In an experiment, each volunteer was allowed to choose between

Question

In an experiment, each volunteer was allowed to choose between an easy task and a hard task and was told that another volunteer would do the other task. Each volunteer could also choose to have a computer assign the two tasks randomly. Most volunteers chose the easy task for themselves and under questioning later said they had acted fairly. But when the scenario was described to another group of volunteers, almost all said choosing the easy task would be unfair. This shows that most people apply weaker moral standards to themselves than to others.

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

Understand the Passage

In an experiment, each volunteer was allowed to choose between an easy task and a hard task and was told that another volunteer would do the other task.

In an experiment, each volunteer was presented with a choice between an easy task and a hard task. Each volunteer was also told that some other volunteer would do the other task. For example: if the volunteer chooses the easy task, some other volunteer would be given the hard task.

Each volunteer could also choose to have a computer assign the two tasks randomly.

Each volunteer was also presented with a third option: to let the computer assign the two tasks randomly. In such a case, the volunteer being given the choice could be assigned any of the two tasks by the computer.

Most volunteers chose the easy task for themselves and under questioning later said they had acted fairly.

Out of the three choices presented, more than 50% of the volunteers chose the easy task for themselves (and thus, hard task for some other volunteer) and then later said that they had acted fairly.

But when the scenario was described to another group of volunteers, almost all said choosing the easy task would be unfair.

This whole scenario was then described to another group of volunteers. Almost all of these volunteers said that choosing the easy task would be unfair. (So, according to these people, most of the first group of volunteers had not acted fairly. However, according to the first group of volunteers, they had acted fairly.)

This shows that most people apply weaker moral standards to themselves than to others.

The above difference in opinion between the two groups of volunteers shows that most people apply weaker moral standards to themselves than to others.

 

How is this conclusion supported?

Majority of the people in the first group chose easy task and said that they had acted fairly. The second group of volunteers said that the guys in the first group had acted unfairly by choosing the easy task. Since the first group evaluated their own fairness, their standards of fairness were weak: they considered fair choosing easy task for themselves and thereby assigning hard tasks to others. However, the second group, which evaluated the fairness of the other group, had stronger moral standards: they didn’t consider fair what the first group did.

On this basis, the author makes the conclusion that most people apply weaker moral standards to themselves than to others.

Predict an Answer

Since the premises are based on the results of an experiment and the conclusion is general (about everyone), one easy assumption is that the results of the study are representative of the characteristics of the general population.

Option Analysis

(A) Correct. To evaluate this option, it is very important to have a lot of clarity on the conclusion and the reasoning. The conclusion said that people apply weaker moral standards to themselves than to others. It meant that people have two different set of standards: one for themselves and one for others. However, in the experiment, we never asked any person to evaluate himself and another person. The first group evaluated just themselves, and the second group evaluated just the first group. No person evaluated himself and the other at the same time.

On the other hand, the conclusion is about one person having two different moral (evaluation) standards.

Now, let’s look at the below two situations:

  1. All the people in the first group who chose the easy task would call other people also fair in choosing the easy task.
  2. All the people in the second group who called the people in the first group unfair for choosing the easy task would call themselves also unfair if they chose the easy task.

Either of these situations will shake the foundations of our argument by indicating that the two groups of people applied the same moral standards to themselves as they did to others. In such a case, what we can say from the experiment is that the two groups had different moral standards and not that people apply moral standards to themselves different from the ones they apply to others.

The negation of option A leads to the first situation above and thus breaks down the argument. Therefore, this option is an assumption.

(B) Incorrect. This option is incorrect for the following two reasons:

  1. Whether the most moral choice is to assign the two tasks randomly or to assign the easy task to the other person is irrelevant to the argument. The argument will stand as is in either of these two situations.
  2. The option talks about the absolute ‘most moral choice’, and not ‘most moral choice’ from the perspective of the two groups of volunteers in the experiment. The absolute moral standards don’t have any impact on the argument since the argument is about having different moral standards and not about whether people are moral or immoral in an absolute sense.

(C) Incorrect. This option talks about volunteers who were assigned the hard task by the computer. Even if no volunteer was assigned the hard task or even if no volunteer chose to have a computer assign the tasks randomly, the argument is not impacted at all. The argument rests on the opinion of the volunteers who chose easy tasks for themselves.

(D) Incorrect. This option compares the accuracy of the moral judgments of the first and the second groups of volunteers. However, the accuracy of moral judgments is not relevant to the argument. The argument is about whether people have different moral standards for themselves and for others and not about whether people have accurate or inaccurate moral judgments.

(E) Incorrect. This option says that at least some people in the first group felt that they had made the ‘only’ fair choice available to them. However, feeling of making the ‘only’ fair choice is irrelevant to the argument. Even if nobody felt so i.e. let’s say everybody felt that they had made one of the fair choices available to them, the argument would still stand as is.

If you have any doubts regarding any part of this solution, please feel free to ask in the comments section.

About Chiranjeev Singh

An Alumnus of IIM Ahmedabad and with scores of 780 (2017) and 770 (2013) on GMAT and 99.98%ile on CAT, Chiranjeev is one of the most qualified GMAT tutors in India. Chiranjeev has earlier served as Director of Curriculum at e-GMAT. Chiranjeev has been helping students ace GMAT since 2012. He follows a concept-based methodology to teaching GMAT and is very committed to student success. You may contact him for any private GMAT tutoring needs at CJ@GMATwithCJ.com. He conducts online sessions for students across the world.

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