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We Love Facebook Because It Tricks Us Into Thinking We’re Doing Something Important [Science]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5883160/study-we-love-facebook-because-it-tricks-us-into-thinking-were-doing-something-important

Study: We Love Facebook Because It Tricks Us Into Thinking We're Doing Something ImportantWhen you’re perusing your Facebook account, your brain might be fooling you into thinking you’re doing something incredibly creative and productive that will improve your life. If only that were true!

Scientists in Milan and at M.I.T. examined the various physiological states of 30 people using Facebook compared to when they were relaxing looking at natural panoramas or taking a math test. They measured physical and psychological responses including breathing rate, brain activation, and pupil dilation, and found that only while looking at Facebook (not while looking at nature pics or doing math), the study subjects were transported into a “core flow state,” which is that thing that people often call, simply, flow. It’s what you might experience when you’re practicing an instrument, or if you’re writing and feeling like everything is just, well, flowing. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes it wonderfully in this TED talk.

We already know Facebook is harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol. So it’s not all that surprising that Facebook is enjoyable. Cocaine is enjoyable! But like an addictive drug, the results suggest the social network might have a sinister effect: Facebook makes you think you’re being productive when really you’re probably just telling everyone how delicious your lunch was and discovering that your best friend’s cousin’s baby just ate squash.

That’s why perhaps it’s important to keep in mind what Harvard’s Daniel Gulati said: over time, Facebook is making us miserable. Everyone is a shiny happy person on Facebook. Very few people share their insecurities, misgivings, evenings spent alone in the fetal position. And if you experience any of that you might feel very much alone if your visiting Facebook often. In which case maybe consider playing your favorite instrument, hanging out with your kids, working on that novel, or doing something else that leads to actual flow. [Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking]

Image: Shutterstock/PressureUA

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Tuesday, February 7th, 2012 Uncategorized No Comments

Gamers Redesign a Protein That Stumped Scientists for Years [Science]

Source: http://gizmodo.com/5878459/gamers-redesign-a-protein-that-stumped-scientists-for-years

Gamers Redesign a Protein That Stumped Scientists for YearsFolding: it’s detestable and boring, as any Gap employee can tell you. But it’s also a totally fun thing you can do in a video game! And today it’s particularly exciting because players of the online game Foldit have redesigned a protein, and their work is published in the science journal Nature Biotechnology.

It seems nobler than shooting people in the face, somehow. Granted, Foldit attracts a unique kind of gamer who enjoys obsessing over biological protein folding patterns. Proteins get their function from the way they are folded into coils like in the image above. When the amino acids in a protein interact, they create that coiled, three-dimensional structure. Scientists can manipulate the structure to make the protein more efficient. In Foldit, designs that create the most efficient proteins garner the highest scores.

University of Washington in Seattle scientists Zoran Popovic, director of the Center for Game Science, and biochemist David Baker developed Foldit (which is different from Folding@home, Stanford software that lets people donate their idle computer processing power to create a protein-folding supercomputer). By playing it, at-home gamers have redesigned a protein for the first time, and they did it better and faster than scientists who have trained their entire careers to build better proteins. Justin Siegel, a biophysicist in Baker’s group told Scientific American:

I worked for two years to make these enzymes better and I couldn’t do it. Foldit players were able to make a large jump in structural space and I still don’t fully understand how they did it.

Here’s how it works: Researchers send a series of puzzles to Foldit’s 240,000 registered users. The scientists sift through the results for the best designs and take those into the lab for real-life testing. They combed through 180,000 designs to get to the version of the protein published today. The paper details an enzyme that thanks to the crowdsourced redesign is 18-fold more active than the original version.

Now for the anticlimactic part: this particular enzyme doesn’t really have any practical uses. But the researchers say it’s a proof of concept, and future Foldit designs will be more useful. In fact, Baker has fed players a protein that blocks the flu virus that led to the 1918 pandemic—and their puzzle solving for this one could lead to an actual drug.

Nature via Scientific American

Image: Foldit


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Tuesday, January 24th, 2012 news No Comments

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