PAS Overview - Non-Technical Overview

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 Personality Assessment System (PAS), formulated by John W. Gittinger, was developed originally as a clinical method for describing the dynamics and adjustments of mental disfunction. It has since had wide application as a technique for general psychological assessment. Throughout the past four and one-half decades, the usefulness of the system has been tested by experience with thousands of persons drawn from many backgrounds and cultures. A vast amount of research, only a portion of which has been reported in the literature or at professional meetings, has been carried on within the theoretical framework of the PAS. This includes, for example: studies of learning behavior (Eldred, 1964; Schueman and Thetford, unpublished); investigation of the personality structure of foreign groups (Goodnow, 1961; Shepanek, 1964); and research and demonstration projects concerned with experimental psychopathology, treatment and rehabilitation, and mental health programs (Schueman, 1961, 1963; York, 1963; Saunders, 1964).

In addition, Saunders has investigated the structure of the Wechsler family of test batteries which are the psychological tests most closely related to the PAS. They are also most often used to derive an individual's PAS "formula." These investigations include many American and foreign groups (1959b, 1960a, 1960b, 1960c, 1961a, 1961b, 1963; Saunders and Aaronson, 1962) .

There is nothing unique about the assessment process for it is something that each person, in his own way, carries on almost continuously. The purpose of assessment is to make possible predictions about another's future behavior so that one's own behavior can be appropriate. (See Kelly, 1955.) The PAS has an advantage in that the information required for prediction of future behavior can be obtained with an easily administered psychological test

Conversely, where test results cannot be obtained, the PAS provides a framework for "reconstructing" the personality that underlies the observed behavior (York, 1964). The reconstructed personality pattern can then be the basis for useful behavior prediction. This process can be applied analytically by clinicians skilled in the use of the PAS model or the process can be made more rigorous with any of the indirect assessment instruments that have been developed within the context of PAS methodology. Also important is the fact that the PAS methodology provides a way of communicating the particulars of a subject's position in PAS "space" with less equivocation than possible with a less descriptively and objectively oriented system. This feature is the outcome of a notational system described below.

From the viewpoint of practical application, PAS contributes to the prediction of behavior in several ways:

The Personaility Assessment System thus contributes to individual assessment by providing practical insights into a highly personalized pattern of strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, the system allows objective comparisons among the personality features of different individuals, thereby offering a suitable framework for behavioral research and definitive investigations of personality structure and function.

Test Instruments

The PAS was derived originally from the use of the Wechsler-Bellevue Intelligence Scale, Form I (Wechsler, 1944). Experience has shown that the PAS can be used with the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale or WAIS (Wechsler, 1955, 1958) and with all later adaptations although the order of administration of subtests should be modified to conform to that of the W-B I. Moreover, there is some clinical evidence that the W-B I Block Design and Digit Symbol subtests are more sensitive than the corresponding WAIS subtests; conversely, the WAIS Picture Arrangement and Picture Completion subtests seem to be superior. Finally, although the Wechsler Intelligence Test for Children (WISC) has not been used very much with PAS, there is some evidence (Saunders, 1961b) that the system is appropriate.

PAS derives an individual's pattern by comparing each of his Wechsler or WAIS weighted subtest scores to his own calculated norm. This norm, termed the person's Normal Level, is estimated by a theory-generated weighted system that is applied to ten subtests, excluding Vocabulary. While Normal Level can be considered an estimate of an individual's over-all capability, its importance to PAS, for the purpose of this introduction, is that it provides a baseline from which the influence of personality on test performance can be quantitatively measured. Note particularly that, in the PAS model, pattern analysis of sub-test scores is made upon deviations of a subject's scores from the subject's is own, unique, standard. The PAS does not use a normative baseline from which to assess subtest scatter. Subtest deviation scores are, in the PAS, ipsitive data, not normative data. The method of computing Normal Level is discussed in another section of this Web site.

Dimensionality of the PAS and the Levels of Development

There are three major and six derived dimensions within the system. (In addition to these three, later research has indicated that another major dimension is a valid and useful construct but is not included in this discussion. It is explicated in the section describing Saunders' work with reference groups.)

For the purposes of this dicussion we will describe only the three major dimensions which are:

  1. The Intellectual dimension,
  2. The Mechanical-Procedural dimension and
  3. The Social dimension

In addition, the system calls for three levels of personality structure and development within each dimension. This requirement generates the other six dimensions.

The Primitive Level

The first of these levels is the primary or "Primitive"; level. This is the level which is considered innate. It constitutes the set of abilities, for each of the three domains, with which the newborn person enters the word and with which the child copes in the early years of his life.

However, if the child's attempts to deal with his world are unsatisfactory as viewd by those around him, the child may be forced into learning contrasting modes of behavior. This process of change is called compensation.


Compensation inevitably brings some conflict since it forces the young individual to reject some part of his true nature and to defend himself against what he is, a course he usually undertakes only if anxiety has been aroused by the reactions of others in his environment. Compensatory activities are, therefore, closely associated with an individual's attempts to escape this unpleasant feeling.

Unfortunately, while compensation helps to control anxiety, it also represents a form of adjustment achieved and maintained at some psychological cost. An individual can conceal his original tendencies from others, and with varying degrees of success, from himself, but he cannot render them non-existent even if he excludes them from his awareness. They continue to operate, whether consciously or unconsciously, and serve to increase psychological tension.

Compensation, thus, is always characterized by tension and, particularly in times of stress, by further anxiety on the part of the individual lest he revert to his already unacceptable Primitive adjustment.

The Basic Level

Whether a child, as he matures, is pressured into a compensatory adjustment or is encouraged to develop and exploit his natural bent, he achieves a state that is called his Basic or attained level. This level is usually stabilized by early adolescence.

There is a further modification of behavior described by the system, which represents the achievement of a surface, Contact, or "ideal" behavior. This level stabilizes in early adulthood. Since the behavior associated with the Surface level is most likely to change under pressure, most of this discussion will be limited to the Primitive and Basic levels. The three dimensions were mentioned briefly above. What follows is a detailed explanation of these dimensions.

The Dimension of Personality

The first domain or dimension hypothesized by the PAS model is termed the intellectual domain.

The E - I Dimension

This dimension is called the Externalizer-Internalizer (E-I) dimension. On the WAIS, this is defined by the difference between a person's Normal Level and the score on Digit Span (D), which has been shown by Saunders (1960c, 1961a) to be associated with alpha rhythm. Essentially, this test is a nonsense task, a series of unrelated numbers spoken at an even, monotonous pace by an examiner, to be repeated by the person being tested. The individual who does well on this task appears to be able to detach himself from distractions offered by the examiner or the setting. Furthermore, he is able to manipulate and store these abstractions, pure numbers, until he is called upon to reproduce them. Such a person we call an Internalizer (or I).

The individual who does poorly on Digit Span is distracted by the examiner or the setting and is unable to manipulate and retain this sort of nonsense material. Incidental noises and distractions are likely to decrease his score even further. There is some clinical evidence that this sort of person, the Externalizer (or E), tries so hard to relate to and impress the examiner that he defeats his own end.

The Externalizer and the Internalizer are polar extremes of behavioral dispositions.

It is important to realize, however, that theoretically there is no pure behavior associated with the E-l dimension or, for that matter, with any other dimension. it is only when we begin to combine dimensions that observable behavior patterns emerge though there are some traits that seem to arise from E or I orientation, and it is to these we refer when we talk about the behavior of an E or an I.

The Externalizer tends to be an active individual, more interested in doing than thinking. For him, the world is real and experience is real. He must exert considerable effort when compelled to work with ideas, to be self-sufficient, or to control his natural tendencies toward activity and involvement with others. He is practical, concrete, and works by "feel" or by trial and error. Since he directs his energies outward and seeks involvement with others, he is, psychologically speaking, perceptually dominant, environmentally dependent, and more responsive to external than to internal cues.

The Internalizer or I individual is the opposite. For him, ideas are real. He has a facility for abstract and symbolic thinking and tends to think before he acts. His emotions are directed inward and his feelings, to the casual observer, appear masked and obscure. In fact, however, his feelings are highly personal and he guards them closely. He is primarily self-contained and he seeks his major psychological satisfactions in the privacy of his own experiences. The I individual is passive and tends to withdraw. Left to his own ways, he prefers to think, rather than to do; he shuns the practical, the concrete, or the specific. His problems lie chiefly in the need to control his passivity and his urge to withdraw. He needs to be more aware of his environment and to learn to relate to others on a genuinely interpersonal basis.

It is worth noting that this PAS dimension is related to but not the same as the "Extrovert-Introvert" dimension hypothosized by virtually all other personality models. Most of those "fold" at least two of the PAS dimensions into one domain which is then termed extrovert-introvert. For the PAS there are several "flavors" of extroversion and introversion which will become obvious below.

In the test pattern, Arithmetic scores above the Normal Level indicate compensation, both for E and for I individuals. Through compensation, the individual tends to acquire the attributes and the orientation of original tendencies opposite to his own. That is, the Primitive E learns, because of environmental or social pressure, to become more passive, more self-sufficient, and more aware of his own thinking, while the Primitive I compensates by becoming more active and more aware of the need to relate to other people. Some explain that compensation on the E-I dimension represents the acquisition of intellectual discipline for both primitive E's and Primitive I's. As most will attest, arithmetic skill would seem to support this interpretation.

To a certain extent, the compensated E looks like the uncompensated I and the compensated I looks like the uncompensated E. The chief observable difference is that compensated people from "both"groups exhibit a certain quality of intensity of behavior that is not present in the uncompensated groups. This intensity is obvious to even the casual observer and has its origin in the tension created by the process of compensation. This phenomenon has led to a compilation of ways in which compensated people from one group can appear like compensated people from another. The difference is that the "look-alikes never "feel" alike because of the tension produced by compensation. Click on the last link for a table which contrasts "look-alikes" and "feel-alikes".

As the person continues to mature, further changes in personality may occur after the Basic level has been stabilized. These changes, leading to the surface or Contact level are called modification.

They are represented, in the tests, by Information scores above the person's Normal Level. Modification produces those characteristics usually associated with the "first impression" of a particular adult personality. Like compensation, modification may reinforce the basic adjustment or may reflect development in a different direction.

The R-F Dimension

The second major dimension of the PAS, in the Mechanical-Procedural domain, is called the Regulated-Flexible (R-F) dimension. On the WAIS, this is defined by the score on the Block Design (BD) subtest.

Block Design requires an ability to analyze a design and to duplicate it precisely with colored blocks. The person who does well is called a Regulated-literal or R individual. Such a person can react precisely to a limited number of specific, well-defined stimuli upon which the person can focus and concentrate. Although the range of response is narrow, such a person is not easily confused or distracted, except when forced to vary a routine.

The R individual has those psychological attributes associated with attentiveness and concentration. Such people learn procedures easily and often by rote. Learning is rapid because insistance on perspective is not important; understanding is often acquired after-the-fact. If at all.

Because psychological insulation restricts awareness, the R individual tends to be self-centered and insensitive to others. Such people tend to be logical and literal, seeing the world in ordered "blacks and whites." Difficulty in situations requiring sensitivity, sympathy, is common.

In Contrast, the Flexible-sensitive (F) individual has a long history of suffering from, and learning to cope with, confusion. Such a person tends to be aware of a large variety of stimuli and responds over a wide range. Attentiveness and concentration are difficult and learning new activities is apt to be slow because such people must first "understand" the meaning or purpose of the situation or task before they can do it. On the other hand, the F grasps subtleties and is intuitive and imaginative, working from impressions is normal. The F is quick to sense the "atmosphere" of a situation. Such a person lives in a world that is never completely logical. "shades of gray" are the norlmal perspective for such people.

Because nothing in the world is fixed, the F individual tends to be fearful and cautious; sensitivity is dominant and, therefore, such people are easily hurt. The F's major problems lie in the need to restrict awareness and reactivity enough to enable concentration and organization. In short, it is difficult for the F individual to "get his act together."

The Importance of Interaction

Now, perhaps, we can begin to see a mechanism to describe actual behavior within the framework of PAS by begining to look at the dimensions as they interact with one another Remember, in the PAS model, little can be said about a person without consdering the interaction of the dimensions. The significance is in the interaction.

as one example, an IR, who is both internalized and regulated, will be more likely to engage in an abstract occupation such as theoretical physics. An ER, on the other hand, because such people are externalized, will be likely to engage in engineering. An IF, with sensitivity and liking for abstraction, might engage in social or religious reform or become a linguistics specialist. EF people, with their social orientation and creative, emotional bent might become actors, teachers, or social workers.

Compensation, in the R-F dimension, is defined by the Similarities subtest of the WAIS, a relatively high score representing compensation for the R and a relatively low score representing compensation for the F. Similarities, in its simplest form, requires an ability to see relationships. The Primitive F individual can usually perform this sort of activity without much effort. Failure to achieve on the test then, indicates reaction against and denal of ability to see relationships.

The Primitive R individual, on the other hand, has difficulty seeing relationships. A relatively high score on Similarities indicates the beginning of compensation for lack of Primitive R qualities.

Modification (producing the third level) of R-F tendencies is indicated by performance on Comprehension.

Since the acquisition and retention of the correct answers to the items in Comprehension are essentially rote and procedural in nature, the Primitive R is the one who can achieve with the least effort; the Primitive F must exert some effort or control before he can do reasonably well. Thus, a low score on Comprehension represents a modification of Primitive R but a high score represents modification of Primitive F.

The A-U Dimension

The third PAS dimension, in the Social domain, is perhaps a unique contribution of the system. It is associated with the Picture Arrangement (PA) subtest of the WAIS and is called Role Adaptive-Role Uniform (A-U) dimension. These terms refer to an individual's skill in meeting the social and interpersonal demands of society. At one extreme is the Role Adaptive or A individual -- magnetic, charming, captivating, a person who moves easily in a variety of social situations. At the other extreme is the Role Uniform or U individual, socially inept and, at best, able to handle only a few roles.

A high score on Picture Arrangement requires an ability to comprehend socially related situations. Adeptness in this test indicates an awareness of social roles. PA's relation to social skill was noted by Wechsler many years ago in his statement: ". . . worthy of note is the good score frequently made by the psychopath on Picture Arrangement test, a finding that is surprising because this test has been interpreted as measuring social intelligence.

If this interpretation is correct, a distinction must be made between understanding and resultant behavior. Psychopaths generally have a grasp of social situations, but they are inclined to manipulate them to their own advantage in an antiocial way.... The psychopath's test performance as a whole is characterized by . . . breeziess and self-assurance...." (1944, p. 155.) In PAS terms, the completely undisciplined (that is, neither compensated nor modified) extreme A (that is, an A+u+u+) is likely to exhibit psychopathic tendencies.

The A individual, then, has the awareness of, and the ability to express, conventional or proper feelings, whether or not they happen to be true feelings. For example, such a person is seldom anxious, but is quite capable of showing the symptoms of anxiety if the occasion calls for it. In some ways, this is is a chameleon-like individual with a tendency to be "all things to all people." Such people can (and do) spot others' weaknesses and to use these to their own advantage.

In seeking employment for instance, the A much prefers the personal interview to any sort of testing. Such a person's major problems stem from highly favorable first impression, for, having over-sold himself, without really trying, the A is then faced with living up to expectations that a high level of social skill and versatility has engendered. Such people tend to be accepted wholeheartedly at first, but later, when expectations are not met, the A is often misunderstood and over-punished. The result is often departure from tne situation before this can happen thus, the A often has the reputation for being a "job-jumper."

The Role Uniform or U individual, however, applies a limited repertoire of roles to whatever situation encountered whether the roles are appropriate or not. As a result, such a person often has considerable experience with rejection since the U seldom makes a favorable first impression, even in a situation appropriate to a well-learned role. In order to avoid rejection, the U tends to limit the range of social encounters. If, however, given a chance, the U may later be accepted because of some specific, but non-social, skill. Obviously, such people prefer tests to interviews and tend to stick in a job as long as posible.

Compensation, in the A-U dimension, is indicated by performance in Picture Completion. Success in Picture Completion represents an awareness of, or sensitivity to, minute features of the environment. The A individual if trying to reject a natural tendency to skillfully play a role, must become less sensitive to the environment; thus, a lowered PC score is required. The reverse is true for the U person. If such a person is to become a better role-player and generally more adaptable, more sensitive to external cues must be acquired. That is, the U, to show compensation, must have a relatively high PC score.

Pulling It All Together

With this introduction to the third dimension of personality, we are in a position to indicate how the three dimensions and compensatory processes interact. This example, from York (1963), also shows how PAS can identify apparently similar behavior as stemming from different roots.

York found that actors and psychiatric residents may both be described, in Basic behavior, as externalized, flexible, and role adaptable. At the Primitive level, however, actors are externalized, regulated, and adaptive (ERA ) while residents tend to be internalized, regulated, and role uniform (IRU). These findings support Carrigan's (1960) suggestion that there are at least two kinds of extraverts: the emotionally expressive, impulsive and interpersonally fickle ("French") type as contrasted with the disciplined and organized ("American") variety.

Modification, for both the A and the U. is represented by Object Assembly. There is considerable evidence that performance on OA is affected by anxiety with respect to interpersonal relationships (Lanfeld and Saunders, 1961). This sort of anxiety serves as a "brake on behavior" and indicates whether or not the individual can use the adaptation he has attained. A low score on OA indicates that modification has taken place; a high score indicates lack of modification.

Activity Level: The "Other" Dimension

The Digit Symbol subtest plays a special role in PAS. While not specifically related to any of the dimensions described above, performance on this subtest yields a rough estimate of the extent of drive or psychological energy possessed by an individual. Although quite variable and subject to fluctuations caused by mood, intensity, and activity level at the time of administration of the test, a high DS usually suggests an ability to maintain one's Surface level while a low DS usually indicates vacillation between the Surface and Basic levels. Since the interpretation of this subtest is a function of the total personality structure, this over-simplified description must be generalized cautiously. Further, Saunder's work on reference groups has led to a more substantial role for the DS subtest. Please refer to the reference group section for more about this work and the development of a new "fourth dimension" for the PAS model.

Adjustments of Original Tendencies

An individual's need to adapt to a variety of situations requires various adjustments in relation to each of the three original personality tendencies. As mentioned above, compensation, the most fundamental level of adjustment, and to a lesser extent, modification, are mechanisms enabling the individual to control the original or Primitive tendencies or to develop at least some of the attributes of orientations opposite those tendencies.

How a person deals with the original tendencies depends on the strength of those tendencies and the kind of environment in which the person develops. Most important among the environmental factors is the extent of pressure placed on the child to become "what he is not" and/or the intensity of the punishment received for being what he is.

The quality of acceptance the child receives from parents and from other important adults is the major factor in determining whether compensation will occur. If the parents, for the most part, approve and support (or sometimes ignore) the child's original tendencies, total self-acceptance is the probable outcome. Lacking any powerful motivation to change original tendencies, the child will probably retain those personality features with little or no alteration. Psychological development will proceed along the inherent, Primitive, lines of each personality dimension, without significant growth in the opposite directions. With this sort of development, the child is relaxed, largely free of major internal conflicts, and free from extreme anxiety or guilt feelings; an outcome often lauded as highly desirable. But at the same time, such a person is very one-sided.

On the other hand, the quality of the individual's interaction with his environment may generate more disapproval than approval of original tendencies. The parents may reject or punish the child for what he is, reserving their praise and approval for his attempts to become what he is not. In such cases, the child is pushed away from his innate or Primitive tendencies and forced to develop along opposite lines. He tries to alter, rather than express, his original tendencies; his energies go into compensatory activities. This external pressure begins with parents but it is continued throughout the entire process of socialization since it is supplied by other adults, notably teachers, and later, by contemporaries whose approval the individual values.

This process inevitably produces tension and stress. However, the result is a much more versitile and dynamic personality. The one-sidedness of the uncompensated person is not there and compensated people usually cope with life's vicissitudes more easily ans successfully.

Through the mechanism of compensation and modification an indi- vidual can conceal his Primitive tendencies from others and, with varying degrees of success, from himself. If the acquired overlay of compensatory activities is not sufficiently strong to force the original tendency entirely out of conscious awareness, the individual retains some insight into his true nature.

While his Primitive tendencies are suppressed, they are not completely lost to awareness. On the other hand, a strong original tendency coupled with intense compensation leads to acute defensiveness and repression. In this case, the conflict operates at a level below the individual's awareness so that conscious control is impossible; tension and anxiety persist, however. The more an individual moves in a direction opposite to strong original tendencies, the more tension and anxiety is he experienced but with the reward that versitility is enhanced and coping skills are usually enhanced.

It seems apparent that it is undesirable to reach adulthood having experienced no compensation nor modification. It seems equally apparent that to arrive at adulthood with extreme compensation and modification is equally undesirable. Moderation would seem to be here, as in so many facets of life, the best course. This matter is discussed in more detail by Dr. David Saunders in Mean Frequency of Compensation as a Critical Descriptor for Studies Using the PAS.