Summary of Psychological Aggression Measures

Smartmarriages © cmfce at
Sun Jan 24 13:56:01 EST 1999

This comes via the AABT list:  

  A while back I sent out an E-Mail indicating I was looking
for a measure of psychological aggression.  I was flooded with responses 
have written up a list and commentary on the scales suggested.  Given that
marital violence researchers are moving toward a closer examination of
psychological aggression (e.g., Ileana Arias, Dan O'Leary, Chris Murphy), 
hope this proves useful.

Many people suggested the Psychological Aggression Scale of the Conflict
Tactics Scales (Straus, 1979).  I do not like this as a measure of psych
aggression for several reasons.  First, I am using psych aggression as a
predictor.  I am already using the Physical Aggression Scale of the CTS as
my outcome variable and would like to keep my predictor and outcome
variables separate, or at least as independent as possible given that I'm
looking at related behaviors during a dyadic interaction. Second, the CTS
items are widely varied.  They include verbal aggression, withdrawing
behaviors, physically threatening behaviors, and crying (an item that 
seems to know what to do with).  In the past I have used the verbal
aggression and physically threatening behavior items to measure psych
aggression, or examined withdrawing behaviors also but as a separate
predictor. (This is following Gayla Margolin's past method of classifying
couples as primarily verbally aggressive or withdrawing using these 
Third, the base rates of the verbal aggression items (insulting or 
saying or doing something to spite your partner) have a tremendous ceiling
effect; about 98% of couples across several of my samples endorse these
items.  (This has also been pointed out by Amy Holtzworth-Munroe).  Straus
has addressed some of these problems with the CTS-2 by adding some items 
psych aggression.

Many others suggested Tolman's Psychological Maltreatment of Women 
(Violence & Victims, 1989).  The PMWI seems to be an improvement over the
CTS, but it also has some limitations.  First, it is designed to be
administered to men, and I am assessing behaviors in men and women.  This
seems particulary important given that we repeatedly find a strong
association b/t wives' negative affect and husbands' physical aggression.
(No causality implied.)  Second, as Chris Murphy pointed out, the PMWI is
particularly useful for clinical batterers or battered women.  It is also
useful for assessment during treatment studies, but not as appropriate for
assessment of "common couple violent" relationships such as newlyweds or 
assessment in conjunction with prevention efforts.  Third, the items don't
"hang together" very well.  Fourth, it's quite long, although a shorter,
lesser known version is available.

I wound up using Ken Leonard's modified version of the TENSE (Test of
Negative Social Exchange (Ruehlman & Karoly, 1991, Psych Assessment).  18
items, 4 subscales: hostility/impatience, insensitivity, interference, and
ridicule (alphas range from .63 to 88).  He has been using it with
newlyweds.  This has a fairly normal distribution in general population 

I also used the Index of Spouse Abuse (ISA; Hudson & McIntosh).  It is a
shorter scale than the TENSE and includes items like "my partner belittles
me, my partner orders me around."  

Both of these measures contain items that seem to really tap into psych
aggression and would presumably not have the problem of a ceiling effect 
non-battering samples.  

Others are developing interviews (Miriam Ehrensaft has an interview
measuring control) and observational coding systems (e.g., Karin Schlee) 
measure psych aggression.

Several lesser known measures were offered:

1) Chris Murphy has developed and is still validating a 28-item, 4-factor
measure.  It was originally designed for dating couples, but they are 
it with clinical batterers as well.  Subscales: restrictive engulfment,
hostile withdrawal, denigration, dominance/intimidation.

2) The Severity of Violence Scales (Linda Marshall).  Targets violence,
threats, and "symbolic aggression."

3) Domestic Conflict Index (Gayla Margolin). Includes all CTS items and
more, 51 items total.  Includes physical aggression, emotional aggression,
and anger.

4) The Buss-Durkee Hostility Scale (Buss & Durkee, JCCP, 1957) is used in
psychiatric research of aggression and psychosocial correlates of
hypertension, CHD.

5) The Emotional Abuse Q (Walz, Rushe, & Gottman). 66 items, 4 subscales:
isolation, degradation, sexual abuse, property damage(coeff. alphas: .92,
.94, .72, .88).  Frequency of each act is assessed on a 1-4 scale.

6) The Spouse-Specific Aggression Scale (O'Leary & Curley) measures verbal
and passive aggression.

7) Measure of Wife Abuse (Rodenburg & Fantuzzo) measures psych abuse and
verbal aggr.

8) Psychological Abuse Scale (Stets, 1991, JFV)

9) Abusive Behavior Inventory (Shepard & Campbell, 1992)

Hope this is useful.  Thanks again for the input.

-Erika Lawrence
Erika Lawrence, MA
UCLA Department of Psychology
405 Hilgard Avenue
LA, CA  90095-1563
(310) 206-6049
(310) 206-5895 (fax)
elawrenc at

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