Martin Lindstrom’s piece in Saturday’s New York Times highlighted his research on whether consumers were “in love with” or “addicted” to their iPhones, given demonstrations of longing, sensory reaction and separation anxiety. His past research has used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRIs) to compare human responses to imagery from the world’s great religions and its great brands, examining reaction to images of globally-known products and religions; his findings showed that reactions were often comparable. While this article focuses on whether consumers are technically addicted to their iPhones (and other technologies), his work examining activation of the visual and auditory areas of the human brain has relevance to current discussions on neuroscience and the value of storytelling as a communications tool. Whether selling the latest technology, reinforcing a global brand or making a case for behavior change to drive common good, the importance of a strong narrative that evokes an emotional response from consumers is clear.
Over the past week, I helped world renowned scientists from Carnegie Mellon University discover new ways to fold RNA molecules, adding to their understanding of RNA’s biological activity and contributing to the storehouse of knowledge that may eventually shed light on the origins of life. What did you do?
I did this playing an online video game (in my spare time) called EteRNA, which I learned about at Crowdsourcing: The Art and Science of Open Innovation – an event held at the NIH last week. The video game harnesses the wisdom and enthusiasm of amateur biologists by asking them to compete against each other to create the best synthetic RNA molecule designs. Players are rewarded with increased rankings and bragging rights. Top designs are chosen weekly and the molecules are actually synthesized by scientists at Stanford and scored based on their ability to function properly in real life environments. The EteRNA community’s collective effort could have significant medical and scientific applications.
According to research lead Dr. Adrien Treuille, the success of the game was built largely upon the enthusiasm and connectedness of the community of gamers, not just their collective brainpower. They chat, talk trash, share ideas and best practices on forums, contribute to the visibility of the University and its RNA research, and are “part of the RNA revolution”. Without the ongoing engagement of the community, Treuille’s research would not be as successful (he acknowledged this last year by crediting his players as a contributing author in a peer-reviewed article in Nature). Read the rest of this entry »