Violence in psychiatric patients: the role of psychosis, frontal lobe impairment, and ward turmoil

Compr Psychiatry. 1997 Jul-Aug;38(4):230-6. doi: 10.1016/s0010-440x(97)90031-6.


The purpose of the study was to identify psychiatric symptoms, neurological impairments, and situational factors associated with the emergence of violence and with its persistence. Psychiatric symptoms were assessed in newly admitted physically assaultive psychiatric patients and nonviolent controls. Patients were than evaluated for 4 weeks to determine the persistence or resolution of these physical assaults. Patients who showed marked resolution of assaults were classified as transiently violent (n = 41), and those who remained assaultive throughout were categorized as persistently violent (n = 34). At the end of 4 weeks, all patients received a comprehensive psychiatric and neurological assessment. Physical assaults were associated initially with prominent positive psychotic symptoms. Both transiently and persistently violent patients were more psychotic than the nonviolent controls; however transiently violent patients showed better resolution of these symptoms over the 4 weeks. They also evidenced less frontal lobe impairment on the neurological examination than the persistently violent patients. The two violent groups differed in their susceptibility to environmental influences: the surrounding ward agitation fostered physical assaults in transiently but not in persistently violent patients. This differentiation between transiently and persistently violent patients has major implications for the comprehensive treatment of violent behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior / complications*
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiopathology
  • Inpatients / classification*
  • Inpatients / psychology
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychotic Disorders / complications*
  • Social Environment*
  • Violence* / classification
  • Violence* / psychology
  • Violence* / statistics & numerical data