Archive for April, 2009

Congress: Time to get PHIT

I applaud the spirit of a new piece of legislation making its way through the halls of Congress for its focus on preventative care.

H.R. 215, The Personal Health Investment Today Act of 2009, introduced today by Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI), would “amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to treat certain amounts paid for physical activity, fitness, and exercise as amounts paid for medical care.”


The PHIT Act would change current federal tax law to allow for the deduction or use of pre-tax dollars to cover expenses related to sports, fitness and other physical activities. Americans could invest up to $2,000 annually to pay for physical activities by investing money in existing pre-tax Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA), Medical Savings Accounts (MSA) and/or medical reimbursement arrangements.  PHIT would only expand the expenses eligible for reimbursement to include physical activity costs as a form of prevention; PHIT would not increase contribution limits to these accounts. Once an individual or family spends 7.5% of their income on qualified medical expenses, they could deduct physical activity expenses directly.

To read the full text of the bill and to track it through the legislative process, click here.

play, think…
J. R. Atwood


April 30, 2009 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

If Borat wrote college rejection letters. Also, Bates College to applicants: “It’s not us; it’s you.”

The WSJ highlights the good, the bad, and the just plain mean ways that colleges reject applicants.

The “toughest” rejection letter comes from Bates College with the following explanation: “The deans were obliged to select from amonf candidates who clearly could do sound work at Bates.” [Translation: You can’t.]

The “most confusing” letter came from University of California, San Diego: “Within the last two hours you received an email addressed to students who had been admitted to UC San Diego… As you have quickly realized, this communication was sent to you in error.” [It’s like Borat wrote this letter: Congratulations… NOT!]

Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick gets the nod for “best coaching.” Admissions officers sent a handwritten letter to every one of its 600 rejected applicants explaining areas of deficiency in their application.

To see the letters that Stanford and Harvard send to rejected applicants, click here.

play, think…
J. R. Atwood

April 30, 2009 at 5:33 am 1 comment


Onwards: A wonderful animated featurette from British illustrator James Jarvis for Nike’s “Running” campaign. It made me smile and inspired me to go for an afternoon run when I was feeling sluggish.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

April 28, 2009 at 11:15 pm Leave a comment

“From assets to school outcomes: How finances shape children’s perceived possiblities and intentions”

Yesterday I published a blog entry about the economic effects of the racial achievement gap, which may include a “permanent national recession.”

Today I stumbled across an important new study that may, in part, help explain the achievement gap.

Mesmin Destin and Daphna Oyserman, researchers at the University of Michigan, conducted an experiment to investigate the associations among socioeconomic status, assumptions about the cost of college, and achievement motivation.

Seventh grade students from low-income families were divided into two groups: one group received information that left the impression of college as an ‘expensive’ venture; the other group was reassured that need-based financial aid opportunities existed to support their higher education ambitions.

In a subsequent survey of motivation and time spent on school work, students that received information about need-based financial aid (i.e., those with an ‘open-path mindset’) scored significantly higher than students who assumed the path to college was closed (i.e., those with a ‘closed-path mindet’) as a result of their family’s wanting financial situation.

The authors said based on the study results, parents and children from low-income families “should learn about the financial accessibility of college early, before gaps in student achievement levels emerge and some fall behind.” [Source: UPI]

The research report, published earlier this week in the journal Psychology Science, can be found here [subscription may be required].

Here is the bibliographic information and abstract of Destin and Oyserman’s article:

Destin, M. & Oyserman, D. (2009). From assets to school outcomes: How finances shape children’s perceived possibilities and intentions. Psychology Science, 20(4), 414-418.

ABSTRACT—People do not always take action to attain their desired possible selves—after all, whether consciously or nonconsciously, taking current action makes sense if there is an open path toward attaining the desired self, but not if paths are closed. Following this logic, children from families with fewer assets may lower their expectations for school success and plan to engage in less effort in school. To test this hypothesis, we examined the impact of experimentally manipulating mind-set about college as either ‘‘closed’’ (expensive) or ‘‘open’’ (can be paid for with needbased financial aid) among low-income early adolescents. Adolescents assigned to an open-path condition expected higher grades than those assigned to a closed-path condition (Study 1, n 5 48, predominantly Hispanic and Latino seventh graders) and planned to spend more time on homework than those assigned to a no-prime control condition (Study 2, n 5 48, predominantly African American seventh graders).

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

April 28, 2009 at 3:43 am 2 comments

The economic effect of the racial achievement gap

Our education system may be responsible for sewing the seeds of a “permanent national recession.”

Or so it is implied in  a report on “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools,” recently released by management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. As it is summarized in the ASCD SmartBrief:

The negative economic effects of poor performance by U.S. students — especially those with economic, racial or geographic disadvantages — has exceeded those of the recession. Closing such achievement gaps would increase the nation’s gross domestic product by some $3 billion to $5 billion per day, the report says.

Publicschoolinsights highlights the main takeaways from the report:

  • “Race and poverty are not destiny.”
  • “Investments in equity do pay off.”
  • “You should worry about other people’s children, because your well-being depends on their well-being.”

See also the NYT article about the report and its implications.


In other news related to education, economics, and responsibility… The Chicago Public Schools are adding financial literacy to its high school curriculum, meaning that in addition to learning traditional math and economics (e.g., algebra, geometry, statistics), the system’s 113,000+ secondary students will also learn “to pay bills, balance a checkbook, [and] make car and mortgage payments.”


April 26, 2009 at 5:22 pm 1 comment

Born to Run, Pt 2: It’s all in the toes

Around a year ago I posted a link to stories in the Harvard Gazette and from ABC News about the antropological argument that humans were, literally, born to run. We survived the hyenas, lions, and other scavengers of the African plane more than 2-3 million years ago by being able to outrun them — not with pure speed (cheetahs: 1, humans: 0), but over long distances, say some researchers.

Four-legged animals can move like missiles, but tall, two-legged creatures move like pogo sticks. To be fast and steady, you need a head that oscillates up and down, but doesn’t pitch back and forth or bobble from side to side. The nuchal ligament is one of several features that allowed early humans to run with steady heads held high.

There are some skeptics, however, to the theory that endurance running among early humans is the “missing link” in tracing our evolution. One researcher notes, “Early female humans likely did not participate in long hunts, but stayed behind to care for the young. If this is the case, why would women also have evolved to be good long-distance runners”

And just because we can run long distances does not necessarily mean we evolved specifically because of this ability.

Yet as we toast tonight to the nearly 25,000 runners who participated in the 113th Boston Marathon on Monday, it seems fitting to revisit the topic of running and its role in human evolution.

And thanks to a new study on our toes (!), “the endurance running hypothesis may have legs.” From this fantastic article in SEED Magazine:

A handful of scientists think ultra-marathoners are using their bodies just as our hominid forbears once did, a theory known as the endurance running hypothesis (ER). ER proponents believe that being able to run for extended lengths of time is an adapted trait, most likely for obtaining food, and was the catalyst that forced Homo erectus to evolve from its apelike ancestors. Over time, the survival of the swift-footed shaped the anatomy of modern humans, giving us a body that is difficult to explain absent a marathoning past.

Our toes, for instance, are shorter and stubbier than those of nearly all other primates, including chimpanzees, a trait that has long been attributed to our committed bipedalism. But a study published in the March 1 issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, by anthropologists Daniel Lieberman and Campbell Rolian, provides evidence that short toes make human feet exquisitely suited to substantial amounts of running. In tests where 15 subjects ran and walked on pressure-sensitive treadmills, Lieberman and Rolian found that toe length had no effect on walking. Yet when the subjects were running, an increase in toe length of just 20 percent doubled the amount of mechanical work, meaning that the longer-toed subjects required more metabolic energy, and each footfall produced more shock.

Read the entire article, “The Running Man, Revisited” by Maywa Montenegro here.

I’m hitting the trails to get in touch with my inner Encino Man.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

April 21, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Nike: Letting it all hang out

Nike’s back to basics high altitude training camp: “It’s about natural running. Or as we call it, supernatural.”

Awesome. More here and here.


April 19, 2009 at 4:50 am Leave a comment

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

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