LSAT 92 – Section 1 – Question 03

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Type Tags Answer
Curve Question
PT92 S1 Q03
Resolve reconcile or explain +RRE
+Easier 147.037 +SubsectionMedium

This is an RRE question.

The stimulus begins by telling us that when a healthy gazelle is frightened by hunters in a truck, they run away quickly and efficiently and hide themselves. So that is not surprising. The next sentence is where the surprising phenomenon starts. Notice the word “but” that introduces the phenomenon. It says that when a healthy gazelle detects an approaching lion, it does this thing called “stotting.” Stotting is where it leaps really high into the air as it's running away. Stotting has two consequences: one is that it uses a lot of energy that could have been used in running away, and the other is that it actually draws the lion’s attention. So therein lies the puzzle. Why do gazelles stot?

As is generally the case with RRE questions, how surprising the phenomenon is lies on a spectrum which turns on the kinds of assumptions we bring into the facts. In general, we tend not to know very much about the subject matter being discussed. Because of that, we tend to bring in pretty naïve assumptions. So in this instance, the naïve assumption that we might bring in would be that gazelles wouldn’t exhibit behavior such as stotting, which draws attention of the predator and which uses energy that could have been better spent on running away. But if you ask a subject matter expert, like a biologist who studies gazelles, she probably won't have the same set of assumptions that we do. She might already know what the explanation is for stotting.

Anyway, we don't have to be subject matter experts. We just have to understand the scientific logic that underpins this question. That’s the logic of phenomenon and hypothesis, the logic of causation.

Correct Answer Choice (C) says that to animals that typically prey on gazelles, which is to say, lions and cheetahs, stotting is a signal of strength and ability to escape. Okay, so this being an answer choice, we have to take it to be true. The question is whether the truth of this phenomenon explains the above phenomenon. The answer is yes. If stotting signals to a lion that this gazelle is strong and has the ability to escape, then the lion, presumably, is less likely to pursue that particular gazelle. I say presumably because it’s not explicitly stated. But that's a fairly reasonable assumption.

Answer Choice (A) says that animals that are startled sometimes act in ways that appear irrational to human observers. This answer choice at best restates the phenomenon instead of explaining the phenomenon. First we should acknowledge that there is nothing irrational about gazelles running away when they are frightened by hunters, so this answer isn't talking about that phenomenon. So the only phenomenon left is the phenomenon of stotting. And, indeed, the only reason why the question stem says there's an apparent paradox is because stotting appears to be irrational. It seems irrational that a gazelle would waste energy and draw the predator’s attention. That’s what we’re trying to explain. But you can’t “explain” it just by saying it seems irrational. You haven’t explained anything.

Answer Choice (B) says that young gazelles and gazelles that are not very healthy often stot when they become frightened by humans or by loud machines. This is a common type of wrong answer in RRE. This answer choice presents a phenomenon that is consistent with the phenomenon above and is similarly in need of an explanation. Having read this answer, I still don't understand why healthy gazelles stot when they detect a lion. In addition to that, I now have to wonder why young and unhealthy gazelles also stot when they are frightened by humans or loud machines.

Answer Choice (D) says a healthy gazelle can usually detect the approach of a predator before the predator becomes aware of the presence of the gazelle. In this competition between predator and prey, it's an enormous advantage to be more sensitive to the other’s presence. This answer reveals that it's the prey that's more sensitive. Okay, so that means the gazelle enjoys the first mover advantage. It can start running away before the lion even realizes that it's there. But this still doesn't explain why the gazelle stots as it runs away, especially when we were already told that stotting draws the lion's attention to the gazelle. Why not just run away without stotting?

Answer Choice (E) says that lions cannot run as quickly as gazelles, but they can still be effective by hunting in groups and coordinating. This answer choice reveals more information about how lions hunt. But it doesn't explain why gazelles stot. This answer is inviting us to make an unwarranted assumption that somehow stotting thwarts the lions' coordinated group hunting efforts. I have no reason to believe that's true. It seems, in fact, more likely that not stotting, which is to say, just straight up running away as fast as you can without showing off, would be the more effective strategy to escape a coordinated group attack.

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