Magazine article Science News

Advances Reported in Predicting Violence

Magazine article Science News

Advances Reported in Predicting Violence

Article excerpt

Advances reported in predicting violence

When the courts recently decided thatpresidental assailant John Hinckley Jr. should not be allowed to lease a psychiatric hospital to visit his family, the key piece of evidence was that Hinckley had written letters to convicted serial murderer Theodore Bundy. The question remains: "If Hinckley had not written those letters, would he have been considered less dangerous to the community? Perhaps, but the fact that psychiatrists can only guess at such things points up how little is known, even among "experts'

"Psychiatrists should get out of thelegal prediction system,' says psychiatrist Antonio Convit of New York University (NYU) Medical Center in New York City. Perhaps because of the great fear of turning loose someone who will go on to assault or kill, behavioral scientists historically have erred on the side of "false positives'--predicting someone will become violent who, in actuality, does not. This has been a primary failing of hospital- and community-based predictive studies in recent years, according to Convit and others.

But Convit and his NYU colleagues nowreportviolence-prediction results that he says are among the "strongest' to date. Convit is quick to point out that the studies were done in a closed psychiatric ward, where there is little contact with outside society. Nevertheless, if this type of predictive model could be adapted to include the "risks' of the outside world, such as drugs, social stresses and homelessness, it might conceivably be applied to neighborhoods or communities, Convit suggested last week in Chicago at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

In a three-pronged study, Convit andhis colleagues first evaluated 69 patients on the "violent ward' at NYU's Manhattan Psychiatric Center and compared them with 40 nonviolent controls elsewhere in the hospital. …

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