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Summary and Background of the Rosenhan’s Study in 1973

Summary and Background of the Rosenhan’s Study in 1973

Summary and Background of the Rosenhan’s Study in 1973

Summary and Background of the Rosenhan’s Study in 1973

Rosenhan’s 1973 study aimed to investigate the reliability of staff in psychiatric hospitals to identify the sane from the insane. He wanted to see if people who posed as mentally ill would be identified by staff in psychiatric hospitals as sane rather than insane. The participants he used had never been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Rosenhan asked eight ‘sane’ people to telephone psychiatric hospitals for urgent appointments, complaining of hearing unclear voices saying ‘thud, hollow, empty’. All eight were admitted to the hospital; all but one was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and the other with manic-depressive psychosis. Upon admission, all pseudo-patients stopped showing any symptoms and took part in ward activities.

The average length of stay was 19 days. All participants had agreed to stay until they had convinced staff they were no longer ill. On release, the pseudo-patients were given the diagnosis of schizophrenia ‘in remission’. In a second follow-up study, one hospital was told that sometime over the next three months, one or more pseudo-patients would try to be admitted, and hospital staff was asked to rate the patients who presented themselves on a scale of 1-10 on the likelihood of them being a pseudo-patient. 44% were judged by at least one member of staff to be a pseudo-patient. Rosenhan concluded that we cannot reliably distinguish the sane from the insane and that hospitalization and labelling can lead to depersonalization, powerlessness, and segregation, which are counter-therapeutic.

Student Misconceptions

Whilst the procedure in this study might seem straightforward, this is probably one of the few studies students will encounter, which is a field study. It also has elements of participant observation, as well as self-report. Rosenhan himself was one of the participants in the study and participated as a pseudo-patient. It must be stressed that the participants did not have, nor had, any mental illness previously. They changed their names, and some changed their profession (some were psychiatrists and psychologists). They all complained only once of hearing a voice saying ‘thud, empty, hollow’ but once admitted to the hospital behaved normally, apart from taking notes whilst in there.

  • Read the content above and the Rosenhan Study Article, then address the following questions. 
  • Remember to provide at least 3 to 4 sentences in your responses to the questions. 
  • Please remember that if you use a resource, use APA formatting. 

What happened if the pseudo-patients were given medication?

How did the pseudo-patients get out?

Were the other patients suspicious?

What happened during their stay in the hospital?

What happened to the pseudo-patients when they were released?

Could this happen today?

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