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MCAT Content / AAMC Official Guide Ps Solutions

AAMC Official Guide PS [Web]

Official Guide Psychology/Sociology Section Passage 1

1) The question stem is directing us to Fig. 1, so let’s go ahead and take a look!

On the x-axis we have the two initial groupings, obese and non-obese participants. The legend indicates that the black rectangles are the unstructured groups and the grey rectangles are the homophilous groups. On the y-axis we have the percentage of participants that adopted the diet diary as a fraction. No black rectangle is present for the obese participant grouping, indicating that none of the obese participants in the unstructured groups adopted the diet diary. When placed in homophilous groups, approximately 13% (0.13 as a fraction) obese participants adopted the diary. For the non-obese participants, 2% adopted the diary when placed in an unstructured group and 5% adopted the diary when placed in a homophilous social network. For both sets of participants, being placed in a homophilous group increased the fraction of participants that adopted the diet diary, and the effect was greater for obese participants.

A. Non-obese participants experience more cognitive dissonance than obese participants. – The figure shows the fraction of participants that adopt a diet diary when notified “that their health buddy had started using an Internet-based diet diary” which indicates a measure of conformity, not cognitive dissonance.

B. Participants experience more cognitive dissonance in homophilous groups. – The concept being measured was conformity, not cognitive dissonance.

C. Non-obese participants conform more than obese participants. – While this is true if we compare obese participants in unstructured groups with non-obese participants in unstructured groups, this statement is false if we compare the obese and non-obese participants in homophilous groups. There must be a better answer choice.

D. Participants conform more in homophilous groups. – Ah, here it is. In both main groups, obese participants and non-obese participants, placing participants in a homophilous group increased the fraction that adopted the diet diary. The diet diary is our proxy for conformity, so this statement is the correct answer and participants conform more in homophilous groups.

2) The foot-in-the-door technique relies on asking someone for a small favor or making a simple request that the person is likely to agree to, and then following up with a more significant, related request. They are more likely to say “yes” to the second, more significant request because they have already agreed to the smaller request.  For example, if your friend asks you for $20 to buy lunch, you’re more likely to give them $20 if you already agreed to give them $5 for lunch. We’ll need to find something similar in the answer choices: a small request regarding diet diaries that will make the participants more likely to adopt the diet diary later.

A. Encourage the participants to sign a petition in support of diet diaries. – Signing a petition is a low stake, relatively small request. If the participants sign the petition (small request), according to the foot-in-the-door phenomenon, they will be more likely to adopt the diet diary themselves afterwards (larger request).

B. Have the participants personally interact with the health buddy who adopted the diet diary. – While having participants interact with one another could make them more likely to adopt a diet diary, it is not a small request specific to the adoption of diet diaries. Answer choice A is a better option because it is specific to diet diaries and not to the other person involved in the study. The more specific to the diet diary itself, the better.

C. Tell the participants that the health buddy who adopts the diet diary is a trustworthy health expert. – Trying to appeal to the presenter’s trustworthiness as a way to persuade someone is appealing to their peripheral route of processing. Other examples of the peripheral route of processing/to persuasion include attractiveness of the message and presenter, positive emotions, and tactics that are not specific to the message itself. On the other hand, the central route to persuasion corresponds to critically evaluating the message itself. You might believe what I say here because you trust that I’m qualified to help you work through the explanations (peripheral, about the presenter), but you should also make sure the explanations make logical sense (central, the message itself). This is the basis of medicine folks.

D. Tell the participants that by agreeing to be in the study, they have agreed to cooperate with the researchers. – Explicitly asking someone to perform a task, or in this case telling someone that they have previously agreed to perform a task when asked, is better explained by compliance. Answer choice A is the best answer choice to model the foot-in-the-door technique.

3) Self-serving bias is the idea that if something positive occurs to someone, they will say or assume the positive event is due to a positive internal characteristic, and if something negative occurs, it has an external source. For example, if someone gets a great score on an exam, they will attribute the passing grade to their robust study habits (internal source) but if they fail the exam, they are more likely to say that they failed because they were having a bad day or that the test was poorly written (external). The key here is that self-serving bias helps us see ourselves in a more positive light, assigning ourselves positive virtues and shifting responsibility elsewhere when something negative happens. Now before we forget, this is a NOT question, so we need to select an answer choice that is unfavorable for the individual – either attributing something positive to an external source or something negative to an internal source.

A. Obese participants view their unhealthy weight as a result of having too many fast food restaurants near home.– Here we have a negative result (unhealthy weight) and are assigning an external source (distribution of restaurants). This would be an example of self-serving bias, making it an incorrect answer choice.

B. Non-obese participants view their healthy weight as a result of having strong willpower. – In answer choice B, a positive result (healthy weight) is attributed to an internal source (willpower). This too aligns with self-serving bias and would not be the correct answer.

C. Obese participants view their unhealthy weight as a result of not having time to exercise regularly. – Like answer choice A, the negative result in this answer (unhealthy weight) is attributed to an external source or something beyond the person’s control (not having time). This answer choice is compatible with self-serving bias making it incorrect.

D. Non-obese participants view their healthy weight as a result of not having any fast food restaurants near their home. – Unlike the other answer choices, this one does not align with the idea of self-serving bias: a positive result (healthy weight) is attributed to something external rather than internal, namely restaurant distribution. We were looking for an answer choice that disagreed with self-serving bias and here we have it!

For more on attributional processes, head over to: 

4) The cognitive dissonance theory states that when someone acts or behaves in a way that does not align with their attitudes, they will experience cognitive dissonance. To alleviate this dissonance or disagreement, the person can either change their behavior or change their attitude by questioning the associated information. Let’s pause and be honest with each other for a second, which of those two is easier, breaking a bad habit or reasoning our way through the bad habit? I’ll be the first to say that it’s a lot easier to rationalize a bad habit! The cognitive dissonance theory agrees with us and indicates that people are more likely to change their attitude than they are to change their behavior. Now that we have the information we need, let’s shift gears and read some answer choices.

A. Obese participants will change their unhealthy eating behaviors. – The underlying assumption here is that obese participants have unhealthy diets. Obese participants with unhealthy eating habits will experience cognitive dissonance. However, this answer choice says they’ll change their behavior which, as we said earlier, is less likely to happen than an attitude change. Maybe we can find something about an attitude change instead?

B. Non-obese participants will change their unhealthy eating behaviors. – In this answer choice, we are asked to imagine that non-obese participants have unhealthy eating behaviors. While they may experience cognitive dissonance, the underlying assumption is that they are less likely to experience cognitive dissonance than their obese counterparts because their unhealthy eating habits do not result in the same effects (obesity). This answer choice also assumes a behavioral change which, as mentioned earlier, is less likely to occur than an attitude change.

C. Obese participants will question the validity of the information provided. – If an obese participant experiences cognitive dissonance, they are more likely to change their attitude than they are to change their behavior. Questioning the validity of the information given is the clearest example of an attitude change we have so far. 

D. Non-obese participants will overemphasize the importance of the information provided. – If the non-obese participants overemphasized the importance of the information, they would be reinforcing the attitude, not changing it. This would not align with cognitive dissonance theory which assumes if someone experiences cognitive dissonance, they are more likely to change their attitude than they are to change their behavior. Answer choice C is still the best answer choice out of the four we are given.

5) To investigate the effect of homophily on changes in exercise patterns, we need to measure the status of the group (homophilous or not) format to describe study designs is a great pattern to remember for test day.

A. A new independent variable would be added. – A new independent variable would mean that we are measuring something other than homophily and trying to see how it affects the adoption of the diet diary. In the scenario in the question stem, we are still trying to understand the impact of homophily on another factor, so the independent variable remains the same.

B. A new dependent variable would be added. – We love to see it – this is exactly what we predicted. In the new scenario given in the question stem, exercise patterns are parallel to the adoption of the diet diary; they are both dependent variables.

C. Levels of an existing independent variable would increase. – We are not changing the binary nature of homophily in this new study. No new levels are added, the groups are still either homophilous or not/unstructured.

D. The study would become an experimental study. – To make the study an experimental study, we would need to change the way the study is performed, not just add a new variable. Note that randomization is a key component for experimental designs, and we have no indication that randomization occurs in the study as written in the passage. A new dependent variable is added in the question stem, so answer choice B is definitely the best answer.

A. Reference group – A reference group is a group someone compares themselves to, uses to set expectations, and the like. For example, pre-med students often compare themselves to other pre-med students to see how they are doing in comparison because they have the same goal of attending medical school. The underlying assumption is that the person comparing themself to the reference group has something in common with the reference group. In homophilous social networks “participants were matched with health buddies according to age, gender, and body mass index (BMI)” which suggests having quite a bit in common and allowing for comparison and evaluation. We’ll keep reading through the remaining answer choices just in case there’s a better option.

B. Secondary group – In contrast to a primary group, a secondary group is formal, larger, more impersonal and goal oriented. The researchers matched participants with “health buddies,” they wanted them to connect, not be impersonal! A formal, impersonal grouping is not a good characterization of the homophilous social networks in the passage. 

C. Out-group – By definition, individuals do not identify with the out-group. The homophilous social networks included groupings with many shared characteristics so they were not placed in out-groups.

D. Social group – While this is technically true because participants in the homophilous groups had some shared characteristics and interaction, this answer choice is much too broad! Answer choice A, reference group, is more specific and better captures the shared characteristic and comparison suggested in the passage.

Official Guide Psychology/Sociology Section Passage 2

7) The first half of the question stem tells us that low birth weight is associated with delayed cognitive development, and the second half asks us what would make a child more likely to fall behind in school, the implication being that the delayed cognitive development of a low birth weight would make a child more likely to fall behind in school. This means that the question is actually asking us what would be associated with a low birth weight.

A. Asian American enclaves – According to the second study in the third paragraph, “low birth weight among Asian American mothers was less frequent if mothers resided in metropolitan areas in which Asian American enclaves tended to be clustered.” This means that Asian American enclaves are not associated with a lower birth weight.

B. Neighborhoods next to Asian American enclaves –While living next to an Asian American enclave is not explicitly discussed in the passage, the results of the first study include “observing that mean birth weight in a given neighborhood was systematically related to mean birth weight in adjacent neighborhoods,” which suggests that neighborhoods adjacent, or next to, Asian American enclaves could have similar effects, namely not having lower birth weights. So while answer choice B is not explicitly discussed, there is evidence to suggest that living next to an enclave with seemingly protective effects against low birth weight could associate some of those protective effects with their neighbors. 

C. Neighborhoods with extensive reciprocal exchange – The main result of the first study is that it “found low birth weight to be related to the presence of environmental stressors, such as… limited reciprocal exchange among neighbors.” If a neighborhood has extensive reciprocal exchange, they have a lot of reciprocal exchange, the opposite of what was determined to be associated with low birth weight in the study. We expect a higher birth weight in this neighborhood.

D. Neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime – From the second paragraph and the first study: “low birth weight to be related to the presence of environmental stressors, such as high violent crime rates.” High rates of violent crime are associated with a lower birth weight. Based on the new information in the question stem, low birth weight is associated with delayed cognitive development, which would put children from the neighborhood at greater risk of falling behind in elementary school. Answer choice D is the correct answer.

8) The question is asking about social resources in particular. Let’s see what we can find that has to do with social resources.

A. Poverty – This answer choice might be tempting at first glance, but money and poverty are better understood as material resources for the purposes of the MCAT. These types of resources are not directly mentioned in the passage and while likely relevant to the study question, are not social resources.

B. Heredity –Like poverty, heredity and genetics are not social resources. The biological contribution of genetics does not resemble the social capital and support seen in social resources.

C. Social networks – Social networks are indeed social resources. Social networks allow for support and tying this answer choice directly to the passage, would allow for the “reciprocal exchange among neighbors” in the second paragraph.

D. Socialization – The “social” in socialization is tricky! Socialization is the process of learning the norms, attitudes, and values of a society, and because societies change, is something that never ends. Socialization can be difficult to understand at times, so take a look at the associated content page if you need a refresher: 

9) In order to determine the flaw in the study and answer the question, we need to fit the new part of the study into the existing study from the passage. Cue the flow chart! In all seriousness, this is something that would be worth diagramming on test day.

In this new component of the study, psychological stress is the new “X” or independent variable and the low birth weight continues to be the “Y” or dependent variable. Note: “psychological response to stress” implies that one of the ways the environmental stressors affect birth weight is through the psychological response, which would make the new variable a mediating variable. We can still consider the new variable its own independent variable or “X” because we are directly measuring it as a variable of influence. The question stem tells us that the stress test (X) is being given to the moms after the first study was completed, so after “Y” was already measured.

A. The dependent variable is temporally prior to measurement of the independent variable. – This statement is accurate; the “Y” or dependent variable, low birth weight, would be measured before the “X” or independent variable. When this is true, researchers cannot establish temporality and cannot determine the direction of the influence. This is a flaw in the new study design.

B. The independent variable is temporally prior to measurement of the dependent variable. – If this were true, researchers would have the element of temporality; this is the normal order of variable measurement in research and is not a flaw!

C. The updated sample contains too little variation to draw reliable conclusions. – There is no reason to believe that the random sample will lack variability. Random sampling is used to ensure representative samples. Also be wary of the use of “reliable” here. Remember that reliability has to do with how replicable study study results are, and a better term for what’s implied in this answer choice would be “validity.”

D. The updated sample is not representative of the population of mothers. – The random sampling of the original sample means that the new sample will be representative. We’ll stick with answer choice A.

10) This question stem is asking us to identify a primary group. Primary groups are close, long-term, emotionally bonded relationships. See the associated content page for more information: 

A. Family structure – Family is generally considered a close relationship and is present from birth; family is the classic example of a primary group.

B. Religious affiliation – While religious groups may share common theology, members may or may not be close and emotionally bonded with one another. Religious affiliations are also more variable in duration than family and can represent both primary and secondary groups, so family structure is a better answer choice.

C. Occupational status – occupational status doesn’t really help us differentiate between primary groups and secondary groups; occupational status is more relevant for social status. Even if the answer choice had said coworkers instead of occupational status, it would not represent a primary group because coworkers are not usually very close or share strong, long-term personal relationships.

D. Population – This answer choice is much too general. Populations are their own separate topic on the MCAT. Family structure is then the best answer.


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