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Conflict tactics scale

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Social Processes: Methodology · Types of test

The conflict tactics scale (CTS), created by Murray A. Straus in 1979,[1] is the "most widely used research method for identifying intimate partner violence."[2] There are two versions of the CTS, the CTS2 and CTSPC.[3][4][5] As of 2005,[6] the CTS has been used in about 600 peer reviewed scientific or scholarly papers, including longitudinal birth-cohort studies.[7] The CTS is one of the most widely criticized measures for its exclusion of context variables, severity, and motivational factors in understanding acts of violence.[8][9] The National Institute of Justice, for example, cautions that the CTS may not be appropriate for intimate partner violence (IPV) research because it does not measure many aspects of IPV.[10]

Notable usage

In the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Langhinrichsen-Rohling states that the "CTS was revolutionary because it allowed researchers to quantitatively study events that had often been ignored culturally and typically took place in private." [11] The CTS has been used in national surveys on the prevalence of family violence in the USA and other countries. National surveys conducted in the USA include two National Family Violence Surveys,[12] the National Violence Against Women Survey, and the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being.[6]


The scales are based on the premise that conflict is an inevitable aspect of all human association, but that the use of coercion (including force and violence) as a conflict-resolution tactic is harmful. The CTS focuses on "conflict tactics" – the method used to advance one's own interest within a conflict – as a behavior and measures the conflict tactic behaviors of both the respondent and their partner/primary caregiver. However, the CTS "deliberately excludes attitudes, emotions, and cognitive appraisal of the behaviors" measured so that relationships between behaviors measured by the CTS and attitudes, emotions, and cognitive appraisals of these behaviors can be clearly analyzed.[13] A CTS-based study would ideally include data from respondents and their partners/primary caregivers in order to investigate the degree of symmetry or asymmetry between their responses. The CTS can be administered through an in-person interview, telephone interview, self-administered questionnaire, and computer-administered questionnaire.

Revised Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS2)

As of 2000,[14] the CTS2 measured a total of 39 behaviors. Each of these behaviors, or "items," are divided into five categories: "Physical Assault," "Injury," "Psychological Aggression," "Sexual Coercion," and "Negotiation." There are 6 items in "Negotiation," 8 items in "Psychological Aggression," 12 items in "Physical Assault," 7 items in "Sexual Coercion," and 6 items in "Injury." Straus gives examples of a minor and severe questions within each scale:[15]

  • Physical Assault: "I slapped my partner." "I punched or hit my partner with something that could hurt."
  • Injury: "I had a sprain, bruise, or small cut because of a fight with my partner." "I needed to see a doctor because of a fight with my partner, but I didn't."
  • Psychological Aggression: "I shouted or yelled at my partner." "I stomped out of the room or house or yard during a disagreement."
  • Sexual Coercion: "I insisted on sex when my partner did not want to (but did not use physical force)." "I used force (like hitting, holding down, or using a weapon) to make my partner have sex."
  • Negotiation: "I said I cared about my partner even though we disagreed." "I suggested a compromise to a disagreement."

CTS2 questions are presented in pairs. The first question in the pair asks respondents to indicate how often they carried out each item, in a range from "never" to "more than 20 times," in the referent period. The second asks how often the partner carried out each item within the same referent period. Default referent periods are usually 12 months, but other spans of time can be used.[15] Subscales measuring the degree of severity of "less severe" and "more severe" behaviors are included for all CTS scales, "based on the presumed greater harm resulting from acts in the severe subscale." [15] The severity of behaviors can also be measured by analyzing the frequency of the acts and by whether an injury was reported by the respondent.

Child-Parent CTS

The CTSPC (parent-child relationships) has scales to measure:

The CTSPC also includes supplementary questions on instances of neglect, sexual abuse, and discipline in the past week.[16]


There are many ways to score the CTS. Core publications on the CTS and a paper on scoring the CTS provide a complete range of information on CTS scoring practices.[3][4][6][17][18]

Common scoring methods

  • Prevalence
Results in the percentage of respondents who reported being a victim of or perpetrating an item (or items) listed in the "Physical Assault," "Injury," and/or "Sexual Coercion" scales one or more times.[6]
  • Frequency
Results percentages of the number of times an item occurred in the past year. A limitation of this score is that, for general population samples, the distribution is so skewed that the mean is not an appropriate measure of central tendency. However, a sample of known offenders or victims will have a much higher frequency score that can be very useful for measuring the chronicity of maltreatment.[6]
  • Severity level and mutuality types
The severity level reports classifies each case into three categories: none, minor only, or severe. The mutuality types classify each case as respondent only, partner only, or both. The mutuality types may be particularly useful in couples therapy because over a hundred studies have found that when there is violence, 50 percent or more of the time it is by both partners.[6][19][20]


Critics of the CTS argue that the scales count acts of violence but do not provide information about the context in which items occur (including the initiation, intention, history, or pattern of violence) and therefore may misrepresent the characteristics of violence between partners. A major criticism is that the CTS does not include sexual assault in its definition of family conflict, thus excluding a prominent form of spousal abuse.[21] Another common criticism is that the introduction of the CTS carries ideological assumptions about domestic violence, such as the notion that partner violence as the result of an "argument" rather than an attempt to control one's partner.[21][22] Furthermore, the CTS asks about frequency only in the past twelve months and fails to detect ongoing systematic patterns of abuse.[21] Another methodological flaw is that the CTS excludes incidents of violence that occur after separation and divorce, a time in which most spouse-on-spouse assaults occur.[23] The CTS also does not measure economic abuse, manipulation involving children, isolation, or intimidation – all common measures of violence from a victim-advocacy perspective.[24] Moreover, response bias may occur and CTS does not factor in the cases of nonrespondents. These elements are typically difficult to measure but nevertheless important to understanding violence.

Other methodological issues with the CTS include that interobserver reliability (the likelihood that the two members of the measured dyad respond similarly) is near zero for tested husband and wife couples. That is, the chances of a given couple reporting similar answers about events they both experienced is no greater than chance.[25] On the most severe CTS items, husband-wife agreement is actually below chance:

On the item "beat up," concordance was nil: although there were respondents of both sexes who claimed to have administered beatings and respondents of both sexes who claimed to have been on the receiving end, there was not a single couple in which one party claimed to have administered and the other to have received such a beating.[25]

See also


  1. Straus, Murray A. (1979). "Measuring intra family conflict and violence: The Conflict Tactics Scale". Journal of Marriage and the Family, 41, pp. 75–88.
  2. "A Short Form of the Revised Conflict Tactics Scales, and Typologies for Severity and Mutuality." Violence and Victims. 19(5). October 2004. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Straus, Murray A., Sherry L. Hamby, Susan Boney-McCoy, and David B. Sugarman. (1996) "The Revised Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS2): Development and Preliminary Psychometric Data." Journal of Family Issues 17.3 (1996): 283–316.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Straus, Murray A., Sherry L. Hamby, David Finkelhor, David W. Moore, and Desmond Runyan. (1998) "Identification of Child Maltreatment with the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scales: Development and Psychometric Data for a National Sample of American Parents." Child Abuse and Neglect 22: 249–270.
  5. Straus, Murray A., and Sherry L. Hamby. "Measuring Physical and Psychological Maltreatment of Children with the conflict Tactics Scales." In Out of the Darkness: contemporary Research Perspectives on Family Violence, edited by G. Kaufman Kantor and J. Jasinski. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage 1997.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Straus, Murray A. (2007) "Conflict Tactics Scales," in Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence. Ed. Nicky Ali Jackson. New York, London: Routledge. p. 195.
  7. Findings About Partner Violence From the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study, Research in Brief NCJ 170018, July 1999, Research in Brief, by Terrie E. Moffitt, Avshalom E. Caspi [1]
  8. Dobash, Russel P.; Dobash, R. Emerson (2004). "Women's Violence to Men in Intimate Relationships". The British Journal of Criminology 44 (3): 324–349. DOI:10.1093/bjc/azh026 .
  9. Colarossi, Linda (2005). "A Response to Danis & Lockhart: What Guides Social Work Knowledge About Violence Against Women?" Journal of Social Work Education 41 (1): 147–159.
  10. "Measuring Intimate Partner (Domestic) Violence". National Institute of Justice (May 12, 2010), accessed October 18, 2011.
  11. Langhinrichsen-Rohling, J. (2005). Top 10 greatest "hits" important findings and future directions for intimate partner violence research. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 20(1), 108–118.
  12. Straus, Murray A., and Richard J. Gelles. (1990) Physical Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publications.
  13. Straus, Murray A. (2007) "Conflict Tactics Scales," in Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence. Ed. Nicky Ali Jackson. New York, London: Routledge. pp. 190-191.
  14. Acierno, Ron."Screening Measures for Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Physical Assault." National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center. Medical University of South Carolina, 2000.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Straus, Murray A. (2007) "Conflict Tactics Scales," in Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence. Ed. Nicky Ali Jackson. New York, London: Routledge. p. 191.
  16. Straus, Murray A. (2007) "Conflict Tactics Scales," in Encyclopedia of Domestic Violence. Ed. Nicky Ali Jackson. New York, London: Routledge. p. 190.
  17. Straus, Murray A. Homepage for Murray A. Straus. URL accessed on 9 May 2011.
  18. Straus, Murray A., and Emily M. Douglas. (2004) "A Short Form of the Revised Conflict Tactics Scales, and Typologies for Severity and Mutuality." Violence and Victims 19.5: 507–520.
  19. Archer, John. "Sex Differences in Aggression between Heterosexual Partners: A Meta-Analytic Review." Psychological Bulletin 126.5 (200): 651–680.
  20. Straus, Murray A., and Ignacio Luis Ramirez. (2007) "Gender Symmetry in Prevalence, Severity, and Chronicity of Physical Aggression against Dating Partners by University Students in Mexico and USA." Aggressive Behavior 33.4: 281–290.
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Kimmel, Michael S. (2002). 'Gender symmetry' in domestic violence: A substantive and methodological research review. Violence Against Women 8 (11).
  22. DeKeseredy, Walter S.; Schwartz, Martin D. (1998a). "Measuring the Extent of Woman Abuse in Intimate Heterosexual Relationships: A Critique of the Conflict Tactics Scales"., accessed November 16, 2011.
  23. Flood, Michael. "Claims about Husband Battering" at XYonline
  24. "Power and Control Wheel". National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, accessed November 16, 2011.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Dobash RP, Dobash RE, Wilson M, Daly M, (1992). "The Myth of Sexual Symmetry in Marital Violence". Social Problems 39: 71–91.

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