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GRE Argument Essay: The Following Appeared As Part Of A Letter To The Editor Of A Scientific Journal. - With A Free Essay Review

'The following appeared as part of a letter to the editor of a scientific journal. "A recent study of eighteen rhesus monkeys provides clues as to the effects of birth order on an individual's levels of stimulation. The study showed that in stimulating situations (such as an encounter with an unfamiliar monkey), firstborn infant monkeys produce up to twice as much of the hormone cortisol, which primes the body for increased activity levels, as do their younger siblings. Firstborn humans also produce relatively high levels of cortisol in stimulating situations (such as the return of a parent after an absence). The study also found that during pregnancy, first-time mother monkeys had higher levels of cortisol than did those who had had several offspring." Write a response in which you discuss one or more alternative explanations that could rival the proposed explanation and explain how your explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.’

The argument concludes that the order of birth influences the release of cortisol in stimulating situations. It supports the claim by presenting experiments that show that first born monkeys and human infants produced higher levels of cortisol compared to their siblings in stimulating situations.

This could be a case of causation confused with correlation, and there could be several other explanations for the experimental results.

The higher levels of cortisol in first born infants compared to their younger siblings may be because they are only used to dealing with their mothers, and are not used to having many different people around them. Moreover if their mothers leave them, and they encounter an unfamiliar monkey they might feel insecure and produce a lot of cortisol. Younger siblings as infants, recognize their mothers as well as older siblings, if their mother has left for a short while, their siblings might still be there so they might not feel as insecure as first born infants, if they come across another monkey, and hence stimulate a smaller amount of cortisol.

Similarly human first born infants might feel more insecure than their younger siblings if their mother has left them because they do not see any other familiar faces around them, thus they are very relieved to see their mother return, stimulating the release of a large amount of cortisol. Younger siblings as infants usually have their older siblings nearby if their mother is not with them; they may not feel very frightened in the absence of their mother. Therefore they release a smaller amount of cortisol.

First time pregnant female monkeys may be more stressed out, compared to pregnant females who have had children before. This may be a reason for higher level of cortisol in first time pregnant women.

To sum up, the author needs to address why the above explanations could not be the reasons for high level of cortisol in first time mothers and first born siblings to strengthen his argument, only then can the argument be valid.


Essay Review

Your discussion of the first fact presented in the argument introduces speculation about the impact of the absence of the mother. Since the fact presented says nothing about the absence of mothers (you seem to have been distracted by the second fact presented), it is hard to see how this speculation is relevant, and I think it weakens the value of the alternative explanation offered. Your second paragraph also suggests that the amount of cortisol production might be influenced by feelings of insecurity, whereas your third paragraph suggests that the amount might be influenced by relief. These suggestions are again quite speculative and not obviously mutually compatible.

I think you need to focus on the provided details. Note for instance that cortisol, according to the given argument, "primes the body for increased activity." It might therefore make more sense to speculate that its production is influenced by how much activity an animal expects from a stimulating situation. The question then would be why a firstborn monkey, say, would expect more activity in an encounter with an unfamiliar monkey (perhaps it is because it is older and older monkeys are more inclined to play; or perhaps it feels protective of its siblings and anticipates a fight). Or why might a firstborn human expect more activity on the return of an absent parent (perhaps it’s used to getting more attention; perhaps, again, older children rightly expect more activity)?

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: 13100021

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