Tips on how to approach CAT Reading Comprehension passages
- Don’t get into the minor details of the passage; just focus on what each paragraph has to say
- As you read, create a map of the passage; you must remember what thing is located where in the passage
- Once you read the question, come back to the part of the passage that is likely to have the answer
- Compare the options and eliminate the incorrect choices based on the evidence that you see in the passage
- Choose the answer once you are convinced of the right choice
The person who, with inner conviction, loathes stealing, killing, and assault, may find himself performing these acts with relative ease when commanded by authority. Behavior that is unthinkable in an individual who is acting of his own volition may be executed without hesitation when carried out under orders. An act carried out under command is, psychologically, of a profoundly different character than spontaneous action .
The important task, from the standpoint of a psychological study of obedience, is to be able to take conceptions of authority and translate them into personal experience. It is one thing to talk in abstract terms about the respective rights of the individual and of authority; it is quite another to examine a moral choice in a real situation. We all know about the philosophic problems of freedom and authority. But in every case where the problem is not merely academic there is a real person who must obey or disobey authority. All musing prior to this moment is mere speculation, and all acts of disobedience are characterized by such a moment of decisive action.
When we move to the laboratory, the problem narrows: if an experimenter tells a subject to act with increasing severity against another person, under what conditions will the subject comply, and under what conditions will he disobey? The laboratory problem is vivid, intense, and real. It is not something apart from life, but carries to an extreme and very logical conclusion certain trends inherent in the ordinary functioning of the social world. The question arises as to whether there is any connection between what we have studied in the laboratory and the forms of obedience we have so often deplored throughout history. The differences in the two situations are, of course, enormous, yet the difference in scale, numbers, and political context may be relatively unimportant as long as certain essential features are retained.
To the degree that an absence of compulsion is present, obedience is colored by a cooperative mood; to the degree that the threat of force or punishment against the person is intimated, obedience is compelled by fear. The major problem for the individual is to recapture control of his own regnant processes once he has committed them to the purposes of others. The difficulty this entails represents the poignant and in some degree tragic element in the situation, for nothing is bleaker than the sight of a person striving yet not fully able to control his own behavior in a situation of consequence to him.
The essence of obedience is the fact that a person comes to view himself as the instrument for carrying out another’s wishes, and he therefore no longer regards himself as culpable for his actions. Once this critical shift of viewpoint has occurred, all of the essential features of obedience—the adjustment of thought, the freedom to engage in cruel behavior, and the types of justification experienced by the person (essentially similar whether they occur in a psychological laboratory or on the battlefield)—follow. The question of generality, therefore, is not resolved by enumerating all of the manifest differences between the psychological laboratory and other situations, but by carefully constructing a situation that captures the essence of obedience—a situation in which a person gives himself over to authority and no longer views himself as the cause of his own actions.
Question: According to the passage, which of the following statements is NOT false?
[A] People will never commit acts that they judge to be wrong.
[B] People will always obey those who are in positions of authority over them.
[C] Obedience is not an important subject because it affects only a very limited number of acts.
[D] It is possible to study obedience through a laboratory experiment.
Review the main points in the map, and read the stem carefully: you’re looking for something that’s not false, i.e., that is true. While three choices don’t follow from the passage, (D) summarizes the point made in 3 that the lab is a good place to study obedience.
(A): Opposite. One of the author’s main points, most clearly expressed in 1, is that people will do things that they’d normally consider wrong when obeying authority.
(B): Distortion. While the author argues that people often do this, there’s no indication in the passage that authority is always obeyed. 23
(C): Opposite. The author surely thinks that the study of obedience is important, or the passage wouldn’t be written.
Read question stems carefully. In this case, even though the stem includes the word “false,” you’re looking for an answer choice that’s true.
Question: Suppose that a pilot in the Rimland air force initially contests an order to bomb a city, but eventually agrees to carry it out willingly. How would this scenario affect the author’s view of obedience to authority?
[A] It would support the author’s view.
[B] It would contradict the author’s view.
[C] It would support the author’s view only if it could be shown that the pilot had a history of carrying out orders that he did not initially support.
[D] It would contradict the author’s view only if it could be shown that the pilot had a history of refusing to carry out orders.
The situation involves someone who doesn’t want to do something presumably against his morality, but who finally does it because he’s ordered to. How does this fit in with the author’s argument? It matches closely with the point made in 1 that people will do things they don’t really want to because an authority tells them to do so. Therefore, the author’s argument is supported without qualification.
(B): Opposite. For the reasons described above, the pilot's actions would support the author’s argument.
(C): Out of Scope. While the author’s argument would be supported, there’s no reason to believe this would only be the case if the pilot had a history of obeying orders he disliked. This example, even if isolated, is enough by itself to support the author’s argument.
(D): Opposite. For the reasons described above, the author’s argument would be supported.
Question: Which of the following would be considered “acts of disobedience” as this term is used in the statement, “All musing prior to this moment is mere speculation, and all acts of disobedience are characterized by such a moment of decisive action” (lines 18-20)?
[A] A nurse who administers a drug to a patient, even though the patient’s doctor knows that the drug may kill the patient
[B] An employee who refuses to work overtime, even though the employee’s boss has told the employee that a certain project must be finished as soon as possible
[C] A soldier who refuses to harm a civilian, even though the soldier’s commanding officer has ordered that the civilian be shot as a spy
[D] An engineer who certifies a building as safe, even though the engineer’s construction company has not adhered to all government safety codes
Review the phrase in context: who is defying what? The author seems to be referring to a general case in which someone defies an order he doesn’t want to obey, presumably for moral reasons. Looking for a situation that reflects this turns up (C): someone is disobeying an authority on principled grounds. All other choices can be eliminated as not explicitly defying orders at all.
(A): Opposite. There’s no defiance of orders in this situation.
(B): Opposite. There’s no direct defiance of orders here. The employee wasn’t ordered to work overtime, but rather simply to finish the project as soon as possible. There’s also no element of principle in this situation.
(D): Opposite. Again, no orders are being defied in this situation.
Question: In the context of the points being made by the author in the passage, the phrase “absence of compulsion” (line 36) refers to:
[A] the lack of punishment in psychological experiments.
[B] obedience that is willingly given to one’s superior.
[C] the freedom to disobey the orders of those in authority.
[D] one’s ability to consider the moral implications of an act.
Review the lines in context. The author argues that this “absence of compulsion” goes hand in hand with a “cooperative mood,” which suggests that the phrase means the person is obeying on their own free will. (B) says the same.
(A): Out of Scope. While fear is mentioned as a factor later in the passage, it doesn’t tie into this phrase, nor is there any indication that psychological experiments do lack punishment.
(C): Distortion. While the person who has an absence of compulsion presumably is free to disobey, the phrase is more concerned with those who do obey, though free to refuse.
(D): Out of Scope. Moral implications aren’t discussed or hinted at anywhere in the vicinity of this phrase.
Question: Which of the following findings would serve to most WEAKEN the author’s claim in the passage about obedience to authority?
[A] A study that concludes that most obedience to authority is motivated by fear
[B] A study that demonstrates that most authority figures in government behave immorally
[C] A study that shows that most people do not have strongly held ethical values
[D] A study that asserts that people with a college education are less likely to obey authority figures than those with only a high school education
What is the author’s main argument about obedience? People do things they don’t want to do because they feel compelled to by authority. Look for something that challenges this point: If (C) is true, the author’s point about not wanting to do things, most clearly expressed in 1, makes no sense. If people have no strong ethical values, then bad actions wouldn't necessarily be against their will.
(A): Opposite. This would support the author’s point about fear made in the last paragraph.
(B): Opposite. This would support the author’s idea that authority is often used to advance immoral aims.
(D): Out of Scope. This is an irrelevant distinction; the author doesn’t say anything about which segments of society would be more less willing to obey authority.
Question: For which of the following statements does the passage provide some explanation or evidence?
[A] A laboratory experiment can be made to simulate real world behavior.
[B] B. The subject of obedience has not received the attention it deserves from the field of social psychology.
[C] It is unfortunate that people are often not in full control of their own behavior.
[D] People in positions of authority tend to have lower moral standards than people who are not in positions of authority.
Keep the author’s major point in mind while reviewing the choices. Choice (A) is the subject of 3. While (A) has a few paragraphs’ worth of support, the other choices reflect claims either made but not supported or not made at all. Note that this question is very similar to question 27.
(B): Out of Scope. The passage does not comment on this.
(C): Faulty Use of Detail. The author inserts this at the end of 4, again without support.
(D): Out of Scope. This claim isn’t made at all in the passage. Though it must sometimes be true if people are forced to act against their morals, it’s impossible to generalize to authority figures .
Question: Suppose that a person who is not in a position of authority kills a person who is in a position of authority. Would this information be relevant to the author’s view of obedience to authority?
[A] It would be relevant under any set of circumstances.
[B] It would not be relevant under any set of circumstances.
[C] It would be relevant under a certain set of circumstances.
[D] It would be relevant only if the two had no prior relationship.
How would someone who is not an authority killing an authority figure affect the author’s argument? It would probably weaken the author’s argument that obedience is usually an overriding factor in decision-making if the authority figure had authority over the other. They could be working on two totally separate chains of command. Therefore, the situation will have relevance only if there’s an authoritarian relationship between them. (C) states this broadly.
(A): Opposite. As described above, it would be relevant only under very specific circumstances.
(B): Opposite. As above.
(D): Opposite. As above. This is essentially the opposite of the situation we hypothesized: there would have to be a prior relationship for it to be relevant.
When applying new situations to the author’s argument, think carefully about the implications, and be willing to hypothesize based on the passage. While it’s best to avoid big leaps, careful deduction is always rewarded on test day.