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Psychological Assessment

1993, Vol. 5. No. 4. 430-437

Copyright 1993 by the American Psychological Association, Inc


1040-3590/93/S3.00

Wechsler Comprehension and Picture Arrangement Subtests


and Social Adjustment

This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

Joshua D. Lipsitz, Robert H. Dworkin, and L. Erlenmeyer-Kimling


Despite their widespread application, many of Rapaport, Gill, and Schafer's (1968) hypotheses regarding the Wechsler intelligence tests have not achieved empirical support. To test the assumption
that the Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests are socially sensitive components of the
Wechsler scales, individual subtest scores of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale and Wechsler
Intelligence Scale for Children were correlated with clinician ratings of social competence and hostility. In these analyses, normal subjects and subjects at risk for psychopathology were examined
during both childhood and adolescence. Although some support for the hypothesized relationship
regarding the Comprehension subtest was found for normal subjects in childhood, overall, the results
did not support the assumption that the Comprehension or Picture Arrangement subtests are generally sensitive to social functioning. Implications of differences in patterns between at-risk and normal
groups across ages are discussed.

Though designed as components of an overall intelligence


scale, individual Wechsler subtests have been thought to tap specific capacities (Blatt & Allison, 1981; Kaufman, 1979; Rapaport, Gill, & Schafer, 1968; Sattler, 1982). Because of their socially relevant content, the Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale
(WAIS; Wechsler, 1955) and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for
Children (WISC; Wechsler, 1949), and their revisions (WAISR, Wechsler, 1981; WISC-R; Wechsler, 1974), are commonly
thought to measure intelligence relevant to social functioning.
Applying this assumption in clinical settings is particularly appealing because psychopathological conditions often involve
deficits in social functioning. Yet, there remains little empirical
support for the notion that performance on the Comprehension
and Picture Arrangement subtests is especially indicative of social functioning. Evidence therefore rests largely on face validity.
The Comprehension subtest consists of a series of verbal
questions that test the individual's practical knowledge of his or
her physical and social surroundings. "Emphasis is placed on

the ability to verbalize probable or ideal behavioral reactions


and to justify behavior consistent with prevailing social values"
(Zimmerman & Woo-Sam, 1973, p. 63). Comprehension is
seen, therefore, as an index of social conventionality and social
judgment (Rapaport et al, 1968). "Low scores may represent a
need to defy or ignore social conventionality, or they indicate
an impairment in judgment or a diminished interest in social
interaction" (Allison, Blatt, & Zimet, 1968, p. 25). The Picture
Arrangement subtest involves a number of picture series that
are presented to the subject out of sequence. The subject is challenged to put the pictures in order so that they tell a story that
makes sense. Because the picture series involve human characters and interactions, the test also requires sensitivity to social
cues and an awareness of antecedents and consequences of social events. "The subject is required to understand the inner
relationships of a series of events and to grasp the essential message of a social interaction" (Allison et al., 1968, p. 29). Thus
Schafer (1948) concludes that elevated scores on Picture Arrangement may represent shrewdness or "street smarts" (p. 54).
In an early attempt to validate the Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests as indices of social adjustment,
Krippner (1964) compared scaled scores on these two subtests
to scores on the Vineland Social Maturity Scale in a sample of
8- to 12-year-old boys. Comprehension scores, but not Picture
Arrangement scores, were correlated significantly with the dimension of Social Age on the Vineland. Picture Arrangement
scores, on the other hand, have been linked to the dimension of
Introversion/Extraversion in some studies of normal subjects
(Schill, 1966; Schill, Kahn, & Meuhlman, 1968) but not in another study involving psychiatric patients (Johnson, 1969).
Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtest performance
have also been correlated with ego maturity (Browning & Quinlan, 1985); impulsivity (Brannigan & Ash, 1977; Ramos & Die,
1986); need for approval (Dickstein & MacEvitt, 1971; Nobo &
Evans, 1986; Ramos & Die, 1986); and other socially relevant
aspects of personality (Nobo & Evans, 1986; Sipps, Berry, &
Lynch, 1987). Though some initial findings suggested simple

Joshua D. Lipsitz, Robert H. Dworkin, and L. Erlenmeyer-Kimling,


College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University.
This article is based on the doctoral dissertation project of Joshua
D. Lipsitz toward the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Ferkauf
Graduate School, Yeshiva University, Bronx, NY, completed under the
supervision of Robert H. Dworkin. Other committee members included
William Arsenio, Morton Bortner, Irma Hilton, and Ross Levin. Research was supported in part by National Institute of Mental Health
Grants MH19560 and MH30921 to L. Erlenmeyer-Kimling.
We thank Ulla Adamo, Barbara Maminski, and Simone Roberts for
their assistance and Clarice Kestenbaum and her colleagues for performing the videotaped interviews on which social adjustment ratings
were based. We also thank Genya Bernstein, Lucy Kaplansky, Anthony
Rinaldi, and Sharon Slater, who rated the videotaped interviews.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to
Joshua D. Lipsitz, Anxiety Disorders Clinic-Unit # 13, New York State
Psychiatric Institute, 722 West 168th Street, New York, NY 10032.
430

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WECHSLER SUBTESTS AND SOCIAL ADJUSTMENT

relationships between performance on Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests and specific dimensions of social adjustment (Krippner, 1964; Schill, 1966), later studies provided
little consistent evidence of such relationships (Nobo & Evans,
1986; Ramos & Die, 1986).
These findings are difficult to interpret for a number of reasons. First, some investigators (e.g., Brannigan, 1975; Krippner,
1964) fail to consider the role of overall intelligence in examining the relationship between Comprehension and Picture Arrangement and measures of adjustment, even though overall intelligence is itself related to social adjustment (Frank & Quinlan, 1976; McConaughy & Ritter, 1986). Second, some studies
use very small samples (e.g., Johnson, 1969; Nobo & Evans,
1986), which makes it difficult to interpret negative findings.
Finally, many studies use normal children or college students
who display a limited range of deficits in social adjustment. In
contrast, the proposals made by Rapaport and his colleagues
(1968) were based on observations in clinical populations in
which social adjustment deficits tend to be more pronounced.
In the current investigation, we explore the relationship between Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests and
two indices of social adjustmenta clinician-rated measure of
overall social competence, the Premorbid Adjustment Scale
(Cannon-Spoor, Potkin, & Wyatt, 1982), and a three-item scale
of hostility (also clinician-rated). For this purpose, we use data
from two different groups of subjects: (a) subjects who, because
of parental schizophrenia or affective disorder, are at heightened
risk for psychopathology themselves, and (b) a normal comparison group. Children whose parents have been diagnosed with
schizophrenia or serious affective disorders are not only more
vulnerable to these specific disorders but also present a wide
array of behavioral and emotional dysfunctions (Downey &
Coyne, 1990; Watt, Grubb, & Erlenmeyer-Kimling, 1982;
Weintraub & Neale, 1984). Though not a clinical group per se,
the higher frequency of social adjustment deficits found in this
at-risk group may make its examination more likely to yield
support for the hypothesized social sensitivity of Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests than would the examination of these relationships only in normal subjects. In addition, our analyses are based on longitudinal data, which provide
a view of the construct validity of Comprehension and Picture
Arrangement as measures of intelligence relevant to social adjustment in both childhood (7-12 years old) and adolescence
(13-18 years old).
We undertake two distinct methods of testing this hypothesis.
Correlations of scaled scores of several Wechsler subtests with
measures of social adjustment are compared to determine
whether Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests excel relative to other subtests. Also, ipsative scatter (deviation)
scores are examined to see if strength and weakness on the
Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests, relative to
general intelligence, is associated with better and poorer social
adjustment, respectively.
Method

431

ect, a longitudinal investigation of the offspring of parents with schizophrenia and major affective disorder. Methods of subject selection and
classification, and details of periodic assessment procedures of this project have been described elsewhere in detail (Erlenmeyer-Kimling &
Cornblatt, 1987; Erlenmeyer-Kimling et al., 1984). Two independent
samples were included in the New York High Risk project (referred to
as Sample A and Sample B), and we draw data from both of these. The
two samples each comprised subjects considered to be at heightened
risk for psychopathology due to the presence of schizophrenia or major
affective disorder in one or both parents, as well as normal comparison
subjects. For this investigation, at-risk subjects, initially grouped according to parental diagnosis (children of parents with schizophrenia
vs. children of parents with major affective disorder) were combined
into a single "at-risk for psychopathology" group in order to maximize
heterogeneity of social adjustment and to increase sample size for
greater statistical power. Data from the normal comparison subjects
were also examined.

Procedure
In the current analyses, the associations between WISC and WAIS
subtest scores and ratings of social adjustment were examined. WISC
and WAIS records were routinely collected during the New \brk High
Risk Project, and social adjustment ratings were derived from previously videotaped psychiatric interviews. Intelligence tests and videotaped psychiatric interviews were administered concurrently when subjects were in childhood (mean age = 9.0 years; SD = 1. 82) and again
about 6 years later, while in adolescence (mean age = 15.2 years; SD =
2. 04). After excluding individual cases in which raw data were missing
(e.g., as a result of deterioration of videotapes on which interviews were
recorded), data from childhood assessments, based only on Sample B,1
included 82 at-risk and 62 normal comparison subjects. Data from adolescent assessments, based on both Samples A and B, included 124 atrisk subjects and 113 normal comparison subjects. The effects of some
attrition reduced the sizes of Samples A and B somewhat for the assessments conducted in adolescence.

Measures
Wechsler intelligence scales. Scores from 8 of the 10 to 12 possible
subtests of the WISC and WAIS (the latter for subjects over 16 years old)
were available for the current analyses. These included the Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests, as well as the Digit Span, Arithmetic, Vocabulary, Picture Completion, Block Design, and Object Assembly subtests. About half of the subjects did not receive the Digit
Span subtest in the childhood assessments. Scaled scores were determined for each subtest, and overall (Full Scale) IQ scores were prorated
on the basis of available subtest scores. The characteristics and psychometric properties of the WISC and WAIS are well-documented (Wechsler, 1949; Wechsler, 1955).
For a second set of analyses, ipsative "scatter" scores, measuring subtest performance for each subject relative to overall intelligence, were
determined individually for both Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests. Following Allison et al. (1968), Vocabulary subtest scores
were used as overall intelligence indices, because this subtest correlates
most highly with overall intelligence. Scatter scores were obtained by
subtracting scaled Vocabulary scores from scaled scores of the Comprehension subtest and the Picture Arrangement subtest for each subject.
Subjects were then grouped on the basis of these scores using deviations
of 3 points as cutoffs (Matarazzo, 1972; Wechsler & Jaros, 1965). Under
this system, a scatter score of +3 or more was classified as "positive

Subjects
Wechsler intelligence test (WAIS, WISC) records and videotaped interviews were obtained from subjects in the New "Vbrk High Risk Proj-

' For Sample A, psychiatric interviews during childhood were not


videotaped.

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432

J. LIPSITZ, R. DWORKIN, AND L. ERLENMEYER-KIMLING

scatter," indicating that Comprehension or Picture Arrangement was a


relative strength for that subject; a scatter score of3 or less was classified as "negative scatter," indicating a relative weakness; and a scatter
score of+2 to -2 was classified as "negligible scatter."
Measures of social adjustment. Videotapes of semistructured psychiatric interviews conducted with all subjects were rated on a number of
dimensions of adaptive behavior and psychopathology, including social
adjustment (Dworkin et al., 1990; Dworkin et al., 1991). Each videotaped interview was rated independently by two advanced graduate students in psychology who were kept unaware of the subject's group status.
The Premorbid Adjustment Scale (PAS; Cannon-Spoor et al., 1982)
was used to measure overall social competence. The PAS has demonstrated validity in research on premorbid adjustment in schizophrenia
(Cannon-Spoor et al., 1982; Kelley, Gilbertson, Mouton, & van Kammen, 1992), although its content reflects components of social competence that are relevant to both normal and abnormal development.
We altered the first of the five PAS items"sociability and withdrawal"to assess sociability and withdrawal within the interview itself. This was done to more clearly distinguish this rating from that
based on the second item"peer relationships." Other items of the PAS
include "reported adaptation to school," which reflects overall school
functioning, not merely academic competence, and "degree of interest
in life," a global rating of interest in hobbies, music, sports, work, and
social activities. The age of the subject is used to determine the appropriate anchor descriptions for the fifth item"social-sexual aspects of
life during adolescence." Children under 12 years old are not rated on
this item, adolescents 12-15 years old are rated on gradations appropriate for early adolescence, and adolescents 16-18 years old are rated on
a scale appropriate for adolescence and immediately beyond. In a separate study, ratings on this slightly modified version of the PAS were
found to correspond to independent ratings of social competence based
on parent reports (Lewis, Dworkin, Cornblatt, & Erlenmeyer-Kimling,
1992).
A second measure of social adjustment, level of hostility, was based
on three single-item ratings made from the videotaped interviews. Two
of these items, drawn from the Comprehensive Psychopathological Rating Scale (Asberg, Montgomery, Perris, Schalling, & Sedvall, 1978),
were "reported hostile feelings," and "observed hostility." An additional
item, "reported conduct disorder," based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd ed.; American Psychiatric Association, 1980) description of conduct disorder, was included in order to
account for manifestations of conduct problems in these youngsters.
Each item of both the PAS and the Hostility scale was rated on a
7-point scale ranging from 0 (optimal adjustment or highest degree of
competence) to 6 (serious deficits in adjustment). Anchor descriptions
were provided for the raters to aid in making ratings. Internal consistency for both scales was determined using coefficient alpha for childhood (PAS: r = .78; Hostility: r = .75) and adolescent (PAS: r = .66;
Hostility: r = . 59) ratings. Global scores reflecting overall social competence (PAS) and overall hostility were derived from the means of the
individual item ratings for each scale. Interrater reliabilities for these
overall scores are listed in Table 1. Intraclass correlation coefficients
were based on the ratings obtained from the two raters who had rated
each videotape, and they reflect the reliability of the means of these two
global score ratings, which were used in all subsequent data analyses.
Correlations in this sample between the PAS and the Hostility scale
reflect a significant, moderate, and positive association between these
two measures, both for at-risk (childhood: r = .50, p < . 001; adolescence: r = .44, p < .001) and normal comparison subjects (childhood:
r = .35, p < .005; adolescence: r = .45, p < .001). The magnitude of
these intercorrelations, however, is not so high as to suggest redundancy
in the use of the two measures.

Table 1
Group Comparisons of Scores on IQ, Social Competence
(Premorbid Adjustment Scale-PAS), and Hostility Scales
Measure

At risk for
psychopathology

Normal
comparison

Childhood

n
IQ (WISC)
M
Range
SD
Mb
Range
SD
Hostility (#" = . 75)

Range
SD

82

62

98.86
52-130
14.64

111.34
80-139
11.62

5.52**

1.45
.25-4.40
.72

1.38
.13-4.00
.75

0.57

.55
.00-2.25
.47

.49
.00-2.33
.40

0.81

Adolescence

n
IQ (WISC, WAIS)
M
Range
SD
PAS (R' = .80)
Range
SD
Hostility (R* = .78)
Mb
Range
SD

124

113

100.86
46-130
14.42

112.25
87-138
11.42

6.71**

1.47
.10-4.63
0.81

1.19
.00-3.33
.71

2.82*

.91
.00-3.33
.80

.62
.00-3.33
.54

3.24**

Note. WISC = Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children; WAIS =


Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.
" Interrater reliabilities based on intraclass correlation coefficients.
b
Higher mean scores reflect greater social competence deficits.
*p<.005. **p<.001.

Results
Comparisons ofAt-Risk and Normal Comparison
Groups
Mean scores for Full Scale IQ and the two social adjustment
scales (global ratings) are presented in Table 1 for the group atrisk for psychopathology and the normal comparison group. To
maximize range, we did not exclude subjects whose IQ scores
were in the mentally retarded range, although they have been
excluded from other studies in the New York High Risk Project.
Group differences in IQ are due largely to higher-than-average
IQ scores in the normal comparison group, which may be a
function of sampling procedures in the New York High Risk
Project. Meehl (1971), however, has argued that the practice of
controlling for intelligence in comparisons of psychopathological and normal groups neglects the possibility that intelligence
itself may be causally associated with the presence or absence
of psychopathology. The at-risk group did not differ from the
normal comparison group on the PAS or Hostility scale in assessments in childhood (Table 1). This is not surprising, given

433

WECHSLER SUBTESTS AND SOCIAL ADJUSTMENT

the initial sampling criteria that excluded children with obvious


psychopathology from both at-risk and normal comparison
groups. In adolescence, the at-risk group had significantly
poorer social competence (higher overall PAS score) and a
higher level of hostility than the normal comparison group, patterns consistent with expected developmental differences between normal subjects and those at risk for psychopathology
(Downey & Coyne, 1990; Watt etal., 1982).

Scale

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Scaled Score Comparisons


Correlations of scaled scores on Comprehension, Picture Arrangement, and six other Wechsler subtests with ratings on both
the PAS and the Hostility scale are presented in Tables 2 and 3
for both the at-risk and normal comparison groups. Because
higher scores on both the PAS and Hostility scale indicate
poorer social adjustment, negative correlations with Wechsler
subtests are in the expected direction. Significance levels were
determined using familywise Bonferroni correction procedures
to correct for multiple comparisons. On this basis, neither Comprehension nor Picture Arrangement subtests correlated significantly with level of hostility in either childhood (Table 2) or
adolescence (Table 3) for either at-risk or normal comparison
groups. Significant correlations were found in both groups,
however, between the Comprehension subtest and social competence as measured by the PAS.
Full Scale IQ in the at-risk group correlated significantly with
the PAS in both childhood (r = .40, p < .05) and adolescent
(r = .49, p < .05) assessments. In the normal comparison
group, correlations of IQ with the PAS were significant in childhood only (r = -.25, p < .05). The correlation between Full
Scale IQ and the Hostility scale was significant only in the at-

Table 2
Correlations of Wechsler Subtest Scores With Premorbid
Adjustment Scale and Hostility Scale
in Childhood Assessments
Premorbid adjustment
scale

Scale
Comprehension
Picture
Arrangement
Digit Span"
Arithmetic
Vocabulary
Picture
Completion
Block Design
Object
Assembly

Table 3
Correlations of Wechsler Subtest Scores With Premorbid
Adjustment Scale and Hostility Scale
in Adolescent Assessments

Hostility scale

At risk
(n = 81)

Normal
comparison
(n = 62)

-.36*

-.37*

-.16

-.33

-.25
-.35
-.39*
-.36*

-.18
.11
-.21
-.21

-.13
-.20
-.32*
-.19

.01
-.27
-.04
.02

-.18
-.25

-.14
-.09

-.10
-.14

-.04
-.11

-.32*

-.01

-.25

-.04

At risk
(n = 81)

Normal
comparison
(n = 62)

Note. For all comparisons, negative correlations reflect a positive association between subtest performance and social adjustment.
a
Comparisons for Digit Span in childhood were based on 44 at-risk and
28 normal comparison subjects.
* p < .05, two-tailed, after Bonferroni correction.

Comprehension
Picture
Arrangement
Digit Span
Arithmetic
Vocabulary
Picture
Completion
Block Design
Object
Assembly

Premorbid Adjustment
Scale

Hostility scale

Normal
At risk comparison
(n = 124) (n = 113)

Normal
At risk comparison
(n= 124) (n = 113)

-.42*

-.21

-.18

-.20

-.20
-.34*
-.26*
-.47*

.18
-.02
-.13
-.37*

-.18
-.18
-.15
-.19

.12
-.06
-.08
-.23

-.21
-.41*

-.02
-.24

-.08
-.17

.06
-.16

-.35*

-.03

-.16

-.00

Note. For all comparisons, negative correlations reflect a positive association between substest performance and social adjustment.
* p < .05, two-tailed, after Bonferroni correction.

risk group and only during adolescence (r = -.20, p < .05).


Because general intelligence is linked to social adjustment, correlations of scaled subtest scores provide support for social sensitivity only if superior in this regard to subtests not hypothesized to be socially sensitive. Magnitudes of individual subtest
correlations were therefore compared using Hotelling's / tests
(Glass & Hopkins, 1984).
Comprehension was the sole subtest significantly correlated
with the PAS in the normal comparison group in childhood,
and this correlation was significantly greater (p < . 05, onetailed) than three of the seven correlations of the other subtests
with this scale. In adolescence, Vocabulary was the only subtest
significantly correlated with the PAS in the normal comparison
group. For the at-risk group, in both childhood and adolescence, Comprehension was one of a number of subtests significantly correlated with the PAS, and the magnitude of this correlation was not significantly greater than the correlations of
the other subtests with this scale. Picture Arrangement was not
significantly correlated with social competence at either age in
either group.
Because it could be argued that examining the individual
groups might restrict the range of scores, we repeated scaled
score analyses, combining the at-risk and normal comparison
groups. The results of these analyses were no more consistent
with the hypothesis of social sensitivity in the Comprehension
and Picture Arrangement subtests than were the results of the
analyses described above.

Comparisons Based on Scatter


Comparisons of subjects grouped according to scatter scores
are shown in Table 4 for Comprehension scatter and Table 5
for Picture Arrangement scatter. Comprehension scatter groups
differed significantly in PAS scores only in childhood and only

434

J. LIPSITZ, R. DWORKIN, AND L. ERLENMEYER-KIMLING

Table 4
Comparisons on Premorbid Adjustment Scale (PAS) and
Hostility Scalefor Groups Assigned on the Basis of
Comprehension Scatter (Comprehension- Vocabulary)

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Scale
At risk
PAS
Hostility
Normal comparison
PAS
Hostility

At risk
PAS
Hostility
Normal comparison
PAS
Hostility

Positive
scatter
group
(>+3)
M

Negligible
scatter
group
(-2 to +2)
M

Childhood
(n = 10)
(n = 52)
1.55
1.39
.75
.46
(n = 42)
(=12)
1.18a
1.31b
.33,
.48
Adolescence
(= 101)
1.48
.94
(72=13)
(n = 80)
1.28
1.18
.55
.60
(= 17)
1.48
.83

Negative
scatter
group
(^-3)
M

(=18)
1.42
.61
(n = 8)
2.03a.b
.76,

( = 6)
1.29
.74
(/i = 20)
1.14
.70

.21
2.15

3.96*
2.96

.16
.29
.16
.69

Note. Higher mean scores on the PAS reflect greater social competence deficits. Means sharing the same subscript differed significantly
(p< .05) on Tukey-Kramer tests (Kirk, 1982).
*/7<.05
in the normal comparison group. In subsequent analyses of this
difference using Tukey-Kramer tests, the negative scatter group
scored significantly higher (p < . 05) on the PAS (indicating
poorer social competence) than did both the positive and the
negligible scatter groups. This result suggests that children in
the normal comparison group for whom the Comprehension
subtest reflects a weakness have more deficits in social competence than do other children. Because the F value for mean Hostility score differences approached significance in the normal
comparison group in childhood, F(2, 59) = 2.96, p = . 059),
individual groups were compared using Tukey-Kramer tests.
Though the negative Comprehension scatter group scored significantly higher (p < .05) on the Hostility scale than the positive
scatter group, neither of these groups differed significantly from
the negligible scatter group.
Groups assigned on the basis of Picture Arrangement scatter
scores (Table 5) differed significantly on the PAS and the Hostility scale only in adolescence and only in the normal comparison
group. Subsequent analyses of these groups, using TukeyKramer tests, showed that the positive scatter group scored significantly higher (p < .05) than both the negligible and negative
scatter groups on the PAS and higher than the negative scatter
group did on the Hostility scale. The negative scatter group did
not score significantly lower on either scale than the negligible
scatter group did. The above pattern suggests, contrary to our
hypothesis, that subjects for whom the Picture Arrangement
subtest was a strength had greater social adjustment deficits and
higher hostility than did other subjects.
Discussion
In a recent investigation of a large sample of psychiatric patients, Piedmont, Sokolove, and Fleming (1989) found "no evi-

dence" for the utility of many of the diagnostic hypotheses of


Rapaport et al. (1968) using patterns of subtest scores on the
WAIS and WAIS-R, with only 2 of 12 hypotheses supported.
The applicability of many early hypotheses that attempt to assign subjects to diagnostic categories on the basis of subtest patterns is limited by the dramatic changes since that time in the
diagnostic criteria with which patients are classified. Matarazzo
(1972) has noted the crudeness of diagnostic categories as a limitation of early research using the WAIS. In the current study,
we examined the use of the Wechsler subtest patterns in contributing descriptive information in psychological evaluation.
Underlying many psychodiagnostic formulations using Wechsler test data is the assumption that specific subtests tap specific
cognitive capacities.
With respect to our primary hypothesis of social sensitivity in
the Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests, results
may be summarized as follows for the at-risk group. Picture
Arrangement subtest scores showed no association with either
measure of social adjustment as determined by either scaled
score comparisons or analyses based on scatter. Although the
Comprehension subtest was significantly correlated with the
PAS in childhood and adolescent assessments, other subtests
were also significantly correlated with the PAS. Analyses based
on scatter groupings also failed to support a specific relationship
between Comprehension subtest performance and social adjustment measures in the at-risk group.
Significant correlations in the at-risk group between the PAS
and various Wechsler subtests not hypothesized to reflect social
adjustment point to the role of overall intelligence in social adjustment differences in this group. This role is supported by
Table 5
Comparisons on Premorbid Adjustment Scale (PAS) and
Hostility Scale for Groups Assigned on the Basis of Picture
A rrangement Scatter (Picture A rrangement- Vocabulary)

Scale

Positive
scatter
group
(>+3)
M

Negligible
scatter
group
(-2 to+2)
M

Negative
scatter
group
(<-3)
M

Childhood
At risk
PAS

Hostility
Normal comparison
PAS
Hostility

( = 20)
1.42
.50
(= 15)
1.48
.49

(n = 46)
1.44
.56

(n = 38)
1.29
.50

(n=15)
1.33
.47
(n = 9)
1.60
.44

.13
.27
.83
.07

Adolescence
At risk
PAS

Hostility
Normal comparison
PAS
Hostility

(n = 47)
1.57
.89
(n = 33)
1.54a,b
.77a

(n = 69)
1.43
.90
(n = 66)
1.09,
.61

(n = 8)
1.18
1.12
(n = 14)
.80b
-29a

.96
.30

7.62**
4.09*

Note. Higher mean scores on the PAS reflect greater deficits in social
competence. Means sharing the same subscript (a, b) differed significantly (p < .05) on Tukey-Kramer tests (Kirk, 1982).
*/><.05. **p<.Q01.

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WECHSLER SUBTESTS AND SOCIAL ADJUSTMENT

significant correlations between Full Scale IQ scores and both


the PAS and the Hostility scale. On the basis of these results
and other findings that link intelligence to social adjustment in
clinical groups (e.g., Frank & Quinlan, 1976), future studies of
social functioning in psychiatric patients should carefully consider the role of general intelligence.
Alternatively, in this at-risk group, social adjustment differences may not correspond to differences in intelligence per se.
Rather, these differences may be associated with specific neurocognitive deficits that reflect the incipient pathogenic processes
involved in the development of schizophrenia or affective disorder (Cornblatt & Erlenmeyer-Kimling, 1985). This possibility
suggests the need for a replication of the present study in a more
typical clinical sample in which effects of specific pathogenic
processes (e.g., those involved in schizophrenia) are less pronounced.
In the normal comparison group, a somewhat different pattern emerged. In scaled score comparisons, Comprehension was
the only subtest significantly correlated with social competence
in childhood, and this correlation was significantly higher than
correlations with some other subtests. This pattern is consistent
with scatter score results in which negative Comprehension
scatter in childhood was associated with poorer social competence and higher hostility. In adolescence, the Vocabulary subtest was the only subtest significantly correlated with social
competence, a finding consistent with the lack of association
between Comprehension scatter groupings and scores on social
adjustment scales at this age.
For normal subjects, relative weakness on the Comprehension subtest may indicate greater deficits in social adjustment in
childhood but not in adolescence. A possible explanation for
this pattern is that focus on "knowledge of social conventions"
in the Comprehension subtest may be crucial to social adjustment in childhood, when there is greater emphasis on conformity, but it may be less relevant to adjustment in adolescence,
when competent social behavior requires less conformity and
more movement toward independence. At this later age, other
aspects of intelligence, such as verbal fluency (Vocabulary subtest), may be more influential in positive social adaptation. This
limited support for the "social sensitivity" of the Comprehension subtest is consistent with findings in other samples of normal children (Brannigan, 1975; Brannigan & Ash, 1977;
Browning & Quinlan, 1985;Krippner, 1964). However, because
this pattern of results was not found in the at-risk group, additional research examining clinical samples is necessary before
the Comprehension subtest can be considered a valid indicator
of social adjustment in child-patient populations.
The absence of a positive association between performance
on the Picture Arrangement subtest and either social adjustment measure is consistent with earlier negative findings in both
clinical (Johnson, 1969) and normal (Krippner, 1964; Simon &
Evans, 1980) samples. Moreover, in this investigation, comparisons using Picture Arrangement scatter scores suggest that normal adolescents for whom the Picture subtest was a relative
strength (positive Picture Arrangement scatter) in fact had
greater deficits in social adjustment. Brannigan (1975) has observed that even if Picture Arrangement performance does reflect sensitivity in the social environment, this is not synonymous with positive social adjustment or competence. Indeed,

435

our results are not inconsistent with the suggestion that elevated
scores on the Picture Arrangement subtest may indicate
shrewdness and street smarts unrelated to appropriate social
judgment and behavior (Rapaport et al., 1968). In one study
of delinquent adolescents, Picture Arrangement was one of the
highest scoring subtests and Vocabulary one of the lowest (Culberton, Feral, & Gabby, 1989). Though our normal comparison
sample did not display a high incidence of delinquency, adolescent subjects with positive Picture Arrangement scatter may display subtle trends in this direction. Sipps and colleagues (1987),
for example, found high scorers on the Picture Arrangement
subtest to be more manipulative than low scorers.
Because delinquent subjects generally score higher on Performance subtests than on Verbal subtests (Culberton et al., 1989),
however, Picture Arrangement scatter may merely reflect a Performance-Verbal subtest discrepancy and not a specific sensitivity of the Picture Arrangement subtest. A similar pattern has
been noted in at-risk subjects in Sample A. Those who later
developed psychopathology had achieved higher Performance
than Verbal IQ scores in childhood (Erlenmeyer-Kimling, Kestenbaum, Bird, & Hildoff, 1984).
Of the two social adjustment measures used, Wechsler subtest
performance and overall IQ scores were more closely associated
with the PAS. Intellectual capacities measured by Wechsler subtests may be more closely related to the aspects of social adjustment (e.g., adaptation to school) assessed by the PAS than to the
more narrow dimension of hostility. Such specificity is consistent with research using established measures of social intelligence such as means-ends problem solving (Spivack & Shure,
1982), in which aspects of social intelligence may correspond to
some specific dimensions of adjustment and less so to others
(Pellegrini, 1985). Because the scale Hostility has not been validated against other instruments, however, it is also possible that
this scale does not provide an assessment of the dimension of
hostility as adequate as the PAS does with respect to overall social competence.
Two additional findings have direct implications for future
research examining Wechsler intelligence test patterns. First,
our inclusion of data from two distinct groups (at-risk and normal comparison) was supported by somewhat different findings
between these two groups in both scaled score comparisons and
analyses based on scatter. This contrast highlights a shortcoming of prior studies of Wechsler subtest patterns that attempt to
generalize from a single group, one often comprising normal
subjects (e.g., Schill, 1966). Second, our finding of a difference
in patterns across ages (e.g., in the normal comparison group)
suggests that findings from studies of subjects of a specific age
(e.g., 5th graders) may not be generalizable to different age levels. Age differences in this study remained in analyses of the
childhood data that examined only those subjects who were also
included in adolescent assessments (Sample B). These differences cannot be attributed to discrepancies between the WISC
and WAIS because most subjects in the study received the WISC
in both childhood and adolescence.
Although the structure and general content areas of the Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests have been largely
maintained in subsequent revisions of the Wechsler intelligence
scales (Wechsler, 1974, 1981, 1991), items constituting these
subtests have changed, and this could potentially affect social

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436

J. LIPSITZ, R. DWORKIN, AND L. ERLENMEYER-KIMLING

sensitivity. However, our results using earlier versions of these


subtests, considered in light of negative findings using current
versions (Nobo & Evans, 1986; Ramos & Die, 1986), do argue
against making an assumption of social sensitivity on the basis
of face validity alone. Although there is no reason to assume
that the versions of the Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests included in the WAIS-R and WISC-III have
greater social sensitivity than earlier versions, further research
will be needed to document this.
For the evaluator searching for clues to understanding psychiatric and behavioral difficulties in children, adolescents, and
adults, it is tempting to bestow great meaning on various subtests of the standardized intelligence tests. Yet, empirical studies to date provide little support for many hypothesized relationships between Wechsler subtest performance and specific
capacities or deficits. Nevertheless, it cannot be concluded that
the Comprehension and Picture Arrangement subtests have no
value in assessing social adjustment in clinical evaluations. It
is impossible to replicate the inferential process of an astute
clinician, and hypotheses based on subtest patterns are typically
applied in the context of other pieces of evidence, such as qualitative aspects of test responses, information from other tests,
and interpersonal observations. Our findings do challenge the
use of one popular dimensional assumption about Wechsler
subtests in a "cookbook" fashion in psychodiagnosis, however,
as well as in computerized interpretations of Wechsler scales
based on such assumptions.
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Accepted May 10, 1993

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