The concept of the object scale and cognitive style: Measures of differentiation and their relationship to empathy

Jonathan Krieger, Fordham University


The present study attempted to reconcile a fundamental inconsistency between two highly regarded approaches to personality assessment that derive from Werner's "law of differentiation," a developmental principle that describes progressive structural differentiation and increasingly more complex re-integrations of internal structures and of the organism with its environment. Two measures of differentiation, Blatt's Concept of the Object Scale (COS) and Witkin's Embedded Figures Test (EFT) were compared, thereby assessing convergent validity for the operationalized concept. Whereas studies using the COS have linked greater differentiation to ability and stability of interpersonal functioning, cognitive style theory now links indices of relatively lesser differentiation to interpersonal competence. The association between differentiation as measured by the COS and EFT and two self-report measures of empathy, the Mehrabian Empathy Scale (MES) ("early empathy") and the Hogan Empathy Scale (HES) ("mature empathy"), were examined in an attempt to resolve the apparent incongruence of obverse predicted relationships of greater (COS) or lesser (EFT) differentiation to interpersonal orientation. Sex and social class differences were also examined. No significant associations between EFT and COS measures of differentiation were demonstrated within the entire sample, except for t-test comparisons indicating more part object responses within the less differentiated group ($p <$.01) and a tendency towards more whole object responses as defined by the COS within the more differentiated group ($p <$.07) as assessed by the EFT. Within the male sample, significant negative correlations emerged between EFT latencies and COS structural summary score ($p <$.04). In the male sample, negative trends of association also emerged between EFT latencies and COS measures of integration ($p <$.06). Associations between measures of differentiation and empathy reached significance or displayed trends only within the male group. A negative correlational trend emerged between EFT latencies and the Mehrabian Empathy Scale ("early empathy"), ($p <$.08). Significant correlations emerged between the Hogan Empathy Scale ("mature empathy") and COS integration scores ($p <$.05). T-test comparisons indicated higher levels of "early empathy" in women ($p <$.001) and within a lower social class group ($p <$.01). Theoretical and clinical implications, including the hypothesis of selective deficits of object representation and empathy within specific nosological groups, are discussed.

Subject Area

Developmental psychology|Clinical psychology|Personality psychology

Recommended Citation

Krieger, Jonathan, "The concept of the object scale and cognitive style: Measures of differentiation and their relationship to empathy" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8910757.