MCAT Social and Behavioral Sciences : Research Approaches and Methods

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for MCAT Social and Behavioral Sciences

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Example Question #1 : Research Approaches And Methods

Excerpt from "The Chicago Employment Agency and the Immigrant Worker," Grace Abbott, American Journal of Sociology 1908 14:3289-305 

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, immigrants poured into the United States without knowledge of English or American customs. They were also usually unaware of the local cost of living or typical wage. These immigrants turned to employment agencies that would help them find work, for a fee. The extreme dependence of immigrants on the employment agencies coupled with their general ignorance of the American system brought about an ethical dilemma for the employment agent in which it became very easy to take advantage of people seeking a job. This resulted in an extreme prejudice directed at immigrants by the American employment system. A study was conducted in the early 1900s gauged the degree of corruption among employment agents and the results of this study have been provided (see Tables 1, 2, and 3)

Table 1


Table 2


Table 3


Levels of depression also increase in areas of high unemployment. The two variables, depression and unemployment, interact with each other via a third variable: stress hormones. In this situation, what type of variable is represented by this third variable?

Possible Answers:

Confounding Variable

Discrete Variable

Mediating Variable

Independent Variable

Correct answer:

Mediating Variable


In this case, unemployment can trigger feelings of stress, in which stress hormones are released, which can lead to depression. The unemployment itself doesn’t directly cause depression, it works through the mediating variable of stress hormones. A confounding variable is one that makes effects of one variable on another unclear. Independent variables are modified manually, but natural stress hormone levels cannot be manually modified. A discrete variable is one that can only have integer values, such as day of the month. 

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