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GRE Reading Comprehension: Practice Question of the Week #22 Answer

Here are the answer and explanation to yesterday’s practice question. As always, let us know if you have any questions!

The social psychology concept of cognitive dissonance explains many of people’s otherwise inexplicable attitudes and actions. According to this theory, people often unconsciously alter their perceptions and evaluations of “reality” to protect their preconceptions or to adjust to changing circumstances. For example, someone who believes that men have more financial aptitude than women is likely to spot more errors on a balance sheet if told it was prepared by a woman than if told it was prepared by a man. And someone worried about the dangers of radiation from a proposed nuclear power plant to be built in his community may actually become less concerned if the plant is built and he is unable to move from the area.

Which of the following would be the best example with which to continue the passage?

  1. Someone who had opposed school integration may come to accept or even favor it after her child is forced to attend an integrated school.
  2. A traveling salesperson who is terrified of flying may continue to subject himself to this frightening experience if his job demands it.
  3. A brother and sister who dislike each other may disguise their feelings around their parents to avoid being punished.
  4. Folk wisdom about sour grapes and the grass being greener on the other side of the fence provides a commonsense corollary to this theory.
  5. Although some prisoners who tell their parole boards that they have recognized the error of their ways may be lying to gain an early release, others may have genuinely accepted their punishment and its implications.

(A) is the credited response.

Because (according to the two examples) cognitive dissonance involves an attitudinal change to adjust to existing circumstances, the correct alternative will reflect such a change, as in (A).

(B) and (C) are incorrect. Neither (B) nor (C) fits the concept in the passage. The traveling salesperson and the brother and sister have clearly not “altered their perceptions and evaluations.” The
salesperson continues to be terrified of flying, and the brother and sister have hidden rather than changed their attitudes.

(D) is incorrect. (D) is not appropriate because, although the idea of sour grapes may correspond to the theory of cognitive dissonance, the second piece of folk wisdom does not. According to the theory of cognitive dissonance, the grass would be greener on one’s own side of the fence.

(E) is incorrect. (E) is not the best answer because it does not explain “otherwise inexplicable attitudes and actions.” Here, there are at least two explanations for the prisoner’s behavior, and neither is a result of an unconscious alteration of perceptions.

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