The state of contemporary risk assessment research

Can J Psychiatry. 2005 Jan;50(1):18-26. doi: 10.1177/070674370505000105.


The focus on assessing dangerousness in routine psychiatric practice developed when relatively little was known about factors related to violence, and the accuracy of predicting violence was distinctly below chance. Since the 1990s, however, significant research attention has been directed toward factors related to violence and mental illness, as well as toward factors related to the accuracy of risk assessment techniques. Sociodemographic and environmental variables have been identified as significant predictors of violence, as has the presence of substance abuse. However, the data on specific mental health variables are somewhat mixed. Many studies point to a modest increased risk of violence associated with major mental illness and psychosis, whereas other noteworthy studies have failed to confirm such findings. Studies of the accuracy of risk assessments indicate that both actuarial and clinical methodologies perform better than chance, although the former achieve greater statistical accuracy. Despite ongoing controversies, risk management strategies that encompass the strengths and limitations of our present knowledge are available to clinicians.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomedical Research / standards*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Risk Assessment*
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data*