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# It is widely assumed that people need to engage in intellectual activi

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It is widely assumed that people need to engage in intellectual activities such as solving crossword puzzles or mathematics problems in order to maintain mental sharpness as they age. In fact, however, simply talking to other people-that is, participating in social interaction, which engages many mental and perceptual skills-suffices. Evidence to this effect comes from a study showing that the more social contact people report, the better their mental skills.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the force of the evidence cited?

(A) As people grow older, they are often advised to keep exercising their physical and mental capacities in order to maintain or improve them.

(B) Many medical conditions and treatments that adversely affect a person's mental sharpness also tend to increase that person's social isolation.

(C) Many people are proficient both in social interactions and in solving mathematical problems.

(D) The study did not itself collect data but analyzed data bearing on the issue from prior studies.

(E) The tasks evaluating mental sharpness for which data were compiled by the study were more akin to mathematics problems than to conversation.

Staying Sharp

Step 1: Identify the Question

The word weakens in the question stem indicates that this is a Weaken the Argument question.

Step 2: Deconstruct the Argument

Assump: intell activities nec to stay sharp w/ aging

BUT: study shows + social contact → + mental skills

© social contact is enough to stay sharp

Step 3: Pause and State the Goal

In a Weaken problem, the right answer will make the conclusion less likely to be correct. In this case, the right answer will suggest that social contact alone isn’t enough to maintain mental sharpness as one ages. It might suggest that the study’s conclusions were faulty, or that something else is needed in addition to social contact.

Step 4: Work from Wrong to Right

(A) This answer choice describes a suggestion that some people give to older people. The suggestion is based on a particular assumption: that older people need mental exercise in order to stay sharp. However, even though people buy into this assumption and even give advice based on it, it could still be incorrect. The well-meaning advisors could actually be basing their advice on incorrect information.

(B) CORRECT. The argument claims that social contact causes better mental skills. This might not actually be the case. If illness limits both social contact and mental acuity, then the study would be correct in noting that social contact is associated with better mental skills. However, it would be wrong to conclude that one causes the other, since a third factor—good health—actually causes both of them (i.e. healthy people are more likely to have strong mental sharpness and significant social interactions).

(C) This doesn’t weaken the link between social contact and mental sharpness. The answer choice doesn’t specify whether these proficient people are or aren’t mentally sharp. If they do maintain their mental sharpness, it could still be attributable to social contact, mental exercise, both, or neither. (Also, note that someone who is proficient in solving mathematical problems doesn’t necessarily solve math problems regularly.)

(D) This answer choice attacks the methods used by a study, rather than that study’s conclusions. Typically, as in this case, these answer choices are incorrect. The issue is that, only using the information in the argument and the answer choice, there’s no way to know whether studies that analyze data are less accurate than studies that collect original data. You may have personal beliefs about the matter, but the right answer to a Critical Reasoning problem will only ever use information found within the argument, with very few exceptions.

(E) The conclusion states that social contact improves mental skills. This could be true regardless of how mental skills are tested. Perhaps social contact improves performance on math problems.
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It is widely assumed that people need to engage in intellectual activities such as solving crossword puzzles or mathematics problems in order to maintain mental sharpness as they age. In fact, however, simply talking to other people—that is, participating in social interaction, which engages many mental and perceptual skills—suffices. Evidence to this effect comes from a study showing that the more social contact people report, the better their mental skills.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the force of the evidence cited?

(A) As people grow older, they are often advised to keep exercising their physical and mental capacities in order to maintain or improve them.

(B) Many medical conditions and treatments that adversely affect a person's mental sharpness also tend to increase that person's social isolation.

(C) Many people are proficient both in social interactions and in solving mathematical problems.

(D) The study did not itself collect data but analyzed data bearing on the issue from prior studies.

(E) The tasks evaluating mental sharpness for which data were compiled by the study were more akin to mathematics problems than to conversation.

Since this question seems to be still causing trouble, here is my input on all the options.

Argument:

People assume that engagement in intellectual activities such as puzzles or math is required order to maintain mental sharpness.
Study shows that the more social contact people report, the better their mental skills.

Conclusion: Social interactions are enough to maintain mental sharpness.

This is simply a correlation-causation error question.

Study notes Correlation - X (social engagements) and Y (sharp mind) appear together.
The author erroneously concludes that X causes Y.

Because the study reveals that people with higher social engagements have better mental skills, the author is concluding that social engagements lead to better mental skills. But what if people with better mental skills are the ones who are socially active? What if those whose mental skills have deteriorated do not want to engage with people? That is, what if good mental skills are the cause of social engagements i.e. what if instead Y causes X? Or what if another agent Z causes both X and Y? For example, bad diet causes both obesity and heart disease. Someone may conduct a study and find that obese people have more heart troubles. Does it mean that obesity is causing heart troubles? Probably not. Bad diet is the reason for both.

What will weaken the argument that X causes Y? If we find that Y causes X, or Z causes both X and Y, then we will weaken that X causes Y.

(A) As people grow older, they are often advised to keep exercising their physical and mental capacities in order to maintain or improve them.

The advice given depends on the current beliefs of the doctors. It may or may not be meaningful.

(B) Many medical conditions and treatments that adversely affect a person's mental sharpness also tend to increase that person's social isolation.

Correct. This says that Z (many medical conditions) affects a person's mental sharpness and decreases their social engagement. That could be the reason why the study showed that people with higher social engagements have better mental skills. Hence it weakens the conclusion that social engagements cause sharp mental skills.

(C) Many people are proficient both in social interactions and in solving mathematical problems.

Irrelevant.

(D) The study did not itself collect data but analyzed data bearing on the issue from prior studies.

Nothing says that prior studies are not accurate so no effect on our conclusion.

(E) The tasks evaluating mental sharpness for which data were compiled by the study were more akin to mathematics problems than to conversation.

This shows that the study did a good job of evaluating mental sharpness and hence this option works in favour of the author's conclusion.

If I tell you that a study showed that social interaction is enough to maintain mental sharpness, you might ask me, "how was mental sharpness measured?"

I can reply in different ways:

Case 1: If I say that they checked people's language skills to measure mental sharpness, what will be your reply to it?

You will likely say that then obviously the study would show that social interaction is enough to maintain mental sharpness. After all, social interaction involves language so people who interact often are bound to have better language skills. Does that mean that these people have sharp mental skills? Not necessary. Mental skills should be measured in all aspects - language, mathematical, rational etc.

Case 2: But instead, if I say that they checked people's Math skills to measure mental sharpness, then you might say, "Hey, your conclusion does seem to have merit. Social interactions don't have anything to do with Math but they improve Math skills too. This means that they might improve overall mental skills."

Option (E) tells us that the study measured math skills. Then it makes my study results a bit more applicable and genuine. Hence it in no way weakens the argument. It strengthens it, if at all.

General Discussion
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EMPOWERgmatMax

B) Yes. Here we’re presented with an entirely separate cause as to the correlation between social interaction and a boost in mental skills. If someone is suffering from a medical condition that impacts mental sharpness and that if the illness impacts the willingness to socialize, of course that would artificially boost the correlation between social interaction – and mental sharpness. It’s not fair to say that being more social is the cause of possessing greater mental skills then. This option brutalizes the reasoning in the argument.

Hi EMPOWERgmatMax

Can you help explain as to why artificial correlation exists between social interaction and mental sharpness if B is held true?

Also what would be negation of B?
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EMPOWERgmatMax

B) Yes. Here we’re presented with an entirely separate cause as to the correlation between social interaction and a boost in mental skills. If someone is suffering from a medical condition that impacts mental sharpness and that if the illness impacts the willingness to socialize, of course that would artificially boost the correlation between social interaction – and mental sharpness. It’s not fair to say that being more social is the cause of possessing greater mental skills then. This option brutalizes the reasoning in the argument.

Hi EMPOWERgmatMax

Can you help explain as to why artificial correlation exists between social interaction and mental sharpness if B is held true?

Also what would be negation of B?

Hi pavankarwa123,

Sure! I'd be happy to help. In summary, this argument is trying to say that being social boosts mental sharpness. It turns out that option B is pointing out that the reason why the correlation appears pronounced is because there are many illnesses impacting both social and mental skills. If that were true, then we'd see artificial inflation in the connection between a lack of mental sharpness and social skill. However, that doesn't mean we can reach the conclusion found in the prompt and say that being social boosts mental sharpness. That's why this option weakens. It exposes another factor that can explain a substantial part of the correlation.

WillGetIt raises an important point about negation. We use negation to test the validity of an assumption. Given that assumptions are unstated but necessary ingredients in an argument, it follows that if we were to take the opposite of an assumption, the argument would collapse. That's why Negation can be handy for assumption questions, or in your analysis of a prompt. You wouldn't negate options in a strengthen or weaken question though. That's the wrong tool for the job. In strengthen/weaken questions, you're looking for an option that either reinforces or weakens what's assumed in the logic.

ChiGMAT has mentions something valuable too. Elimination is a VERY, VERY beautiful thing. Skilled GMAT test-takers use elimination relentlessly and ruthlessly.
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Re: It is widely assumed that people need to engage in intellectual activi [#permalink]
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i guess here we know that"the cause caused the effect". So B says that something else caused both the cause and the effect.hence it weakens.Am i right EMPOWERgmatMax?
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EMPOWERgmatMax
It is widely assumed that people need to engage in intellectual activities such as solving crossword puzzles or mathematics problems in order to maintain mental sharpness as they age. In fact, however, simply talking to other people---that is, participating in social interaction, which engages many mental and perceptual skills---suffices. Evidence to this effect comes from a study showing that the more social contact people report, the better their mental skills.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the force of the evidence cited?

(A) As people grow older, they are often advised to keep exercising their physical and mental capacities in order to maintain or improve them.

(B) Many medical conditions and treatments that adversely affect a person's mental sharpness also tend to increase that person's social isolation.

(C) Many people are proficient both in social interactions and in solving mathematical problems.

(D) The study did not itself collect data but analyzed data bearing on the issue from prior studies.

(E) The tasks evaluating mental sharpness for which data were compiled by the study were more akin to mathematics problems than to conversation.

Type: Weaken
Boil It Down: Social interaction up -> Boost mental skills
Missing Information: There aren’t other factors
Goal: Find the option that shows that there could be another factor in play (de-link social interaction as a mental skills booster)
Analysis: This prompt sets up a classic causal argument (Social interaction up -> Boost mental skills). That means the reasoning assumes that there aren’t other factors in play. To weaken we need to select an option that either clouds the connection between social interaction and mental skills, or points to another factor altogether.

A) What happens as people grow older is an entirely separate subject. This question deals with a group of people in general, so zeroing in on a random sub-set, a specific niche within the overall group about what those people can do to stay sharp as they grow old is irrelevant. It’s Out Of Focus.

B) Yes. Here we’re presented with an entirely separate cause as to the correlation between social interaction and a boost in mental skills. If someone is suffering from a medical condition that impacts mental sharpness and that if the illness impacts the willingness to socialize, of course that would artificially boost the correlation between social interaction – and mental sharpness. It’s not fair to say that being more social is the cause of possessing greater mental skills then. This option brutalizes the reasoning in the argument.

C) If some people are strong at both, that could appears to be aligned with the argument that we’re asked to weaken since it shows the presence of both the cause and effect. However, it’s just not clear entirely clear how C either strengthens or weakens.

D) It’s not at all clear how analyzing data vs gathering and analyzing data from prior studies would weaken or strengthen. By itself, this option does nothing. Flawed data is a sucker choice on the GMAT. The GMAT doesn’t question the integrity of data. It questions the integrity of the reasoning interpreting the data.

E) This option attacks the wrong end of the causal relationship. We need an option that points to an alternative cause of a boost in mental skills (as in we need an option that shows that it’s not social interaction that boosts mental skills). This option just attempts to redefine how mental skill is defined by the study, and the option in NO way addresses the cause of the heightened mental skills. Instead, if this option had attacked the cause rather than the effect, then it would weaken too. For example, if it said: “The tasks defining social interaction compiled by the study were more akin to mathematics problems than to social interaction” then this option would then reveal that there is a totally different cause other than social interaction.

Hi

I have one query here.

X--->y its an cause and effect and weaken argument so we need to find out an alternate cause to break the argument. so we can say some other reason is responsible for mental skills.

here option B is talking about social isolation then how it can be alternate cause.

Thanks
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i guess here we know that"the cause caused the effect". So B says that something else caused both the cause and the effect.hence it weakens.Am i right EMPOWERgmatMax?
I'd be happy to clarify further! The key to understanding why option B weakens the argument requires paraphrasing the conclusion, and taking that paraphrase an extra step (and that’s the core reason why this question is up there on the difficulty spectrum):

The argument is essentially saying that social interaction boosts mental sharpness.

Paraphrased conclusion
That claim could be paraphrased to say: without social interaction, mental sharpness would be reduced.

Many medical conditions and treatments that adversely affect a person's mental sharpness also tend to increase that person's social isolation.

And since B) has a classic GMAT style double-negative, let's paraphrase B) too:
Many medical conditions and treatments that reduce mental sharpness also tend to reduce social interaction.

That means B) is saying:
Medical Conditions and TreatmentsMental Sharpness ⬇, Social Interaction ⬇.

So option B is introducing this Medical Conditions and Treatments alternative cause that impacts both social interaction and mental sharpness. So it's not that social ➧ mental, they go hand in hand attributable to another cause, thereby weakening the argument.

A tricky one! Definitely one of the trickiest of the new CRs in the 2016 OG, for sure.

Bigger GMAT Picture:
On tricky causal arguments, ACT/GMAC won’t just come out and say that it’s this other cause. That can be too obvious: for example, check out this low difficulty OG question with an obvious alternative cause: in-the-last-decade-there-has-been-a-significant-decrease-in-136789.html

On tougher causal questions (like this Intellectual Activities question), ACT/GMAC will try to muddle the relationships with double negatives, or reversing the causality altogether.
For example: The food truck must have been successful because now they have a restaurant. Weakener: Well actually, the restaurant came first, and then they started operating the food truck.

So, if you're consistently scoring in the Verbal 40+ range, expect the causal arguments you see to involve that extra layer.
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Hi

I have one query here.

X--->y its an cause and effect and weaken argument so we need to find out an alternate cause to break the argument. so we can say some other reason is responsible for mental skills.

here option B is talking about social isolation then how it can be alternate cause.

Thanks
Hi PathFinder007,

I wanted to make sure you specifically saw the analysis that explains why B) delivers an alternative cause:

Medical Conditions and TreatmentsMental Sharpness ⬇, Social Interaction ⬇.

So option B is introducing this Medical Conditions and Treatments alternative cause that impacts both social interaction and mental sharpness. So it's not that social ➧ mental, they go hand in hand attributable to another cause, thereby weakening the argument.
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Re: It is widely assumed that people need to engage in intellectual activi [#permalink]
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Hi Max,
Kudos to your fully detailed explanation.

You mentioned GMAC will try to muddle relationship with double negatives. Suppose that choice B says the following:
Many medical conditions and treatments that positively affect a person's mental sharpness ( increase mental sharpness) also tend to decrease that person's social isolation ( increase the social interaction). Maybe if there is medicines that affect both mental sharpness and social interaction in a good way in the same time there is other medicines that adverse both.

So, can Also GMAC try to muddle the relationship with double positive effect?
As I understood in my big picture that we can weaken the argument by presenting an alternative cause inflation either negatively or positively. Do I miss something?

Thanks
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Hi Max,
Kudos to your fully detailed explanation.

You mentioned GMAC will try to muddle relationship with double negatives. Suppose that choice B says the following:
Many medical conditions and treatments that positively affect a person's mental sharpness ( increase mental sharpness) also tend to decrease that person's social isolation ( increase the social interaction). Maybe if there is medicines that affect both mental sharpness and social interaction in a good way in the same time there is other medicines that adverse both.

So, can Also GMAC try to muddle the relationship with double positive effect?
As I understood in my big picture that we can weaken the argument by presenting an alternative cause inflation either negatively or positively. Do I miss something?

Thanks
Hi Mo2men!

Great question. I'm really a fan of how you properly digest each question rather than just rushing on to the next (as is quite common).
To your hypothetical: "Maybe if there is medicines that affect both mental sharpness and social interaction in a good way in the same time there is other medicines that adverse both."
Yes, that would also weaken because this new fact would decouple the direct causality between Social → Mental (because instead there would be another cause that impacts both).

To exemplify classic ACT/GMAT double-negatives
: The new policy won't cause a decrease in employee motivation.
When you have a double-negative, the classic clean up patch is to paraphrase by dropping both negatives in a logically equivalent way: The new policy will leave employee motivation at (at least the same level).
Another tip: Whenever more than one double-negative is in play, it can be VERY helpful to jot down your cleaner paraphrases. It can be easy too easy to lose track otherwise, and having to re-paraphrase can eat up the clock.
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Let me add here that (E), if anything, is a strengthener. It definitely doesn't weaken the argument.

Let's put it in simple terms:

Say I tell you:
People believe that solving Math maintains mental sharpness. But actually social interaction is enough. A study showed that people with more social activity have better mental skills.

Now, A says, " Mental skills were measured by checking language skills."
and B says, "Mental skills were measured by checking Math skills."

- who is strengthening my argument and who is weakening it?

A is weakening my argument since if mental skills were measured by language skills, obviously people with more social activity will report higher skills. It doesn't need to imply that social interactions lead to sharper mental skills. If all you are going to check is how well people can interact, the study will show that social people will have higher mental skills.

B strengthens my argument that social activity actually increases even the quantitative ability - which is probably one of the measures of mental skills. Hence, it does make my argument stronger that social activity is enough to improve mental skills - no matter how you measure mental skills.

Option (E) says what B says in my example. Hence it is not a weakener; it is, perhaps, a wee bit of a strengthener.
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It is widely assumed that people need to engage in intellectual activities such as solving crossword puzzles or mathematics problems in order to maintain mental sharpness as they age.
In fact, however, simply talking to other people-that is, participating in social interaction, which engages many mental and perceptual skills-suffices.
Evidence to this effect comes from a study showing that the more social contact people report, the better their mental skills.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the force of the evidence cited?

(A) As people grow older, they are often advised to keep exercising their physical and mental capacities in order to maintain or improve them.
advice regarding physical capacities cannot weaken evidence.

(B) Many medical conditions and treatments that adversely affect a person's mental sharpness also tend to increase that person's social isolation.
evidence is regarding medical conditions and treatments is completely out of scope and does not affect conclusion.

(C) Many people are proficient both in social interactions and in solving mathematical problems.
(both are considered together but we need support one over other. cannot be assumed.)

(D) The study did not itself collect data but analyzed data bearing on the issue from prior studies.
(we have no info reg prior collected data so we cannot say that it is proper.)

(E) The tasks evaluating mental sharpness for which data were compiled by the study were more akin to mathematics problems than to conversation.
(we just said intellectual activities such as solving crossword puzzles or mathematics problems help us maintain mental sharpness but nowhere the fact that they are similar to math problems affects the conclusion. This does not help to weaken the conclusion or support intellectual activities over conversation or social skills in improving mental sharpness.)

I just don't find any choice correct. I don't understand how B weakens the conclusion.
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It is widely assumed that people need to engage in intellectual activities such as solving crossword puzzles or mathematics problems in order to maintain mental sharpness as they age. In fact, however, simply talking to other people-that is, participating in social interaction, which engages many mental and perceptual skills-suffices. Evidence to this effect comes from a study showing that the more social contact people report, the better their mental skills.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the force of the evidence cited?

(A) As people grow older, they are often advised to keep exercising their physical and mental capacities in order to maintain or improve them.

(B) Many medical conditions and treatments that adversely affect a person's mental sharpness also tend to increase that person's social isolation.

(C) Many people are proficient both in social interactions and in solving mathematical problems.

(D) The study did not itself collect data but analyzed data bearing on the issue from prior studies.

(E) The tasks evaluating mental sharpness for which data were compiled by the study were more akin to mathematics problems than to conversation.

Hit +Kudos, if you like this post.

Ok.. kind of tough .. B and E are the only options that make sense in a quick glance.
ONE THING THAT NO ONE MENTIONED IN THIER ANSWER IS "THIS QUESTION ASKS US TO ATTACK THE PREMISE AND NOT THE CONCLUSION" ----> Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the force of the evidence cited?

We have to reduce the impact that the Premise is having in shaping this argument ? We have to kill the power of the premise. We have to make the Premise weak and absurd.

Premise 1) Popular belief says doing puzzle and math helps a person to stay mentally alert
Premise 2) Study shows that people with more social contact have better mental skill
Conclusion ) Social interaction that requires mental and perpetual skills is sufficient to maintain mental alertness and mental skill

B says :- Medicine that makes u a retard (less alert) also makes you shy.(less social)
(B) Many medical conditions and treatments that adversely affect a person's mental sharpness also tend to increase that person's social isolation.
This choice makes PREMISE 2 look weak and silly and reversed in logical direction. (cause -effect)

E says :- It seemed like they were conversation but people were UNKNOWINGLY doing math during the study.
E ) The tasks evaluating mental sharpness for which data were compiled by the study were more akin to mathematics problems than to conversation.
BAMM:- Many of you thought that E was weakening the argument . It is actually strengthening the argument by strengthening PREMISE 1.

SO only one correct answer B
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It is widely assumed that people need to engage in intellectual activities such as solving crossword puzzles or mathematics problems in order to maintain mental sharpness as they age. In fact, however, simply talking to other people-that is, participating in social interaction, which engages many mental and perceptual skills-suffices. Evidence to this effect comes from a study showing that the more social contact people report, the better their mental skills.

Which of the following, if true, most seriously weakens the force of the evidence cited?

(A) As people grow older, they are often advised to keep exercising their physical and mental capacities in order to maintain or improve them.

(B) Many medical conditions and treatments that adversely affect a person's mental sharpness also tend to increase that person's social isolation.

(C) Many people are proficient both in social interactions and in solving mathematical problems.

(D) The study did not itself collect data but analyzed data bearing on the issue from prior studies.

(E) The tasks evaluating mental sharpness for which data were compiled by the study were more akin to mathematics problems than to conversation.

Hit +Kudos, if you like this post.

The stimulus establishes the following logical chain:

More [Social Contact] -> Social interaction -> More Mental Skills -> More [Mental Sharpness]

Now answer choice B is somthing one must know in the gamt: a general description of one parameter as the other parameter changes can weaken or strengthen an argument becuase is talk about a relationship between 2 parameters.

Less Mental Sharpness --> less Social Contact

Now, if you'll look at the original logical chain you can clearly see that:
[ Social Contact ] -> [ Mental Sharpness ] but option B says the opposite.

This clearly weakens the causational relationship between the parameters.
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Re: It is widely assumed that people need to engage in intellectual activi [#permalink]
I understand why B is right..
But I dont get why E is wrong.

E says that the tasks in the study were more akin to maths than to conversation.
So, the assumption behind evidence itself is wrong. It is indirectly saying evidence is not valid.
So, it is weakener..

Whats wrong in my thinking? Can anyone elaborate more on option E?

Thanks...
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MorningRunner
I understand why B is right..
But I dont get why E is wrong.

E says that the tasks in the study were more akin to maths than to conversation.
So, the assumption behind evidence itself is wrong. It is indirectly saying evidence is not valid.
So, it is weakener..

Whats wrong in my thinking? Can anyone elaborate more on option E?

Thanks...
Hi MorningRunner,

I'm happy to help. E) This option attacks the wrong end of the causal relationship. We need an option that points to an alternative cause of a boost in mental skills (as in we need an option that shows that it’s not social interaction that boosts mental skills). This option just attempts to redefine how mental skill is defined by the study, and the option in NO way addresses the cause of the heightened mental skills. Instead, if this option had attacked the cause rather than the effect, then it would weaken too. For example, if it said: “The tasks defining social interaction compiled by the study were more akin to mathematics problems than to social interaction” then this option would then reveal that there is a totally different cause other than social interaction.

Here's the full EMPOWERgmat explanation, including some broader advice about how this question relates to GMAT Verbal as a whole: og-2016-intellectual-activities-202263.html#p1553257

PS: You might already know about this, but in case not, you can quickly filter down to the best explanations and analysis for any post at GMAT Club by clicking the Sort by Kudos tab. This thread is already so long that sorting by Kudos is really the only way to distill the most potent analysis for this question.
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