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Attitudes towards self-poisoning were investigated in 80 psychiatric patients, half of whom themselves had previously taken overdoses. They were asked to comment about self-poisoners in general, and on 4 specific cases in particular. In addition to motives spontaneously suggested they were asked to choose from a list of alternative motives in explaining each case. The subjects who had previously taken overdoses differed from the rest in seeing such behaviour as more often due to a disturbed state of mind and less often an expression of hostility. Both groups tended to see self-poisoners as mentally ill; and, unless they were offered a 'vocabulary' of goal-directed motives, they tended to see the behaviour as a reaction to events (i.e. expressive) rather than goal-oriented (i.e. instrumental). The implications of these findings are discussed.

Original publication




Journal article


British Journal of Psychiatry

Publication Date





31 - 35