toxoplasma infection with changes in behavior and potential associations with schizophrenia.
  • Exploring the psychological and behavioral changes that can occur in individuals infected with parasites.
  • Discussing how parasites might influence neurotransmitter levels, affect decision-making processes, and alter host behavior to their advantage.
  • Exploring strategies for prevention, including hygiene practices, food safety measures, and public health initiatives.
  • Discussing treatment options and management strategies for individuals diagnosed with parasitic infections.