Rosenhan Experiment 1972

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Rosenhan experiment 1972
Aim: Was to test the hypothesis that psychiatrists cannot reliably tell the difference between people
who are sane and those who are insane.
The study actually consisted of two parts.
The first involved the use of healthy associates or "pseudo patients," who briefly simulated
auditory hallucinations in an attempt to gain admission to 12 different psychiatric institutions
in five different states in the United States.
This involved participant observation, since, once admitted, the pseudo-patients kept written
records of how the ward as a whole operated, as well as how they personally were treated.
The pseudo patients spent time writing notes about their observations. Initially this was done
secretly although as it became clear that no one was bothered the note taking was done
more openly.
The second involved asking staff at a psychiatric hospital to detect non-existent "fake"
In the first case hospital staff failed to detect a single pseudo patient, in the second the staff
falsely identified large numbers of genuine patients as imposters.
The pseudo patients' normal behaviours were often seen as aspects of their supposed illness.
For example, nursing records for three of the pseudo patients showed that their writing was
seen as an aspect of their pathological behaviour.
In four of the hospitals the pseudo patients carried out an observation of behaviour of staff
towards patients that illustrate the experience of being hospitalised on a psychiatric ward. The
results were compared with a university study. In the university study, nearly all the requests
were acknowledged and responded to unlike the psychiatric hospital where the pseudo
patients were treated as if they were invisible.
The main experiment illustrated a failure to detect sanity, and the secondary study
demonstrated a failure to detect insanity.
Even after admission, none of the pseudo patients were identified as imposters by the
hospital staff, although other psychiatric patients seemed to be able to correctly identify
them as imposters. In the first three hospitalisations notes remarks made by patients to
pseudo patients were kept and 35 of the total of 118 patients expressed a suspicion that
pseudo patients were sane.
For the second part of the study, Rosenhan arranged with a well-known research and teaching
hospital that during a three month period, one or more pseudo patients would attempt to
gain admission and the staff would rate every incoming patient as to the likelihood they were
an imposter. Out of 193 patients, 41 were considered to be imposters and a further 42 were
considered suspect. In reality, Rosenhan had sent no pseudo patients and all patients
suspected as imposters by the hospital staff were genuine patients.
Advantages of this study: Studies by other researchers found similarly problematic diagnostic
Criticisms of this study: The participants were actually associates of Rosenhan selected to be a
group of varied and healthy individuals.


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