Gender differences in violent behaviors: relationship to clinical symptoms and psychosocial factors

Am J Psychiatry. 2004 Mar;161(3):459-65. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.161.3.459.


Objective: Men are more violent than women in the general population, but this has not been found to be the case among psychiatric inpatients. The reason for this exception is poorly understood. The present study investigated gender differences in violent behaviors among patients with major psychiatric disorders. It examined various clinical symptoms and psychosocial factors to determine their differential impact on violence in men and women.

Method: Physical assaults and verbal assaults committed by psychiatric inpatients were recorded prospectively. Patients whose violent incident occurred during their first 2 months of hospitalization were eligible for the study. Patient history of community violence was also obtained. Psychiatric symptoms and ward behaviors were assessed upon entry into the study and after 4 weeks.

Results: A similar percentage of women and men had an incident of physical assault in the hospital. Among the patients entered into the study, the women had a much higher level of verbal assaults throughout the evaluation period and a higher level of early physical assaults (i.e., within the first 10 days of the 4-week study period). Positive psychotic symptoms were more likely to result in assaults in women than in men. Physical assaults in the community, on the other hand, were more common in men and were associated with substance abuse, property crime, and a history of school truancy.

Conclusions: There are gender differences in the patterns of violent behavior among patients with major psychiatric disorders. Furthermore, psychiatric symptoms and psychosocial risk factors have a different impact on this behavior in men and women. This has important implications for the prediction and differential treatment of violent behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis
  • Bipolar Disorder / epidemiology
  • Bipolar Disorder / psychology
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dementia / diagnosis
  • Dementia / epidemiology
  • Dementia / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • New York
  • Personality Assessment
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychiatric Department, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Psychotic Disorders / epidemiology
  • Psychotic Disorders / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk Management / statistics & numerical data
  • Schizophrenia / diagnosis
  • Schizophrenia / epidemiology
  • Schizophrenic Psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Violence / psychology*
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data