PAS Overview - Description of Model

Non-Technical Overview

Why the PAS?

The PAS Symbol system

Applications of the PAS

The PAS Model (brief)

The PAS Model (more in depth)

Interaction of the PAS Dimensions

Simple overview of PAS primtives with cartoons.

Deriving a PAS profile

Wechsler Scores and the PAS

Examples of Case Studies

Study of felons

The system of personality description developed by John W. Gittinger is called the Personality Assessment System or PAS. A prime postulate of the PAS is that the human personality is so complex that it can not be adequately understood nor characterized by the limited dimensionality of any of the prevailing heuristic models.

To overcome this limit and to portray the indisputable multiformity of personality and its subtle richness of diversity, the Gittinger PAS model hypothesizes three basic dimensions and six collateral dimensions. The result is a nine-dimensional model. Moreover, since the PAS also takes into account the interactions between these nine dimensions, the many degrees of freedom thus brought into being allow the PAS to map far more variability in personality attributes than is possible in any the currently popular models.

The validity with which these many degrees of freedom can be used to explain variance in personality characteristics is treated elsewhere in this Web site; in this section we are concerned only with describing the PAS model and the hypotheses upon which it is based.

Summary of the PAS

According to Gittinger's system, both personality structure and personality function may be considered as the result of three determinants. These determinants interact with one another over the period of growth from birth to adulthood and, together, produce that person's characteristic patterns of action and reaction, internal and external; in other words, what we refer to as the person's personality. These three determinants are:

  1. Inherent personality characteristics. These are refered to in the PAS as the "primitive" personality pattern. The primitive pattern is that with which the infant enters the world.
  2. The environment in which the person develops. This includes, in particular, the nature and strength of the forces for personality change that the maturing child experiences during the developmental period up to about thirteen to seventeen years of age. These pressures (or the lack of them) produce what the PAS refers to as the "basic" personality pattern.
  3. Subsequent events in which further change may (or may not) occur. These later forces (or the lack of them) extend into early adulthood to produce the "contact" or superficial personality pattern which all adults present in their day-to-day contact with others.

To restate: the Personality Assessment System regards the determinants of personality as starting with native endowment which may (or may not) be changed by two levels of susequently-learned adjustments. The final outcome -- the adult personality -- results from a complex interaction of these factors. The purpose of the PAS is to provide a systematic way to comprehend, analyze and communicate the nature of this complex interactional process.

It is important to note that the PAS holds process interactions to be crucial to an understanding of personality structure and function.

The PAS is not a linear model in which more of this or that factor necessarily implies more of this or that consequence. To the contrary, it is often found that more of a particular factor will be related to either more or less of some particular behavior -- depending upon the strength of some other factor present in the person's pattern.

This emphasis upon interaction of personality attributes is one of the major cogencies of the PAS; it is also the reason the PAS is sometimes dismissed as "too complicated."

Though it is natural to prefer simple models, we should note that simple models which adequately encompass the diverse and multifold facets of the human personality seem not yet to have surfaced in the mainstream of personality theorizing. In fact, it is our position that models which are both adequate and simple are not possible.

At first glance, the PAS model does appear complex. Nonetheless, it circumvents much of the annoying inconvenience of complexity by also offering a comprehensible and easily-learned notational "shorthand." This notation method permits both easy apprehension and communication of the concepts inherent in the PAS. Any particular pattern of personality may be expressed in its rich fullness and conveyed to others with a few symbols and minimal prolixity once one has mastered the PAS idiom.

In summary, then, native personality endowment, as the system interprets it, includes three fundamental components, or primitive dimensions of personality. The infant's position on these dimensions are regarded as inherent in that, from birth onward, they predetermine the quality and direction of the individual's selective tendencies in both awareness and response. Such predetermination is both positive and negative in that it establishes the general lines along which the individual will be:

The primitive personality structure provides an inherently preferred type of reactivity. From the very beginning of life, how an individual responds, as well as to what he responds, will be essentially in accord with this fundamental pattern, until or unless external interference forces change upon him.

As the individual develops, he is confronted with the task of reconciling his primitive personality pattern with various environmental and social demands. These external pressures require him to adapt his inherent needs to the requirements of reality. By acquired (learned) alterations to his primitive personality tendencies, then, the individual is enabled to overcome, in part, the limitations which his native personality structure imposes on his inherent ability to adjust. We will discuss this later, but let us now explain the dimensions along which personality change may (or may not) occur.

The Dimensions of Personality

In addition to the three levels of personality development over time, the system also regards an individual's personality structure in terms of three major dimensions or continua. These dimensions, to be more fully described later, include:

  1. The Externalizer-Internalizer (or E-I) dimension,
  2. The Rigid-Flexible (or R-F), and,
  3. The Acceptable-Unacceptable (or A-U) dimensions.

As mentioned previously, these three dimensions cannot be regarded as discrete entities, since their interaction is far more important in determining personality structure than is any of the structure's single components. The brief accounts which follow are therefore considerably over-simplified by the omission of interaction, and still further by an emphasis on direction without consideration of degree.

As a result, the dimensions are described initially as if they were dichotomous, while the system, in fact, does not regard them as merely nominal, either-or, scales. Rather, the dimensions of the PAS can be shown to be ratio scales; for large samples, distributions of scores across them approximate normal distributions. Nevertheless, as a heuristic simplification in the discussion to follow, we shall treat the PAS dimensions as if they were dichotomous. Please bear in mind that, in doing so, we are, in effect, talking about personality characteristcs that tend to fall at the extremes of the distributions.

Very few people will be found at these extremes on all the dimensions though many will be found to quite divergent on one or more of the dimensions. And, since it is usually exactly these divergences that create real-life problems, the following discussion is far from totally hypothetical.

The Externalizer-Internalizer Dimension of Personality

The Externalizer and the Internalizer represent polar extremes on the Externalizer-Internalizer personality dimension. The Externalizer or E, is perceptually dominant, environmentally sensitive, and more responsive to external than to internal cues.

The Primitive Externalizer, or E, is more interested in doing than in thinking. His perception is relatively specific and concrete. His emotionality is directed outward, he is primarily environmentally dependent, and he seeks his major psychological satisfactions in relationships. He has difficulty, however, in situations which require ideational awareness, self-sufficiency, and control of his natural tendencies toward activity and relatedness. He is usually seen as a dependent person who makes many demands on those in his environment. At the same time, however, he is involving, expecting those in his environment to respond in kind to his overtures. The E's locus of experiential reality is "out there."

The Primitive Internalizer or, I, on the other hand, is ideationally dominant, self-sufficient, and more responsive to internal than to external cues. The I individual will seem primarily passive, tending toward withdrawal, and is usually more inclined to thinking than to doing. He perceives in abstract rather than concrete terms. His emotionality is directed inward, he is primarily self-contained, and he seeks his major psychological satisfactions in the privacy of his own experiences. His problems lie chiefly in the need for controlling his tendencies toward passivity and withdrawal, in increasing his perceptual reactivity, and in learning how to relate to others on a genuinely interpersonal basis. The I's locus of experiential reality is "in here."

(In some respects, the E-I dimension is similar the familiar Introvert- Extrovert dimension of most other models. However, as later discussion will reveal, they are far from identical)

The Rigid-Flexible Dimension of Personality

Rigidity and flexibility are the polar extremes of the Rigid-Flexible dimension of personality. The Rigid or R, individual reacts to a limited number of specific, well-defined stimuli, on which he can focus and concentrate. The range of his reactivity is narrow. He is not easily distracted and is characterized by psychological attributes such as attention, concentration, and set. He tends to compartmentalize, and his psychological "insulation" restricts his awareness, making him emotionally insensitive and self-centered. He has difficulties in situations requiring qualities such as sensitivity, sympathy, and insight.

In contrast, the Flexible or F, person has a wide range of reactivity, and tends to be simultaneously aware of a large variety of stimulii. He thus has difficulties in concentration, and his threshold for confusion is low. He is characterized by psychological traits such as sensitivity, empathy, and insight. However, lacking psychological "insulation," he tends to react to any stimulus that is presented by the environment; he ignores stimulii only with difficulty. His major problems lie in restricting his inherently generalized reactivity sufficiently to enable him to focus and concentrate.

The Acceptable-Unacceptable Dimension of Personality

Acceptability and Unacceptability are the polar extremes of the Acceptable-Unacceptable personality dimension. The terms refer to the individual's role-playing adaptability; that is, to his inherent skill in adapting to the requirements of his cultural milieu. The Acceptable or A, individual is socially versatile, and can make rapid, appropriate role adjustments in different situations This facility, though not necessarily reflecting true emotional involvement, tends to create a highly favorable impression. As a result, the acceptable individual usually encounters a high degree of interpersonal acceptance. One of his major problems lies in the demands that others make of him to live up to the high expectations which his own social adeptness has engendered.

The Unacceptable or U, individual, on the other hand, is relatively inept at role playing. He is therefore forced to apply the few roles with which he is familiar to whatever situations he encounters, regardless of their appropriateness. He is thus more apt to experience rejection rather than acceptance and the first impression which he makes is often unfavorable. His chief problems, then, are to overcome this unfavorable initial impression, and to increase his social versatility.

Adjustments to the Primitive Tendencies

The system hypothesizes various kinds of adaptations, or adjustments, which the individual can make in connection with each of his three primitive personality tendencies. These adjustments are regarded as occurring at two levels.

  1. The more fundamental of the two levels is that of "Compensation," a term which refers to long-range and comparatively stable adaptive tendencies which occur throughout childhood and,
  2. "Modifications," which represent the second level of adaptation, including the less stable adjustments which the individual makes in the later phases of his development.

The section which follows begins by describing the nature of Compensation, continues with an account of the later Modification tendencies, and concludes with a description of ways in which compensatory and modifying tendencies can exert their respective influences.


By theoretical definition, Compensation, or the first, or Basic, level of adjustment, is the tendency of an individual to acquire the orientation and attributes of primitive tendencies opposite those inherent to him. For example, the primitive Externalizer or E, learns, through Compensation, to become more ideationally aware, passive, and self-sufficient. Similarly, the primitive Internalizer or I, compensates by becoming more perceptually aware, more active, and more envirormentally dependent.

Compensatory activities, then, are not inherent in the primitive personality structure. They are acquired tendencies, externally induced and environmentally determined. They are long-term, (usually life-long) developmental adjustments which, in combination with the individual's primitive personality structure, eventually become his characteristic external and internal frame of reference, achieving stability and persisting across time. When compensatory activities have been completed, the individual is regarded as having reached the second, or "basic" level of personality development.

Some amount of Compensation is highly desirable as a prerequisite for adequate functioning for most people. Exclusively ideational or perceptual, rigid or flexible, acceptable or unacceptable types of awareness and response are clearly insufficient to enable an individual to cope successfully with the many different kinds of situations in which he will find himself. To this extent, then, an adequate adjustment is greatly facilitated by the development of at least some of the attributes and orientations which are opposite to the individual's primitive tendencies. In fact, a complete lack of compensation often leads to a starkly one-sided and improverished development in whatever dimension it may occur.

The primitive Internalizer (I), for example, whose natural tendency remains entirely unchecked, often turns in the direction of autistic withdrawal, and may easily become schizophrenic. The completely uncompensated Externalizer (E), on the other hand, has failed to develop an internal frame of reference. He thus loses the ability to make appropriate discriminations within the perceptual field, becomes indiscriminately reactive, and loses contact with reality. Many children diagnosed as having "Attention Deficit Disorder" are probably extreme E's who have reached the middle-years of childhood without having achieved any compensation in the E-I dimension.

The particular mode of adaptation toward which a person tends in this connection is hypothesized to depend on several complex factors. The most important of these is probably the strength of the primitive tendencies inherent in the individual himself.

The factors precipitating change are, however, mostly external. These are supplied by the environment in which the person develops. Prime among these environmental factors are the strengths of the pressures put upon an individual to exhibit behavior opposite that called for by his primitive tendencies. This presure can be of two forms:

Other factors may also influence compensation. A child may, on his own compensate in order to overcome a physical weakness or to capitalize on an unusual strength. Identification with a role model often leads to self-instigated compensation as do, in some cases, particularly traumatic or rewarding experiences.

However, in the vast majority of cases, one factor predominates in determining whether or not the child will broaden his repertoire of coping skils beyond those provided by his primitive tendencies by the process of compensation. That factor is the quality of the acceptance which he receives from his parents or parent surrogates. This is particularly true in the early years of childhood.

If the parents, in the main, approve and support the child's primitive tendencies, he will accept himself as he is. He will therefore tend to retain his inherent personality features in relatively unaltered form, having no powerful motivation to change them.

There is, perhaps, an irony here. It seems likely that the widely-practiced child-rearing tactic of complete acceptance, though laudable in motive, may, in many cases, deprive children of coping skills they would later value highly if they had them. It also seems very probable that the practice of total acceptance may doom other children to the retention of disfunctional primitive patterns they find later to be totally unsuited for life as adults.

The Process in Summary

In effect, then, a child's development will proceed along inherent lines if permitted to do so. Lacking environmental pressure to acquire the attributes of the opposite pattern, development in the opposite directions will fail to take place. The outcome is that, when a child has been permitted to develop primarily in accordance with his primitive tendencies, he is characteristically relaxed, and essentially free of major conflicts, guilt- feelings, and anxiety. This type of development occurs, for example, in the primitively externalized child, whose perceptual dominance and naturally high activity level have been met chiefly with acceptance. It is equally characteristic of the fundamentally internalized child who has not suffered rejection because of his internalized attributes. The penalty paid for such courses of development is the lack of a wider range of coping skills which would have otherwise been made available for later life had compensation occurred.

The development of the individual's personality, in connection with each of the other primitive dimensions, is reasonably parallel. The primitivly Rigid, or R, child who has not been induced by external forces to depart from his inherent inclinations will remain Rigid, just as the initially Flexible, or F, child whose natural developmental course has not been checked will retain his dominant flexibility.

Similarly, primitive social Acceptability or Uacceptability will not be altered or relinquished unless change is environmentally initiated and externally forced. Whenever an individual has not been pressured into developing compensatory activities to offset the limits of a primitive tendency in his personality structure, that tendency is regarded by the system as "uncompensated," or as retaining its inherent dominance.

On the other hand, the quality of the individual's interaction with the environment may engender more disapproval than acceptance of the child's primitive tendencies. The parents may tend to reject and punish him for displaying the behaviors prompted by his Primitive pattern. They may reserve their praise and approval for his attempts to acquire tendencies opposite those of his innate leanings. In such cases, the child will be pushed away from his natural inclinations and forced to develop along opposite lines. He will therefore begin to turn his energies toward altering, rather than expressing his primitive tendencies, and compensatory activities will become his major developmental emphasis. While external pressure begins with the parents or parent surrogates, it is continued throughout the entire process of socialization. It is supplied by other adults in the environment, such as teachers, and later also by contemporaries, whose influence becomes increasingly important.

Internal conflict, as the PAS interprets the term, is the result of the development of compensatory tendencies, especially if they are sufficiently strong to result in over-compensation. Compensation forces the individual to reject and to defend himself against the tendencies of his primitive pattern; such a course will be undertaken only if guilt feelings have been aroused. The development of compensatory activities, then, is closely associated with an individual's attempts to escape from feelings of guilt.

While compensation can serve as a method by which guilt feelings are handled and controlled, it also represents a form of adjustment which is achieved and maintained at some psychological cost. An individual can conceal his primitive tendencies from others, and even from himself with varying degrees of success. However, though he can exclude them even from his own awareness, he cannot render them non-existent. Their continuing operation, whether it be at conscious or unconscious levels, can only serve to increase both his guilt fee]ings and his anxiety.

The compensated orientations then, are always characterized by some amount of tension. In fact, tension is a major observable difference in the respective behaviors of, say, a compensated Internalizer and an uncompensated Externalizer. Both will manifest perceptual reactivity and high levels of activity. Both will be relating, outgoing, and environmentally dependent. In one case however, that of the compensated I, these attributes have been acquired at the expense of psychological pain, and are maintained to avoid still further pain. Conflict and inner tension is the result.

Here we begin to see how the PAS conceptualization of the E-I dimension differs from the conventional Introvert-Extrovert scale. Both the uncompensated E and the compensated I will be seen as "extroverts" but they are very different people.

"Natural, relaxed" extroverts are probably uncompensated E's. "Driven, 'Type-A'" extroverts are probably compensated I's. The outward behavior may be superficically similar but the psychodynamics behind that behavior is vastly different. Comparable differences will be seen as we explore the other dimensions of the PAS. Compensatory tendencies, then, are undertaken by or forced upon the individual to protect the ego from threat, and are accompanied by tension primarily because of their defensive nature.

In cases where the acquired overlay of compensation has not been sufficiently strong to force the primitive tendency entirely out of conscious awareness, the kind of conflict which ensues has the advantage of partial recognition by the individual of his own true nature. The PAS regards such orientations as suppressed states, in which partial control over conflict can be exerted, and, in consequence, a feasible solution remains a possibility.

On the other hand, where the primitive tendency is strong and the intensity of compensation is also great, acute defensiveness will result, and repression will occur. Here, the conflict operates at a level beyond the individual's awareness, so that conscious control is no longer possible, and effective solutions cannot be achieved. Tension and anxiety increase, but their source is now entirely unknown to the individual himself.


Modification is the name given to the second, or Contact, level of personality adjustment; the level acquired by an individual as he enters adulthood. Since this level is achieved during the later stages of development, it lacks the stability of the compensatory tendencies, and is more vulnerable to stress. Modification does not operate on the primitive tendencies directly, nor does it achieve the powerful masking strength of which compensation is capable. The fundamental distinctions between modification and compensation do not lie in direction, but rather in the temporal sequence of their developments, and in the intensity of their effects on adaptation.

Primitive and compensatory tendencies unite to form the basic level of the individual's personality structure. Later, his modifications will be added, to form the surface layer of his personality, or as the PAS terms it, his "Contact" personality. The contact level is the least tenacious of the three levels of personality formation, and the one which breaks down most readily under stress. Its relative vulnerability is in marked contrast to the high degree of stress resistance which characterizes the basic level of personality.

Once the individual's basic structure has been firmly established, a stress situation of truly disruptive intensity is usually required to force the basic level to yield. Any return of the individual's Primitive components represent profound regression.

Combined Effects of Compensation and Modification

To summarize: