A recent study
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.Response: Based on a study of 18 rhesus monkeys, in which first -born monkeys display higher levels of cortisol when faced with stimulating situation, the author claims that birth order has a definite role to play in the levels of individual stimulation.
The writer also claims that because first-time mothers secrete higher levels of cortisol, and first -born humans produce relatively higher levels of cortisol, there is a cause-and-effect relationship between the level of stimulation and birth order.Perhaps, one could agree with the author if this explanation was unique and not fraught with alternatives, which can’t be precluded given the stated facts. The alternative explanation could perhaps be that the 18 monkeys under observation could represent an outlier set, and the high cortisol levels observed in first-borns relative to their younger siblings could merely result from a statistical aberration, than due to any real increase in stimulation in a stimulating situation such as an encounter with an unfamiliar monkey. The sample is too small and insignificant to lend true redibility to the results and be really representative of a whole group of monkeys, much less humans. Also, the high cortisol levels could be caused by other environmental or physiological factors that we are not possibly aware of.
It could even be due to the individual personalities of the monkeys rather than their birth order. Further, while the author mentions that the cortisol levels were up to twice as high for monkeys, it doesn’t say for how many were they significantly higher and closer to the two times mark. It also blithely transfers the attributes of monkeys to humans, which needn’t be true.The author also makes an unsubstantiated statement regarding first-born humans producing relatively high levels of cortisol. This is not backed by any numbers or data or elucidated further.
Note that the kind of stimulating situation, also changed starkly from an encounter with an unfamiliar monkey in the first case to a familiar meeting (with a parent), albeit after an interval. Consequently, the explanation for the facts presented in the argument is not truly unique, and the facts can be argued thus in multifarious ways.