Rosenhan's Study: On Being Sane In Insane Places (+ follow up study)

A detailed description of both of Rosenhan's studies

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Rosenhan's Study: On being sane in insane places
Aim: The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that psychiatrists cannot reliably tell the difference
between people who are sane and those who are insane.
Rosenhan appointed himself and seven other mentally healthy associates `pseudopatients' to
participate in the experiment
They each called separate psychiatric hospitals and gained admission by feigning `auditory
hallucinations', theirs being of the same sex as themselves, and the noises being voices saying
`empty, hollow and thud'. These symptoms were chosen because they did not clearly resemble any
of an existing psychiatric disease, but held similarities.
The pseudo patients gave a false name and job (to protect their future health and employment
records), but all other details they gave were true including general ups and downs of life,
relationships, events of life history etc.
Once all being admitted to the psychiatric ward (all but one under the diagnosis of Schizophrenia),
the patients subsequently started to act `normal and healthy', without presenting any of the
symptoms that brought on their diagnosis. However, Rosenhan did note that all of the patients
seemed nervous, most likely because of their fear of being exposed as a fraud and the unfamiliar
situation they were now in.
Their aim was to convince all the staff that they were fine and no longer experienced symptoms, in
order to get themselves discharged as soon as possible.
None of the pseudo patients were detected (although many of the other patients suspected their
sanity 35 out of the 118 patients voiced their suspicions) and were eventually discharged with a
diagnosis of 'schizophrenia in remission' This diagnosis was made without one clear symptom of
this disorder.
They remained in hospital for 7 to 52 days (average 19 days)
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.
Rosenhan noted that there is an enormous overlap in the behaviours of the sane and the insane, for
example all human beings experience low moods sometimes, but inside a psychiatric hospital this
emotion can be interpreted as a case of severe depression etc.
Second Study
In the secondary study, the staff of a teaching and research hospital (who were aware of the first study)
were falsely informed that during the next three months one or more pseudo patients would attempt to be
admitted into their hospital. Staff members were asked to rate on a 10point scale each new patient as to
the likelihood of them being a pseudo patient (in reality, Rosenhan had sent no pseudo patients and all
patients suspected as imposters by the hospital staff were genuine patients.)
Number of patients judged: 193

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Number of patients positively judged as being a pseudo patient by at least one staff member: 47
Number of patients positively suspected by one psychiatrist: 23
Number of patients positively suspected by one psychiatrist and one other staff member: 19
Rosenhan claims that the study demonstrates that psychiatrists cannot reliably tell the difference
between people who are sane and those who are insane.
The main experiment illustrated a failure to detect sanity, and the secondary study demonstrated a
failure to detect insanity.…read more


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