Self-directed aggressive behaviors of human beings show a 24h pattern. The aim of this study was to evaluate if violence of psychiatric inpatients against one another and hospital staff varies over the 24h. The clock time occurrence of 334 episodes of assault behaviors by 119 psychiatric inpatients (78 males and 41 females, mean age 34.8+/-11.3 years) committed during a 5-year span in the psychiatric unit of the university-based hospital of Ferrara, Italy, was evaluated. The clock time of each event was categorized by hour during the 24h and into one of four 6h intervals for analysis of temporal variation by cosinor and chi2 tests, respectively. A significant 24h variation, characterized by an early afternoon peak, was detected irrespective of gender and number (single vs. repeated) of episodes committed. Changes during the 24h in ward activity, patient contact, and endogenous circadian rhythms are likely to contribute to the observed 24h pattern, although further study is needed to confirm our findings and to define causal factors.