Picture Arrangement

Tests requiring the examinee to arrange a set of pictures presented in mixed-up order so that they tell a sensible story were first used in France by DeCroly (1914). Similar items were developed for the Army Beta group examination but were found inadequate before a different set of items emerged as a component of the individually administered Army Performance Scale Examination (Wechsler, 1958). Yet this task was not used much by the Army and was not popular in the United States except for its inclusion on the Cornell-Coxe Performance Ability Scale (Cornell & Coxe, 1934). Wechsler believed that its relative unpopularity was due to difficulty in scoring the items (because of numerous alternative solutions that are conceivably worthy of full or part credit) and in finding good sequences. However, "[c]artoons appear to have an international language of their own" (p. 75), and the task has some positive features: "[I]t effectively measures a subject's ability to comprehend and size up a total situation...[and]...the subject matter of the test nearly always involves some human or practical situation" (p. 75).

Consequently, Wechsler considered it worthwhile to develop a Picture Arrangement subtest for the W-B I despite unavoidable limitations inherent in the test itself. He borrowed three items from the ill-fated Army group-administered version of the task and added four new items taken from Soglow's "Little King" series of cartoons (Wechsler, 1958). For the WAIS, he dropped one W-B I item and added two by new cartoonists. He selected items based on "interest of content, probable appeal to subjects, ease of scoring, and discriminating value." Yet Wechsler was never satisfied with the result, noting that "the final selection leaves much to be desired" (p. 75). He spent much time and statistical analysis trying to discern which alternative responses deserved credit and even called in a team of four judges; yet, the final system for assigning credit for alternative arrangements "turned out to be more or less arbitrary" (p. 76).

The problems with Picture Arrangement concern the important role that content must play for each item, which introduces variables regarding cultural background, urban versus rural upbringing, sex differences, interests, and so forth. Yet this limitation is also the subtest's greatest asset, because it is the unique content of each item that gives the task its clinical power. Although Wechsler (1958) did not believe in social intelligence (considering it merely the application of general intelligence to social situations), he conceded that comprehension of the Picture Arrangement items "more nearly corresponds to what other writers have referred to as 'social intelligence'" (p. 75). When individuals perform well on Picture Arrangement, despite poor performance on other tasks, they "seldom turn out to be mental defectives" (p. 76). Furthermore, Wechsler stressed the clinical information obtainable from listening to the subject explain the story behind his or her arrangement, whether the sequence is correct, arguably correct, or plain wrong. "Consistently bizarre explanations are suggestive of some peculiar mental orientation or even psychotic trend." Wechsler considered the explanations given to various arrangements to be "[m]ore interesting than the question of credits allowed" (p. 76), and recommended that examiners routinely ask for verbal explanations of their arrangements when time permits. To avoid violating the norms, these explanations should not be elicited until the entire subtest is completed; then the items of interest can be placed in front of the subject in the order that he or she gave.

The emphasis on speed changed from the W-B I to the WAIS to the WAIS-R to the WAISIII. Bonus points for quick, perfect performance were allotted for more items on the WAIS than the W-B I, increasing the range of possible subtest scores and enhancing the role played by speed of performance on the obtained score. However, Wechsler (1981) reversed this trend for the WAIS-R and deemphasized speed greatly by not allowing bonus points for any of the Picture Arrangement items. Test publishers (Psychological Corporation, 1997) honored Wechsler's wishes by continuing to avoid bonus points on WAIS-III Picture Arrangement.

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