GMAT Preparation

Basics of CR Causal Arguments (Part 2/2)

1      Agenda

This article is the second and last in the series of articles in which we learn all that is there to learn about causal arguments in GMAT CR. In the first part we had already learnt about the following aspects:

  • What is causality?
  • What is a causal argument?
  • What are the assumptions behind a causal argument?
  • What are the ways of strengthening causal arguments?

If you haven’t followed the first article yet, click here. In this article we will focus on – What are the ways of weakening causal arguments?

2      What are the ways of weakening causal arguments?

In our previous article, we have already shown you the framework for identifying the assumption behind causal arguments

Recap: The following are three assumptions inherent in a causal argument where event A is the cause and event B is the effect:

Assumption #1: The author assumes a certain sequence between the two events. The author assumes that event A must have happened before event B.

Assumption #2: The author assumes that nothing other than event A caused event B. In other words there is “no alternate cause” that caused event B

Assumption #3: The author assumes that event B did not cause event A. In other words, there is no reverse causality – the effect did not cause the “cause”.

If we negate any one of the assumptions above, the causality in the conclusion will not hold true. Thus, a weakener is often framed along the lines opposite to the above assumptions.

Let’s take a simple example:

Last year, the corn farmers of Gravia raised their prices by 10% and their revenue increased by 5% over the previous year’s revenue. Thus, the increase in revenue must be due to the increase in price.

So, in the above argument we have two events that took place in the last year.

Event A: the corn farmers of Gravia raised their prices by 10%

Event B: their revenue increased by 5% over the previous year’s revenue.

Conclusion: Event A must have caused Event B.

Note: The premise does not explicitly state that event A happened before event B.

The assumptions in the above causal argument are:

  1. The increase in the price happened before the increase in the revenue.
  2. Nothing else other than the price increase caused the increase in revenue
  3. The increase in revenue did not cause the increase in price.

Thus, all in all the following can be weakeners for the above causal argument:

i) Alternate causes for stated effect

  • Any choice that states an alternate cause will automatically act as a weakener
    • An increase in demand last year helped the farmers sell off the surplus yields of the year before last, a surplus that they normally store for release at such times later, thus increasing their revenues last year.

ii) Cause occurs but not effect

  • Any choice that shows that even if the cause occurs, the effect does not occur will weaken the argument.
    • The year before last, even though the price of corn had been raised by the farmers in Gravia, the revenue remained the same as that of the previous year.

iii) Effect occurs but not cause

  • A choice that indicates that even in the absence of the cause, the effect occurred will be a weakener.
    • The year before last, the revenue of the farmers increased despite the fact that the price of corn remained the same as that of the previous year.

iv) Reverse relationship

  • A choice that shows that Y caused X will work as a weakener
    • An increase in demand last year helped the farmers sell off the surplus yields of the year before last, thus increasing their revenues last year and making them raise their prices by 5% in the hope of earning even higher revenues.

v) Show data used are inaccurate or unreliable

  • Any choice that provides evidence to show the above will weaken the conclusion.

Now that we have seen how a causal argument can be weakened in the above five ways, let’s see this in action in an official question.

3      Solving an official question

People who do regular volunteer work tend to live longer, on average, than people who do not. It has been found that “doing good,” a category that certainly includes volunteer work, releases endorphins, the brain’s natural opiates, which induce in people a feeling of well-being. Clearly, there is a connection: Regular releases of endorphins must in some way help to extend people’s lives.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously undermines the force of the evidence given as support for the hypothesis that endorphins promote longevity?

(A) People who do regular volunteer work are only somewhat more likely than others to characterize the work they do for as a ‘doing good.’

(B) Although extremely high levels of endorphins could be harmful to health, such levels are never reached as a result of the natural release of endorphins.

(C) There are many people who have done some volunteer work but who do not do such work regularly.

(D) People tend not to become involved in regular volunteer work unless they are healthy and energetic to begin with.

(E) Releases of endorphins are responsible for the sense of well-being experienced by many long-distance runners while running.

3.1     SOLUTION

3.1.1       STEP 1- ANALYZING the STIMULUS

  • People who do regular volunteer work tend to live longer, on average, than people who do not.
    • People who are engaged in doing volunteer work(doing work without being paid) on a regular basis live longer, on average, than people who do not engage in such work.
  • It has been found that “doing good,” a category that certainly includes volunteer work, releases endorphins, the brain’s natural opiates, which induce in people a feeling of well-being.
    • “Doing good” has been found to produce endorphins.
    • “Doing good” definitely includes volunteer work.
    • Endorphins occur naturally in the brain.
    • They produce a feeling of being happy/healthy
      • We can infer that volunteer work produces a feeling of well-being or happiness in the person.
    • Clearly, there is a connection: Regular releases of endorphins must in some way help to extend people’s lives.
      • So, there is a clear connection here:
      • Endorphins produced on a regular basis must be helping in lengthening the life-span of people.
    • Conclusion: Regular releases of endorphins must be responsible for extending people’s life-span.

3.1.2       STEP 2- PRE-THINKING

  1. The author has presented a causality in the conclusion.
    • Cause: Regular releases of endorphins
    • Effect: On average an increase in the life-span of people who regularly “do good”.
  2. While drawing the causal link the author has completely ignored other factors that could be responsible for and contribute to the well-being of a person, thus extending their life span. The author has assumed that the only factor that contributes to well-being, thus enhancing life-span is regular release of endorphins.
  3. Using the framework provided above, the following could be weakener
    1. Weakener 1An alternate cause
      • So, if a statement indicates that there is some other factor that causes such people to live longer, then it will weaken the conclusion.
      • For instance, most of this volunteer work involves physical exercise and that significantly improves the overall health of a person, thereby increasing his life-span.
    2. Weakener 2 – Reverse causality
      • We can bring in a weakener by reversing the cause effect link. What if the feeling of well-being is not a result of the volunteer work but the volunteer work is mostly undertaken by people who enjoy a general state of well-being and good health.
      • So, if an option indicates that most of the people who take up the volunteer work are people who enjoy good health and are therefore more likely to volunteer for service, it will weaken the conclusion.

3.1.3       STEP 3- ANSWER CHOICE ELIMINATION

(A) People who do regular volunteer work are only somewhat more likely than others to characterize the work they do for as a ‘doing good.’

What the volunteers themselves think about their volunteer work does not negate the fact that volunteer work helps produce endorphins. Hence, this is just a distortion that has no impact on the conclusion.

Incorrect Choice.

(B) Although extremely high levels of endorphins could be harmful to health, such levels are never reached as a result of the natural release of endorphins.

The passage talks about the natural release of endorphins when doing good. This option is a hypothetical case where “extremely high levels are never reached”. So this is not the case of “natural release” and has no impact on the conclusion. Out of scope.

Incorrect Choice.

(C) There are many people who have done some volunteer work but who do not do such work regularly.

The passage is concerned with volunteer workers who are regularly involved in such work. This option talks about a different category of people. Out of scope.

Incorrect Choice.

(D) People tend not to become involved in regular volunteer work unless they are healthy and energetic to begin with.

This is in line with our pre-thinking weakener 2.

Correct choice. 

(E) Releases of endorphins are responsible for the sense of well-being experienced by many long-distance runners while running.

This talks about release of endorphins while indulging in physical exercise and not while “doing good”. We cannot assume for whatever reasons that “running” is a “doing good” activity. Therefore, this is irrelevant.

Incorrect Choice.

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