The relationship between nurses' limit-setting styles and anger in psychiatric inpatients

Psychiatr Serv. 1995 Jun;46(6):609-13. doi: 10.1176/ps.46.6.609.


Objective: Violence by patients in psychiatric settings is frequently associated with the quality of staff-patient interactions. Impulsivity has been identified as a high risk factor for anger and aggression. This study was designed to test the influence of nurses' limit-setting styles on anger among psychiatric inpatients grouped by high or low levels of impulsivity.

Methods: Ninety-seven patients with various diagnoses and either high or low levels of impulsivity participated in role-play scenarios in which nurse actors played out six limit-setting styles, ranging from belittlement to explanations of rules to empathy linked with a presentation of an alternative course of action. Patients' level of anger in response to the acted scenario was assessed using the Spielberger State-Trait Anger Scale.

Results: Patients' level of anger was highest in response to unempathic limit-setting styles, moderate for explanations, and lowest for empathic styles. Impulsive subjects were more likely to respond with anger than nonimpulsive patients, regardless of the limit-setting style.

Conclusions: Although many current intervention programs focus on reducing patients' anger after it occurs, the study results suggest that it may be possible to prevent some of patients' anger by improving nurses' limit-setting styles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acting Out
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Anger*
  • Behavior Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / nursing
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / nursing*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nurse-Patient Relations*
  • Personality Inventory
  • Psychiatric Department, Hospital
  • Role Playing
  • Schizophrenia / rehabilitation
  • Schizophrenic Psychology