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Critical Reasoning - MSR Assumption Question

For our blog post today, we would like to take up an official assumption question which many test takers find extremely difficult. The issue is not only that it is difficult to identify the correct option but also that it is difficult to eliminate the incorrect ones. Though we usually do not waste time negating more than one or two options, in this question the test takers often end up negating most options to figure out whether they break the conclusion. So we figured that it deserves a post of its own! Try it on your own first. Whatever doubts you have, hopefully, we have already discussed them in our discussion below. If not, feel free to leave us a comment and we will get back to you. 

 

Cognitive scientist: Using the pioneering work of comparative psychologist Gordon Gallup as a model, several studies have investigated animals' capacity for mirror self-recognition (MSR). Most animals exposed to a mirror respond only with social behavior, such as aggression. However, in the case of the great apes, repeated exposure to mirrors leads to self-directed behaviors, such as exploring the inside of the mouth, suggesting that these animals recognize the reflection as an image of self. The implication of these studies is that the great apes have a capacity for self-awareness unique among nonhuman species.

 

The cognitive scientist makes which of the following assumptions in the argument above?

 

(A) Gallup's work has established that the great apes have a capacity for MSR unique among nonhuman species.

(B) If an animal does not have the capacity for MSR, it does not have the capacity for self-awareness.

(C) If a researcher exposes an animal to a mirror and that animal exhibits social behavior, that animal is incapable of being self-aware.

(D) When exposed to a mirror, all animals display either social behavior or self-directed behavior.

(E) Animals that do not exhibit MSR may demonstrate a capacity for self-awareness in other ways.

 

Solution:

 

Premises: 

- Mirror self-recognition (MSR) experiments were conducted.

- Most animals showed social behaviour such as aggression. 

- Great apes, on repeated exposure, show self-directed behaviour. They show that they recognise themselves in a mirror.

 

Conclusion - Great apes have a capacity for self-awareness unique among nonhuman species.

 

Notice the gap - the conclusion talks about ‘self awareness’ while the premises talk about ‘self-recognition’.

Most animals did not show self-recognition so we are concluding that they are not self aware. Only great apes showed self-recognition so we are concluding that only they are self aware. 

We are assuming that self-recognition is necessary and sufficient for self awareness. 

 

Let’s look at the options. We need to find the assumption.

 

 

(A) Gallup's work has established that the great apes have a capacity for MSR unique among nonhuman species.

 

We don't know what Gallup's work has established. We are discussing the experiments and their implications. The experiments use Gallup’s work as a model. The conclusion does not concern itself with Gallup’s work at all. 

 

(B) If an animal does not have the capacity for MSR, it does not have the capacity for self-awareness.

 

We are assuming that if an animal does not show MSR, it is not self aware. That is why we are concluding that self awareness is unique in great apes. 

 

Negate: If an animal does not have the capacity for MSR, it does have the capacity for self-awareness.

Most animals do not show MSR. We are concluding that they do not have capacity for self awareness. If we are given that they have capacity for self awareness, then our conclusion fails. 

 

Correct.

 

Note something important here: When you negate a conditional statement, the condition does not get negated. The main clause gets negated. So 'if clause' will not get negated. The main clause will get negated. 

 

(C) If a researcher exposes an animal to a mirror and that animal exhibits social behavior, that animal is incapable of being self-aware.

 

Not assumed. The argument tells us that repeated exposure to mirror leads to MSR in great apes. The first few times, perhaps even great apes exhibit social behaviour. We are not assuming that the animal should not show social behaviour. We are assuming that if it does show MSR at some point, it is self aware. 

 

Negated (C): If a researcher exposes an animal to a mirror and that animal exhibits social behavior, that animal is capable of being self-aware.

In case of Great Apes, they exhibit MSR after repeated exposure so it is possible that they exhibit social behaviour early on. In case of other animals, since the animals exhibit social behaviour (perhaps on repeated exposure too), we are implying that they are not capable of being self aware.

Hence, "if a researcher exposes an animal to a mirror and that animal exhibits social behaviour" has NO implication. It may or may not be self aware depending on what it does on repeated exposure. We are not assuming (C) in our argument. Our argument depends on repeated exposure to the mirror. 

Hence negated (C) does not break our argument. 

 

(D) When exposed to a mirror, all animals display either social behavior or self-directed behavior.

 

Not assumed. They could display some other kind of behaviour too. We are only concluding what happens when they show self directed behaviour. 

 

Negated (D): When exposed to a mirror, not all animals display either social behavior or self-directed behavior.

So some animals could display some other kind of behaviour too. Well that's ok. We are linking only self directed behaviour to self awareness in our conclusion. For that we need to assume that only those who show self directed behaviour are self aware. 

 

(E) Animals that do not exhibit MSR may demonstrate a capacity for self-awareness in other ways.

 

Not assumed. In fact, the argument assumes the opposite of this. The argument assumes that MSR is necessary for self awareness. 

 

Answer (B) 

 

For many more such discussions, check out our critical reasoning module coming soon. 

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