Psychological Aggression by American Parents: National Data on Prevalence, Chronicity, and Severity

Murray A. Straus, Family Research Laboratory
Carolyn J. Field, University System of New Hampshire


This article describes the prevalence of psychological aggression in a nationally representative sample of 991 parents. By child-age 2, 90% reported using one or more forms of psychological aggression during the previous 12 months and 98% by age 5. From ages 6 to 17, the rates continued in the 90% range. The rate of severe psychological aggression was lower: 10%-20% for toddlers and about 50% for teenagers. Prevalence rates greater than 90% and the absence of differences according to child or family characteristics suggests that psychological aggression is a near universal disciplinary lactic of American parents. Finally, this article discusses the implications of the findings for the conceptualization of psychological "abuse," and for understanding the origins of the high level of psychological aggression between intimate partners.