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MCAT Content / AAMC MCAT Practice Exam 3 Ps Solutions


Exam 3 Psychology/Sociology Section Passage 1

1) The P/S section on the MCAT doesn’t get much love. Students often brush it to the side and assume they can brute force their way through it. One of the most common statements I’ve heard students make about this section has been “Oh, I just need to sit down and memorize more information.” While this is more true than other sections, critical thinking and reasoning are still very much at play in this section, and like we’ll see, this question.

The question is asking us to identify a limitation specific to a 5 year old that will negatively impact the child’s ability to do well in the studies regarding perspective-taking and empathy. What would prevent a child from being empathic and taking on others’ perspectives?

  1. Children lack object permanence up until about 2 years of age, or the end of the sensorimotor stage, according to Piaget’s stages of development. Note that while the question made no mention of a specific developmental theory, it did specify a cognitive limitation which points towards Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. Even if we were unsure at what age children gain object permanence, a lack of object permanence is not directly associated with the ability to care about others and their perspectives.
    For more on cognition, visit the corresponding content page:
  2. According to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, conservation develops during the concrete operational stage which spans from about 7 to 11 years of age. We would expect a 5 year old to have limited understanding of conservation. If we only used our content knowledge, we would be tempted to select this answer choice on test day and move on. However, a strong understanding of conservation does not impact someone’s ability to empathize. Recall that conservation means recognizing that the quantity of something remains the same even if the way it’s presented changes. The classic example of this is recognizing that the amount of water in a glass does not change if you pour it into a shorter and wider container.
  3. Centration is a cognitive limitation present during the preoperational stage of development which spans 2 to 7 years of age, meaning it applies to a 5 year old. Centration corresponds to a fixation, or centeredness, on a single component or aspect of a larger whole. An example of this would be a child that sees that your shirt has a blue button instead of noting that the button is a part or a larger shirt that is long sleeved, has alternating colored buttons and a checkered floral pattern. The child has focused on a single detail and is unable to see the larger whole. This answer choice is getting closer to what we’re looking for, but this centeredness is a more detail- or sensory-oriented centeredness rather than one based on the ability to take someone else’s perspective. There is a better answer choice.
  4. This is the correct answer. Like centration, egocentrism is a marker of the preoperational stage of Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and would apply to a 5 year old playing the researchers’ games. Egocentrism is a focus on oneself rather than others and the inability to take on the perspective of others. This would directly impact a child’s ability to empathise (affective) and take on someone else’s perspective (cognitive), thereby limiting their performance on these dependent variables.


  1. People are attracted to others who enjoy similar activities, making this answer choice incorrect for a LEAST question. You’d be hard pressed to find someone with a close friend that doesn’t like any of the same activities; they wouldn’t have anything to do together!
  2. Like answer choice A, people tend to be attracted to people they find physically attractive.
  3. Familiarity can encourage fondness and interpersonal attraction. Think back to grade school, most of us chose children that we knew or had worked with before when teachers told us to find a partner. Running into someone before the study and then seeing them again during the study would make a participant more likely to choose them which would influence interpersonal attraction and make this answer choice incorrect.
  4. Neuroticism is one of the personality traits likely to come up in discussions of the “Big Five” and “PEN” trait theories; it is the propensity to become anxious or insecure in stressful situations. Neuroticism will not predict interpersonal attraction making it the correct answer. This is where many students might be tempted to justify this answer by saying that being anxious and insecure might affect someone’s decision making abilities. It is true that anxiety can and often does impact decision-making, however if you’re deciding who to team up with between two people, neuroticism and that propensity towards anxiety will not make you more likely to choose one person over the other.


  1. According to the hypothesis in the first paragraph, empathy and perspective-taking are two related but separate skills. This suggests that someone who is empathic should also be good at perspective-taking and their scores on the two measures should track in the same direction which would correspond to a positive correlation. When the results are as expected, in this case there is indeed a positive correlation between two measures known to be related, then there is no immediate concern regarding the validity of the measures.
  2. If someone scores highly empathic but low on distress when watching others in pain or vice versa, the researchers should be scratching their heads and should question the validity of the measures. Seeing someone else in pain or distress will produce some corresponding distress in someone who is empathic. A lack of congruence between the two measures of empathy should be a red flag. These two measures should track in the same direction; when they do not, the validity of both measures is likely compromised making this the best answer choice.
  3. According to the passage, empathy is affective and perspective-taking is cognitive. That said, the fantasy component of the perspective-taking questionnaire specifically asks about getting involved in the feelings of a character. A positive correlation between empathy and the cognitive-emotional component of perspective taking would be expected; validity is not in doubt here.
  4. Recall that study 1 focused on perspective-taking and study 2 focused on empathy. We are told in the first paragraph that the hypothesis is that perspective-taking and empathy are related but separate. If no correlation were found between the empathy questionnaire scores and the amount of money won during the competition trials of the perspective-taking study, we would not have reason to question the validity of the measures. The competition trials rewarded participants money regardless of the opponent’s action so the participants did not need to consider the perspective of the other person; the competition trials did not measure perspective-taking. While empathy and perspective-taking are related, the competition trials do not fall under the umbrella and a correlation is not expected so the lack of correlation does not point to a lack of validity. Answer choice B provides a direct reason to question the validity of the measures making it the best answer choice.


  1. The cerebral cortex is what most people think of when they hear “brain.” The cerebral cortex controls our consciousness, thinking, planning, integration of sensory information, memory, motor function and more just to name a few. A thickening of the cortex, even if it did correlate with improved performance on both studies, would not actually address the researchers’ hypothesis that empathy and perspective-taking are two related but separate processes. This answer choice lumps the two studies together and relates the entire cortex to both studies. In order to support the hypothesis that empathy and perspective-taking are related but separate, there should be something in the hypothetical findings that differentiates the two skills.
  2. This answer choice is tempting for many students because our minds often fill-in-the-blanks to encourage our engagement with the material in front of us. Metaphorically, raise your hand if you imagined the participants having face-to-face interactions. Now, does it actually say this anywhere in the passage? Surprisingly, it does not. It is reasonable to assume that the participants in study 2 had some face-to-face interaction in order to get to know each other and so it’s plausible that difficulty recognizing faces might impair their ability to empathize with someone else and form a coalition, but this is still speculation. Even more importantly, there is no mention of participants seeing each other’s faces in study 1, and this study could easily be performed without the participants seeing one another (this happens frequently in video games, or, and I’m aging myself here, a round of Battleship with your face hidden behind a divider so that your opponent can’t read your facial expressions). If the participants weren’t looking at one another to begin with, then difficulty with facial recognition should not impact their performance. I want to pause and recognize that we engaged in a lot of hypotheticals with this answer choice, and that’s precisely part of the point; the more hypotheticals and assumptions you have to make to select an answer, the less likely it is to be correct. For this answer choice to be correct, we would have to make at least three leaps of logic: 1) study 1 involves the participants looking at one another, 2) study 2 also involves the participants looking at one another and 3) recognizing someone else’s face is related to empathy but not perspective-taking. There has to be a better answer choice more grounded in the passage.
  3. If this were true, there would be a problem with the design of the studies. If the participants of a study cannot understand the instructions of that study, the results cannot be taken at face value and the study has poor validity. Additionally, there is no reason to believe that perspective-taking (study 1) has an auditory component not found in empathy (study 2).
  4. This answer choice is the best answer because it supports the idea that empathy and perspective-taking are separate. If a specific region of the cortex is damaged and only one of the two skills is affected (empathy because the participants have difficulty with study 2), then the damaged region is likely related to the impaired skill and not involved in the unimpaired skill (perspective-taking in study 1).


Exam 3 Psychology/Sociology Section Passage 2


  1. Reproductive memory is a type of idealized memory where we recall information exactly the way it occurred, or reproduce it with high fidelity. This is very unusual because our recall memory of events is often flawed.
  2. Flashbulb memories are memories that are especially vivid, memorable and more likely to be remembered with greater detail due to a strong emotional associations. Particularly bad news, major life events and societal turning points are classic examples of flashbulb memories. The famous political assassination attempts in study 1 and the disasters in study 2 are examples of flashbulb memories.
  3. As the name implies, prospective memory is a memory oriented towards the future, such as the memory of planning a future action or the memory of an intention for the future. Many of you have prospective memories planning your future careers. The memories in study 1 and study 2 were not regarding planning the future and are not prospective memories.
  4. Eidetic memory is colloquially known as photographic memory and is the ability to recall an image with near perfect or high accuracy after seeing the image once and for a short period of time. This does not apply to the vivid memory of emotionally-associated events as the ones in studies 1 and 2.

6) The second paragraph simply mentions that the participants were asked about key details regarding how they heard about a disaster. If you decide you need to, ahem, refresh your memory after going through the following explanations, check out

  1. Episodic memories are related to events and experiences; knowing the details of the event and remembering how one experiences the event and the experience of learning about the event are examples of episodic memory making this the best answer. These memories generally have details that help provide context such as timing, location and other associated experiences. A concrete example would be remembering the time you broke your foot while riding your bike. You were 7 years old, biking outside your home during the afternoon following school and lost control trying to go over a curve. You then went to the hospital and got a cast. Here the “tags” or specific details that you might share with someone when asked about the incident are how old you were, the place, time of day and subsequent events.
  2. Semantic memories are common knowledge or concepts. While the disasters might eventually become a part of the common knowledge, details about how the individual participant found out about the disaster and even details of the event itself are not a part of common knowledge. Better examples of semantic memories are that the sky is blue and that 4+4=8.
  3. Procedural memories are memories that correspond to skills and tasks such as riding a bike, not the specific details of an event.
  4. Iconic memory, like the name implies, relates to an icon or an image. While the participants might have had a specific image that they associated with the event, they were asked about details of the event and their memory of learning about the event, not any images they might have associated with the event. This is best described as episodic memory, not iconic memory.


  1. It would be more probable that false information was encoded if that same information had been provided during the initial description of the memory of the event rather than during the second recollection. Something about sharing the details of the event the second time accounts for the intrusions.
  2. Prospective memory refers to memories of planning and future events. The participants are asked to share their memories of past events, not plans for future events. This means that the memory relevant to the study and therefore the question is not prospective.
  3. In the last few sentences of the third paragraph, the author notes that the intrusions corresponded to getting the key details “wrong,” or to providing false information even though the information was consistent with the situation or type of event. This suggests that retrieving the memory for a second time did not only retrieve the stored episodic memory, but also retrieved memory of general knowledge and of similar events. This is a consequence of the reconstruction of memories and is part of the reason why it can be so difficult to accurately reconstruct memories. This is the correct answer.
  4. This answer choice is unlikely because the intrusion errors were just that, errors. They were incorrect key details even though they aligned with the general situation. If they had been encoded during the initial event but repressed, they could appear later but would still be incorrect. However, the participants had initially described the correct key details, suggesting that they encoded the correct details as a part of their episodic memory, not the incorrect details as would have to be the case for repressed, incorrect information to be retrieved the second time.

8) Recall that generalizability refers to the ability to extrapolate and apply the results of a study or research to “real life” or other places, people and scenarios.

  1. This would affect the internal validity, or the ability to draw conclusions from the data, more than the external validity or the generalizability of the study. It is possible to have laboratory results that mimic what occurs in the real world without knowing which of the specific variables tested account for the bulk of the results obtained. While not ideal for a laboratory study, this answer choice alone does not immediately jeopardize generalizability.
  2. Factual information addressed in laboratory studies could still be generalizable to factual information in the “real world.” The inclusion of emotions is not required as the two can be intertwined but they can also be distinct.
  3. If this were true, it would correspond to better generalizability because the measurement is more accurate and therefore more likely to be applicable to or representative of what happens in settings outside of the laboratory.
  4. This is the correct answer; it would cause concern for the generalizability of laboratory studies. If “real life” results are very different from the ones generated in laboratory settings, then the results obtained in the study are unlikely to match the ones produced outside of the laboratory making the results less generalizable.


  1. This is the correct answer. Per the last sentence of the passage, a memory associated with strong emotions, such as a car crash, causes increased memory of central details and decreased memory of peripheral details. This is because the central details that actually trigger the emotional response are preferentially noticed/the focus of our attention. This helps us encode and remember the “most important” details. For example, if you’re attacked by a bear in the woods, it’s more important to notice and remember the presence of the bear and less important to notice and remember what color moss was on the rock behind the bear.
  2. The last paragraph does not mention an improvement in overall memory, but rather the shifting of improved memory for central details and less recollection of peripheral information.
  3. Peripheral details are still encoded; the passage notes fewer peripheral details remembered, not no peripheral details remembered at all. This suggests that the encoding of peripheral details is still intact and that the decrease in encoded peripheral information is likely the result of selective attention rather than an impairment in the encoding.
  4. The last paragraph does not mention anything to suggest that there is a difference in the encoding and the subsequent retrieval of specific types of details. Since there is no evidence of this in the passage, we’ll stick with answer choice A as the best answer to explain the finding from study 3 as noted in the passage.

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