Taking control of violence against doctors

Qian Yang, Shi S. Liu, Daniel Sullivan, Adam D. Galinsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Violence against healthcare professionals is a serious but understudied global problem and one that lacks evidence-based solutions. The current research offers a novel explanation and intervention for addressing this issue: We propose that low feelings of control among patients and their family members play an important role in shaping doctor-patient relationships. To regain a sense of control, we suggest that patients attribute responsibility to doctors for their suffering, which may in turn lead to aggressive behavioural intentions against one's doctors. We conducted three studies to understand whether individuals with low perceived control blame doctors more, and whether threats to their sense of control cause participants to attribute more responsibility to doctors. Study 1 found that feelings of lack of control were an important predictor of attributing responsibility for negative illness-related incidents to doctors in a manner consistent with blame. Study 2 specified that the chaotic and unpredictable nature of illness, and not just its negative valence, is what drives attributions of increased responsibility to doctors. Study 3, which utilized a field setting in hospitals, found that an experimental intervention to increase feelings of control decreased frustration against (Study 3a/3b) and intention to harm doctors (Study 3b). These findings suggest that increasing feelings of control among patients can improve patient-doctor relationships. We also discuss the role of control and scapegoating during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-118
Number of pages20
JournalAsian Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • blaming
  • lack of control
  • patient-doctor relationship
  • psychological intervention
  • scapegoat
  • violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • General Social Sciences


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