Question

Psychologist: In a survey, several hundred volunteers rated their own levels of self-control and their overall life satisfaction. The volunteers who rated themselves as having better self-control also reported greater satisfaction with their lives. This suggests that self-control is one factor that helps people avoid situations likely to produce dissatisfaction.

In order to assess the strength of the psychologist’s argument, it would be most helpful to know whether

Option A
Option B
Option C
Option D
Option E

(This question is from Official Guide. Therefore, because of copyrights, the complete question cannot be copied here. The question can be accessed at GMAT Club)

Solution

The Story

Psychologist: In a survey, several hundred volunteers rated their own levels of self-control and their overall life satisfaction.

In a survey, volunteers rated their self-control (SC) and life satisfaction (LS).

The volunteers who rated themselves as having better self-control also reported greater satisfaction with their lives.

The guys who rated themselves higher on SC also rated themselves higher on LS.

This suggests that self-control is one factor that helps people avoid situations likely to produce dissatisfaction.

On the basis of the results of the survey, the author claims that SC helps people avoid situations that might lead to dissatisfaction.

Gist: In a survey rating self-control and life satisfaction, people who rated themselves higher on SC also rated themselves higher on LS (support). Thus, SC helps people avoid situations that might lead to dissatisfaction h(conclusion).

The Gap

The first clear gap in the argument is the assumed causal link. Here’s an example to explain it:

In a survey, it was found that people with bigger cars had more wealth. Thus, owning a big car helps one in attaining wealth.

Does the argument make sense? No.

The flaw in the argument is a classic one: it jumps from correlation to causality.

The author doesn’t stop there though. The psychologist does not claim that self-control helps people increase satisfaction. The claim is that self-control helps people avoid situations likely to produce dissatisfaction.

First of all, satisfaction can be increased in ways other than avoiding situations that likely produce dissatisfaction e.g. by engaging in more situations that likely produce satisfaction.

Besides, let’s get into a little bit of mindfulness. Are people unhappy because of the situations, or because of the way they respond to situations? Can’t two different people face a similar situation and have different responses? Thus, we can’t say that self-control helps people avoid situations likely to produce dissatisfaction. It is entirely possible self-control helps people avoid not the situations but dissatisfaction in such situations.

The Goal

The goal is to assess or evaluate the strength of the psychologist’s argument. The evaluation can be done by playing on any of the three gaps mentioned above:
1. Whether correlation means causation
2. Whether self-control can lead to increased satisfaction by helping people engage in more situations likely to produce satisfaction
3. Whether self-control can lead to increased satisfaction by helping people not feel dissatisfied in situations likely to produce dissatisfaction.

There could be other pieces of information as well that could help us assess the strength of the argument.

The Evaluation

(A) Incorrect. If we take expert psychological assessments to be accurate assessments, then essentially this option asks whether people typically were very generous in their assessments of self-control. However, without any additional information, this generosity should apply to both sets of people: those having more life satisfaction and having less life satisfaction. Thus, the correlation would continue to hold between more self-control and more life satisfaction. As a result, the reasoning in the argument will continue to hold as is. Thus, this option does not help in evaluating the argument

(B) Incorrect. It’s easy to reject this option for the reason that it talks about “factors of which they are unaware”. However, let’s change the option to say:

people’s perceptions of how satisfied they are with their lives are affected only by factors of which they are unaware

Now, is the above option incorrect? Don’t think so. Why? The reason is that if people are unaware of these factors, it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll be able to use self-control with these factors. Thus, it would seem unlikely then that self-control leads to increased life satisfaction or helps people avoid dissatisfying situations.

The given option is incorrect since it asks whether people’s perceptions are affected by factors of which they are unaware. Even if there are such factors, their presence doesn’t preclude the presence of factors of which people could be aware. Since people could use self-control w.r.t. factors of which they are aware, they can still increase life satisfaction through self-control. Thus, this option doesn’t help us evaluate the argument.

(C) Incorrect. If I tell you that if you take a medicine in high doses, you’ll be harmed rather than helped by the medicine, does that mean that the medicine, in general, does not help people feel better? No. Similarly, this option will not help us evaluate the argument.

(D) Incorrect. The option would be correct without the word ‘temporarily’:

people’s ratings of their overall satisfaction with their lives tend to decrease in situations likely to produce dissatisfaction

This version would be correct since it’d link people’s ratings of their life satisfaction with their facing situations likely to produce dissatisfaction. This link is the link between the premise and the conclusion in our argument.

The given option is incorrect since it’s talking about ‘temporary’ decrease in some situations. Even if people’s ratings decrease temporarily in certain situations, we have no indication as to whether any of the participants were in such a situation. Thus, the option has no impact.

(E) Correct. This option presents reverse causality. The option essentially asks whether dissatisfaction leads to a lack of self-control. If it does, then this could be the reason for the correlation we observed in the survey (i.e. people who are more dissatisfied will have less self-control and people who are more satisfied will have more self-control). Thus, in such a case, we won’t be able to say, on the basis of the survey results, that self-control leads to increased life satisfaction.