Critical analysis and reasoning skills (CARS) practice questions
Worked example: The happy American
- [Narrator] The purpose of this video, is to show you how I approach reading and answering questions on an example of critical analysis and reasoning skills passage. The name of this example passage, is "The Happy American". I'm going to read through the passage first and after each major section of the passage, i'll think about what words or sentences seem important to me. I'll let you know when I'm highlighting words or sentences. Let's start reading this passage now. Americans are a “positive” people. This is their reputation as well as their self-image. In the well-worn stereotype, they are upbeat, cheerful, and optimistic. Who would be churlish enough to challenge these happy features of the American personality? Take the business of positive “affect,” which refers to the mood they display to others through their smiles, their greetings, their professions of confidence and optimism. Scientists have found that the mere act of smiling can generate positive feelings within us, at least if the smile is not forced. In addition, recent studies show that happy feelings flit easily through social networks, so that one person’s good fortune can brighten the day even for only distantly connected others. Furthermore, psychologists agree that positive feelings can actually lengthen our lives and improve our health. People who report having positive feelings are more likely to participate in a rich social life, and social connectedness turns out to be an important defense against depression, which is a known risk for many physical illnesses. Okay. So the gist of this first part seems to be that the author is describing Americans as positive people. And the author also gives several reasons why being positive is a good thing. I'm going to just highlight the first two sentences since they seem to capture the main point that Americans seem to be seen as positive. Now let's go back to the passage. It is a sign of progress, then, that economists have begun to show an interest in using happiness rather than just the gross national product as a measure of an economy’s success. Happiness is, of course, a slippery thing to measure or define. Philosophers have debated what it is for centuries and even if they were to define it simply as a greater frequency of positive feelings than negative ones, when they ask people if they are happy, they are asking them to arrive at some sort of average over many moods and moments. So in this passage, the author shifts from talking about positive feelings, to talking about happiness. The author also notes that happiness is hard to measure and define. So, I'm going to highlight that first sentence that shows that the passage moves to talking about happiness. but also that second sentence, saying that happiness is hard to measure and define. Those seem like the author's main points for this second part. Now let's go back to the passage again. Surprisingly, when psychologists measure the relative happiness of nations, they routinely find that Americans are not even in prosperous times and despite their vaunted positivity, very happy at all. A recent meta-analysis of over a hundred studies of self-reported happiness worldwide found Americans ranking only twenty-third. Americans account for two-thirds of the global market for antidepressants, which happen also to be the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. So, this paragraph introduces an interesting wrinkle in the author's argument. Now we hear there is reason to think that American's may not actually be very happy. The author recognizes that this seems in conflict with the general perception of them as positive. And the phrase, "despite their vaunted positivity, they are not very happy at all," shows that the author seems to be aware of this conflict. So I'm going to go back and highlight that first sentence, because it seems pretty important for the author's agument. Now, lets go back to the passage. How can Americans be so surpassingly “positive” in self-image and stereotype without being the world’s happiest and best-off people? The answer is that positivity is not so much their condition as it is part of their ideology— the way they explain the world and think they ought to function within it. That ideology is “positive thinking,” by which they usually mean two things. One is the generic content of positive thinking— that is, the positive thought itself— which can be summarized as “Things are pretty good right now, at least if you are willing to see silver linings, and make lemonade out of lemons, etc., and things are going to get a whole lot better.” The second thing they mean by “positive thinking” is this practice of trying to think in a positive way. There is, they are told, a practical reason for undertaking this effort: positive thinking supposedly not only makes us feel optimistic but actually makes happy outcomes more likely. How can the mere process of thinking do this? In the rational explanation that many psychologists would offer today, optimism improves health, personal efficacy, confidence, and resilience, making it easier for us to accomplish our goals. A far less rational theory also runs rampant in American ideology—the idea that our thoughts can, in some mysterious way, directly affect the physical world. Negative thoughts somehow produce negative outcomes, while positive thoughts realize themselves in the form of health, prosperity, and success. For both rational and mystical reasons, then, the effort of positive thinking is said to be well worth our time and attention. So in this final section, the author uses a problem/solution or a question/answer text structure to present us with both a question about the pursued conflict that's forshadowed in the earlier section, and also a possible response. Both the question and the response seem like important points to hightlight. In addition, notice that the author signals to you that there are two parts to the answer. I'm highlighting these signals also. In particular, the phrases, "two things. One" and "The second thing." Finally, in the second part of the answer, the author asks how positive thinking makes happy outcomes more likely, and then offers two explanations. The author's signaled their own opinion about these two explanations by labeling one as "rational" and the other as "far less rational". I'm highlighting these signals, in case i need them later. Finally we see that this excerpt has been adapted from B. Ehrenreich, Bright-sided. Copyright 2009 by Metropolitan Books. Now let's look at the first question. According to the passage, positive feelings are: A. Universal B. Hereditary C. Contagious D. Ephemeral The first option suggests positive feelings are universal. So we should look through the passage for some evidence that everyone experiences positive feelings. However, what we find is that there is variability in the amount of positive feelings that people report. So the passage does not seem to support the idea that positive feelings are universal. So we can strike through that answer. The second option, suggests that positive feelings might be hereditary. However the passage does not discuss the idea that positive feelings are either inherited or genetic in their basis. So it doesn't seem that heredity is going to be a good answer either, and we can strike through option B. The third option we need to explore, is whether positive feelings might be contagious. In the passage, we're looking for some indication that positive feelings might transfer to others. In the second paragraph, we see the suggestion that positive affect can effect members of a group. "Happy feelings flit easily through social networks, so that one person's good fortune can brighten the day even for only distantly connected others." This sentence suggests transfer or a spread of positive feelings from one individual to other individuals. And that means that positive feelings can be seen as contagious, which is consistent with option C. Although it seems option C is a good answer, let's just check whether the fourth option might be better. The fourth option is that positive feelings are Ephemeral. Ephemeral means short-lived or temporary. Looking at the parts of the text where the author discusses positive feelings, which is mainly in the second paragraph, there is no clear implication that positive feelings are short-lived. There is an implicit implication that moods may vary by the moment at the end of paragraph three. And if positive feelings can change based merely on smiling and other people's feelings, as stated in paragraph two, then that might suggest that they are not highly stable. However, this inference is indirect and requires extra assumptions by the reader. So ephemeral is not as good of an answer as contagious, which directly captures a point made more explicitly in the passage. Because this question is asking you to identify an accurate paraphrase, or an accurate summary of an idea stated in the text, this is a foundations of comprehension question. And option C seems to be the best paraphrase of an idea from the text. Now let's try the second question. Suppose that economists do start using happiness instead of the gross national product as a measure of an economy's success. Information presented in the passage would predict which of the following: Statement 1. The transition will be frought with dificulty. Statement 2. The gross national product of the United States will appear to decrease. Statement 3. The economy of the United States will be seen as relatively less successful than today's. This question begins with the word suppose. That's a good clue that it's a reasoning beyond the text question. Asking you to assess how the new information, given to you in the question, will impact the ideas presented in the passage. The question asks you to imagine that economists do start to use happiness as a measure of the economy as suggested in the third paragraph of the passage. Then you're given three possible predictions to evaluate. The first prediction is that the transition will be frought with difficulty. So you should look through the passage to see if there is anything that suggests that switching to happiness as a measure might be difficult. Right after the author first mentions using happiness as a measure, in addition to the gross national product, the next sentence says, "Happiness is, of course, a slippery thing to measure or define." This implies that the transition to this metric will be difficult. So there is support for the first prediction. The second prediction, is that the gross national product of the United States will appear to decrease. Using happiness as a measure of success instead of the gross national product, doesn't suggest that anything would happen to the gross national product. The passage presents these as two separate metrics that might be used to evaluate economic success. So it doesn't appear that there is support for the second prediction. The third prediction, is that the economy of the United States will be seen as relatively less successful than today's. At first this prediction seems consistent with the suggestion that the US might be seen as unsucessful if economists switch to using a happiness measure. For example, in paragraph four, the author notes that when national happiness has been measured and compared to other countries, the US has not ranked particularly well. In fact, Americans rank only 23rd. The author also brings up the wide-spread use of anti-depressants. However, the prediction is that the US economy would be seen as less successful using happiness than using the current standard. And the current standanrd is just based in the gross national product. So to know if the US economy would be seen as less successful, we would need to know where the US is ranked using just the gross national product. You are being asked what the passage itself predicts thus, you should not use any outside knowledge such as that the US ranks near the top in GNP to answer the question. Since there's no explicit mention of the US economy being ranked higher than 23rd in the passage, there is no support in the passage for the third prediction. Thus, the only prediction that is supported by the passage is the first one. And these types of questions which have both statements indicated by roman numerals, and response options indicated by letters, remember to complete the final step of deciding among the response options. Now let's try question three. What best represents the author's explanation for why Americans can be "so surpassingly positive in self-image and stereotype without bein the world's happiest and best-off people? A. American's posiivity is not a true reflection of their affect. B. Being well-off is not the same as being happy. C. Stereotypes tend to be unwarranted generalizations. D. Americans tend to have high rates of depression. Because this question is asking you to recognize an accurate paraphrase or summary of an idea stated in the text, this is a foundations of comprehension question. Here, we can see the quoted text is part of a sentence we marked at the start of the fifth paragraph. Following this first sentence, the author then provides us with an explanation that we need to summarize. In the second sentence, the author explicitly states, "Positivity is not so much their condition as it is part of their ideology." By this statement, the author is saying that positivity is not a true reflection of their condition. So this is consistent with option A. Before we decide that option A is the best answer, we need to look at the other options. Option B implies that the author discusses the difference between being well-off and being happy. But the author never does this. So it doesn't appear there's support in the passage for option B. And we can strike through that. Option C states that stereotypes tend to be unwarranted generalizations which suggests that most stereotypes can be seen in this way. The question itself tells you that the stereotype of Americans does not seem to match reality. But the author doesn't argue that most stereotypes are unwarranted generalizations. So it does not appear that option C is a good answer. Turning to option D, the passage does discuss high rates of the use of anti-depressants in the US in paragraph four. But the purpose of including this information is to provide evidence for a lack of happiness among Americans. Not as part of an explination for how Americans can be "so surpassingly positive in self-image and stereotype without being the world's happiest and best-off people." So it doesn't appear that option D is a good answer either. And we can strike through that one. Option A best captures the authors message in response to the question.