The Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS)

Conflict Tactics Scale, Don Dutton, Justice, Policing -

The Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS)

The Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) 

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Why is it important for police to use the conflict tactic scale?

—It is important for police to use the conflict tactic scale to gather information on domestic violence and ask about it as a general question in order to recognize and address domestic violence as a crime, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or victim. 

What is the conflict tactic scale and what is involved in its use

The Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) is a tool developed by sociologist Murray A. Straus in the 1970s to measure interpersonal conflict behaviors, including those related to domestic violence.

The scale is commonly used in research to assess the frequency and severity of conflict tactics used by individuals in a relationship.

There are several key aspects of the Conflict Tactics Scale:

  1. Categories of Behavior: The CTS categorizes behaviors into three main types:
    • Constructive behaviors (like discussing and negotiating).
    • Destructive psychological aggression (like insults and threats).
    • Physical aggression (ranging from pushing and shoving to more severe forms of violence).
  2. Frequency of Behaviors: Respondents are asked how often they or their partner have used these behaviors in a specified time period. This helps in assessing the prevalence and severity of the conflict behaviors.
  3. Self-Reports and Reports about Partners: The scale can be used to gather information about the respondent's own behavior as well as their perceptions of their partner's behavior. This dual perspective is important for understanding the dynamics of conflict in relationships.
  4. Versions of the Scale: There are different versions of the CTS, such as CTS2 (Conflict Tactics Scale 2), which expanded the original scale to include sexual coercion and physical injury.
  5. Application in Various Contexts: While originally developed for studying domestic violence, the CTS can be used in various contexts, such as between parents and children, among siblings, or in workplace relationships.
  6. Criticism and Limitations: The CTS has faced criticism over the years. Critics argue that it may not fully capture the context of violence (like self-defense or the ongoing pattern of abuse), the impact of the violence, or the power dynamics in relationships. It's also noted that self-report measures can have limitations due to memory biases or reluctance to report certain behaviors.

In the context of policing and domestic violence, the use of the Conflict Tactics Scale can provide a structured way to gather information about the nature and extent of violence in domestic situations.

This can be crucial for understanding the dynamics at play and ensuring that interventions are appropriate and effective, regardless of the gender of the involved parties.

The scale's emphasis on behaviors rather than on individual characteristics aligns with the need to address domestic violence as a crime in a gender-neutral manner. 


Provide a comprehensive explanations of the Categories and Frequencies of Behavior and how the operate in the CTS

The Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) operates primarily through its categorization of behaviors into specific types and the assessment of the frequency of these behaviors.

Here's a comprehensive explanation of these two aspects:

Categories of Behavior in CTS

The CTS categorizes interpersonal conflict behaviors into distinct groups.

These categories are designed to capture a range of behaviors from nonviolent to severely violent.

The main categories typically include:

  1. Negotiation: This category includes nonviolent and constructive behaviors used to resolve conflicts. It involves communication strategies like calmly discussing problems, suggesting solutions, and trying to find a fair compromise. This category is critical as it represents healthy, non-abusive ways to handle conflicts.

  2. Psychological Aggression: This involves verbal and non-verbal communication intended to psychologically harm the other person. It includes behaviors like:

    • Insulting or swearing at the other person.
    • Yelling or shouting.
    • Threatening to hit or throw something.
  3. Physical Assault: This category encompasses behaviors where physical force is used against the other person. It ranges from less severe to more severe acts, such as:

    • Slapping, pushing, or shoving.
    • Hitting with something that could hurt.
    • Kicking, biting, or hitting with a fist.
    • Beating up, choking, burning, or attacking with a weapon.
  4. Sexual Coercion (included in the expanded CTS2): This category includes behaviors that involve sexual coercion or force, such as:

    • Using threats to obtain sex.
    • Forcing sexual intercourse.
    • Using physical force to have sex.
  5. Injury: This measures the physical effects of conflict behaviors, like having a sprain, bruise, or needing medical attention.

Frequencies of Behavior in CTS

The CTS assesses how often each of these behaviors occurs within a specified time frame (such as the past year).

This frequency assessment is crucial for understanding the severity and regularity of the conflict behaviors.

Respondents typically indicate how often they or their partner engaged in each behavior, using a scale such as:

  • Never.
  • Once in the past year.
  • Twice in the past year.
  • 3-5 times in the past year.
  • 6-10 times in the past year.
  • More than 10 times in the past year.
  • Once a month.
  • Once a week.
  • Almost every day.

How They Operate in the CTS

  • Assessment: Respondents are asked about each behavior listed in the CTS. They report whether and how often these behaviors occurred. This can be self-reported or reported about a partner's behavior.

  • Analysis: The frequency data helps in quantifying the extent of conflict tactics used. Researchers or practitioners can analyze this data to understand patterns of conflict and aggression within relationships.

  • Contextual Understanding: While the CTS provides quantitative data, it's often used alongside other tools and methods to gain a comprehensive understanding of the context, motivation, and impact of these behaviors.

  • Application in Interventions: For police and other practitioners, understanding the frequency and types of behaviors can guide interventions, risk assessments, and support services in cases of domestic violence.

In summary, the categorization and frequency assessment in the CTS provide a structured way to measure the types and severity of conflict behaviors in relationships.

This helps in understanding the dynamics of interpersonal conflicts and is particularly useful in contexts like domestic violence research and intervention.


Self-Reports and Reports about Partners

More information on how Self-Reports and Reports about Partners works

In the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS), both self-reports and reports about partners are crucial components.

These two types of reporting provide insights from different perspectives, enhancing the understanding of the dynamics in a relationship.

Here's how each works:


  1. Definition: Self-reporting involves individuals responding to questions about their own behavior. In the context of the CTS, this means individuals report how often they have engaged in the various conflict tactics listed in the scale (e.g., negotiation, psychological aggression, physical assault).

  2. Purpose: Self-reports are valuable for understanding an individual's own use of conflict tactics. They can reveal personal patterns of behavior, including potential aggression or violence that the individual might be perpetrating in a relationship.

  3. Challenges: Self-reporting can sometimes be limited by factors such as self-awareness, willingness to admit to certain behaviors, and memory biases. There's also the possibility of underreporting, especially in cases of socially undesirable behaviors like violence.

Reports about Partners

  1. Definition: This involves individuals reporting on the behavior of their partner or the other person in the relationship. In the CTS, this means answering questions about how often their partner has used the various conflict tactics.

  2. Purpose: Partner reports provide an external perspective on the behaviors present in the relationship. They are crucial for identifying cases where an individual might be a victim of aggression or violence.

  3. Challenges: Reports about partners can be influenced by the respondent's perceptions and biases. There's also the possibility of over-reporting or underreporting, influenced by factors like the individual's emotional state, the nature of the relationship, or a desire to protect or incriminate the partner.

Integration and Use

  • Balanced View: By combining self-reports with reports about partners, the CTS aims to provide a more balanced and comprehensive view of the conflict dynamics within a relationship. This dual-perspective approach can help mitigate some of the biases inherent in self-reporting.

  • Cross-Verification: Information from both sources can be used to cross-verify and better understand the extent and nature of conflict and violence. For instance, discrepancies between self-reports and partner reports can highlight areas needing further investigation.

  • Use in Research and Practice: In both research and practical settings (like counseling or law enforcement), using both self-reports and partner reports helps in gaining a fuller picture of the relationship dynamics. This is essential for effective intervention, risk assessment, and support planning.

  • Confidentiality and Sensitivity: Given the sensitive nature of the information, especially in contexts of domestic violence, it's crucial that responses are handled with confidentiality and care to ensure the safety and well-being of all involved parties.

In summary, self-reports and reports about partners are both integral to the CTS, providing valuable insights into the behaviors and dynamics within relationships. Their combined use helps in creating a more accurate and nuanced understanding of interpersonal conflicts.

Application in Various Contexts

Please provide more examples and information on the Application in Various Contexts

The Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS), initially developed to study intimate partner violence, has been adapted and applied in a variety of contexts beyond its original scope.

These applications demonstrate the versatility of the CTS in understanding conflict behaviors in different relational and social settings:

1. Family and Parent-Child Relationships

  • Assessment of Discipline and Conflict: The CTS can be used to examine the methods parents use to discipline their children, ranging from nonviolent tactics to physical punishment.
  • Child Abuse and Neglect Research: Researchers use the CTS to study the prevalence and nature of child abuse and neglect within families.
  • Family Therapy and Intervention: In therapeutic settings, the CTS can help in identifying patterns of conflict and aggression within families, guiding interventions.

2. Adolescent and Peer Relationships

  • Bullying and Peer Violence: The scale can be adapted to assess bullying behaviors among adolescents, including physical, verbal, and relational aggression.
  • Understanding Teen Dating Violence: The CTS is useful for researching violence in adolescent dating relationships, contributing to prevention and intervention programs.

3. Research on Elder Abuse

  • Elderly Care Settings: Adaptations of the CTS can be used to investigate abuse or neglect of older individuals, either in family settings or in institutions like nursing homes.
  • Informing Policy and Care Practices: The findings from such research can inform policies and care practices aimed at protecting the elderly.

4. Workplace Conflict

  • Employee Relationships: The CTS can be modified to assess conflict tactics among coworkers or between employees and management.
  • Development of Workplace Interventions: Understanding the nature of conflict in the workplace can aid in developing effective conflict resolution and employee well-being programs.

5. Community and Neighborhood Studies

  • Community Conflicts: The CTS can be employed to study conflicts within communities, such as disputes between neighbors or within community groups.
  • Urban Planning and Community Development: Insights from such studies can be useful for urban planning and community development strategies to reduce conflict and promote harmony.

6. Comparative Cultural Studies

  • Cross-Cultural Research: The CTS has been used in cross-cultural studies to compare conflict and violence behaviors in different cultural settings, enhancing understanding of cultural influences on conflict.

7. Legal and Forensic Settings

  • Assessment in Legal Disputes: In legal settings, especially in cases related to domestic violence or child custody, the CTS can provide systematic assessment of allegations of abuse or aggression.
  • Forensic Evaluations: The scale might be used in forensic psychology for evaluating individuals involved in legal cases.

Considerations and Adaptations

  • Cultural Sensitivity and Relevance: In different contexts, especially across cultures, it may be necessary to adapt the CTS to ensure cultural relevance and sensitivity.
  • Context-Specific Modifications: Depending on the setting (like schools, workplaces, or communities), the wording and framing of items in the CTS might need modification to accurately capture the relevant behaviors.

In each of these contexts, the application of the CTS helps in quantifying and understanding the nature of conflict and aggression, which is critical for developing targeted interventions, policies, and supports tailored to the specific needs of the group or situation.


Versions of the Scale 

More detailed information on Versions of the Scale

The Conflict Tactics Scales (CTS) has evolved since its original development by Murray A. Straus in the 1970s, leading to the creation of several versions to address various needs and criticisms.

The most notable versions are the original CTS and its successor, the CTS2 (Conflict Tactics Scale 2).

Original Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS)

  1. Development: Introduced in 1979, this was the first version developed by Straus.

  2. Focus: It primarily measured three types of conflict behaviors in family settings: reasoning, verbal aggression, and physical violence.

  3. Structure: It included 18 items, which respondents would use to report the frequency of specific behaviors.

  4. Use: This version was widely used in research on family violence, particularly in studies examining domestic violence and child abuse.

  5. Criticism: The original CTS faced criticism for various reasons, including its failure to measure sexual violence, the context and consequences of violence, and the potential for mutual violence to be misinterpreted as equally shared responsibility.

Conflict Tactics Scale 2 (CTS2)

  1. Development: In response to criticisms of the original CTS, Straus and others developed the CTS2, introduced in the 1990s.

  2. Expanded Scope: The CTS2 includes more detailed measures of physical violence and incorporates scales for sexual coercion and injury resulting from conflict behaviors.

  3. Structure: It consists of 39 items grouped into five scales:

    • Negotiation: Nonviolent conflict resolution tactics.
    • Psychological Aggression: Emotional and verbal abuse.
    • Physical Assault: A range of behaviors from minor to severe physical violence.
    • Sexual Coercion: Behaviors ranging from verbal coercion to physical force in sexual situations.
    • Injury: Physical injuries resulting from conflict, varying in severity.
  4. Use: The CTS2 is used extensively in research, clinical settings, and various surveys. It provides a more comprehensive understanding of family dynamics and conflict.

  5. Advancements: The inclusion of sexual coercion and injury scales addresses some of the major limitations of the original CTS.

Other Adaptations and Versions

  1. Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale (CTSPC): This version is adapted for use in assessing parental discipline and child abuse. It includes items specific to parent-child interactions.

  2. Sibling Conflict Tactics Scale (SCTS): Tailored to assess conflict between siblings, this version adapts items for relevance to sibling relationships.

  3. CTS for Adolescents: Some adaptations of the CTS are designed specifically for use with adolescent populations, focusing on dating violence and peer conflict.

General Considerations

  • Cultural Adaptations: For cross-cultural research, the CTS and CTS2 have been adapted to suit different cultural contexts, languages, and social norms.

  • Methodological Enhancements: Over the years, methodological improvements have been made in administering these scales, including addressing issues of confidentiality, ethical considerations, and minimizing biases.

  • Continued Criticism: Despite improvements, these scales continue to face criticism regarding their ability to accurately capture the complexity of relationship dynamics, particularly the context and power imbalances in abusive relationships.

The development of different versions of the CTS highlights the evolving understanding of interpersonal conflicts and the need for tools that can effectively capture the nuances of these conflicts in various relationships and settings.

Criticism and Limitations

The Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS), including its revised version CTS2, has been subject to various criticisms and limitations over the years.

Understanding these critiques is crucial for effectively using the scale, especially in sensitive areas like policing in domestic violence situations.

Criticisms and Limitations of the CTS/CTS2

  1. Context and Motivation: The CTS measures the frequency of certain behaviors but often fails to capture the context in which they occur. For instance, it might not distinguish between acts of self-defense and acts of aggression, or the ongoing pattern of abuse versus isolated incidents.

  2. Power Dynamics: The scale may not adequately address the power dynamics in abusive relationships, including controlling behaviors and psychological abuse that don’t involve overt violence.

  3. Focus on Physical Acts: The original CTS focused primarily on physical acts of violence, overlooking other forms of abuse like emotional, psychological, or financial abuse.

  4. Mutuality of Violence Issue: The CTS could be interpreted as suggesting a mutuality of violence (i.e., both partners equally engaged in violence), which can be misleading, especially in situations where one partner is clearly the victim.

  5. Gender Bias: Some critics argue that the CTS, by treating all acts of violence as equivalent regardless of gender, fails to account for differences in the impacts and implications of male versus female violence in heterosexual relationships.

  6. Reporting Bias: The reliance on self-reporting can lead to under-reporting or over-reporting of violent behaviors due to memory biases, shame, fear of repercussions, or desire to portray oneself or the partner in a certain light.

Recommendations for Police Conduct in Domestic Violence Situations

  1. Comprehensive Assessment: Police should use the CTS as one part of a comprehensive assessment strategy. This should include understanding the context, history, and dynamics of the relationship.

  2. Training on Contextual Factors: Officers should receive training to recognize the context and dynamics of domestic violence, including the identification of primary aggressors and understanding patterns of coercive control.

  3. Gender Sensitivity: Recognize that domestic violence can occur in any relationship, regardless of the gender of the participants, but also be aware of how gender dynamics can impact the nature and consequences of violence.

  4. Use of Additional Tools: Employ additional tools and methods alongside the CTS to capture a broader spectrum of abusive behaviors, including emotional, psychological, and financial abuse.

  5. Ensuring Safety: The primary focus should be on ensuring the safety of all parties involved, particularly the potential victims. This includes providing information about resources and support services.

  6. Ethical and Confidential Handling of Information: Handle the information collected through the CTS or any other means with utmost confidentiality and ethical consideration, especially considering the sensitive nature of domestic violence cases.

  7. Collaboration with Other Professionals: Work in collaboration with social workers, mental health professionals, and domestic violence advocates who can provide additional insights and support in handling these cases.

  8. Ongoing Training and Education: Police officers should receive ongoing training and education on the complexities of domestic violence, including the latest research and best practices in intervention.

  9. Community Involvement: Engage with community organizations and advocacy groups to better understand the needs and challenges of those affected by domestic violence.

  10. Critical Evaluation of Tools: Continually evaluate the tools and methods used, including the CTS, to ensure they remain relevant and effective in the evolving understanding of domestic violence.

In conclusion, while tools like the CTS can be valuable in policing domestic violence, they must be used as part of a broader, contextually informed approach.

Training, collaboration, and a focus on safety and support are key to effectively handling these sensitive and complex situations. 



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