Objective: To examine self- and other-directed aggression in 89 children and adolescents on a psychiatric inpatient unit to determine ways in which aggressive and nonaggressive patients differ and to discover those factors associated with self-directed versus other-directed aggression.
Method: Three types of data were collected: ongoing observations of aggressive behavior during hospitalization, Child Behavior Checklists completed by a parent or guardian at admission, and patient and family history data gathered from a retrospective chart review.
Results: Compared with nonaggressive patients, aggressive patients were more likely to have a history of antisocial behavior, to be victims of abuse or neglect, to have lived in a foster home, and to have had several primary caretakers. Both groups of aggressive patients engaged in three types of aggressive behavior with equal frequency and were strikingly similar on a host of other variables. Only the number of primary caretakers with whom a patient had lived discriminated self- from other-directed aggressive patients; patients who experienced frequent disruptions in caretaking were likely to engage in acts of self-injury during hospitalization.
Conclusions: Whether a particular patient will engage in aggressive behavior during hospitalization can be accurately predicted from preadmission characteristics; however, the manner in which a patient is likely to aggress, i.e., toward others or self, is difficult to predict because of striking similarities between types of aggressive patients. Further investigations are needed to determine how self- and other-directed aggressive patients differ and to elucidate relationships between disrupted, unstable, or inadequate caretaking and aggression, particularly self-injury, in children and adolescents.