Individual Differences - Rosenhan

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What is schizophrenia?

A serious mental disorder

Positive symptoms (+) - additional to normal behaviour, include: hallucinations, delusions and thought disorder.

Negative symptoms (-) - reduction in normal experiences or behaviour, include unusual emotional responses and lack motivation.

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Aim + Method (Main Study)


To illustrate experimentally the problems involved in determining normality and abnormality, in particular; the poor reliability of the diagnostic classification system for mental disorder at the time (as well as general doubts over it's validity)

The study actually consisted of two parts.

Method (Main Study)

  • Field experiment
  • IV = Made up symptoms of the psuedo patients
  • DV = Psychiatrist's admission and diagnostic label of the psuedo patient.
  • Participant Observation, as once admitted, the psuedo-patients kept written records of how the ward as a whole operated, as well as how they personally were treated.
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  • 8 sane people (psychology graduate in his 20s, 2 psychologists, a paediatrician, a psychiatrist, a painter and a 'housewife') attempting to gain admission to 12 different hospitals, in 5 different states in the USA.
  • 3 women + 5 men.
  • P-P's rang hospital for an appointment and complained they had been hearing voice.
  • Voice was unfamiliar and the same sex as themselves that just saud 'empty', 'hollow', 'thud'
  • P-P's given a false name and job, but all other ups and downs were their own.
  • After being admitted to ward, the P-Ps stopped any symptoms of abnormality.
  • P-P's took part in ward activities - when asked how they felt they responded that they were fine and no longer experienced symptoms.
  • Each P-P were told they had to get out by their own devices by convincing staff they were sane.
  • P-Ps spent time writing notes about their observations.
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  • All P-Ps disliked the experience and wanted to be discharged immediatley.
  • 1 one was admitted with schizophrenia and was discharged with 'schizophrenia in remission'
  • Remained in hopsital for 7 to 52 days (average 19 days).
  • Patients suspected but hospital staff didn't recognise they were fake.
  • The P-P's normal behaviours were often seen as their supposed illnes - 'writing behaviour'.
  • Rosenhan noted that experience of hospitalisation for he P-Ps was on of depersonalisation and powerlessness - medical records were open to all staff member
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The Secondary Study - Procedure + Results


  • The staff of a teaching and research hopsital, which was aware of the first study, was falsley informed that during the next three months one or more psuedo patients would attempt to be admitted into their hospital.
  • Staff members were asked to rate on a 10-point scale each new patient as to the likelihood of them being a P-P.
  • IV = false information.
  • DV = number of patients which staff subsequently suspected of being P-P's.


  • Number of patients judged - 193
  • Number of patients confidently judged as P-P by at least one member of staff - 41
  • Number of patients suspected by one psychiatrist - 23
  • Number of patients suspected by one psychiatrist AND one other staff member - 19
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Explanation + Evaluation


  • Rosenhan claims that the study demonstarted that psychiatrists cannot reliably tell the difference between people who are sane and those who are insane.


  • The PO meant that the P-Ps could experience the ward from the patient's perspective while also maintaining some degree of objectivity.


  • The hospital staff were deceived - this is, of course, unethical
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