19 January 2019

19th January 1973 - Being Sane in Insane Places

On 19th January 1973 - David Rosenhan's article On Being Sane in Insane Places was published in the journal Science.

Psychologist, Rosenheim, and six other volunteers, claimed to have heard voices and after admittance to a mental hospital behaved normally and said .they no longer heard voices. It took between 7 to 52 days for them to be allowed out. Rosenheim claimed that the staff could not tell normal from abnormal behaviour, and would label normal behaviour such as writing behaviour as a sign of the condition. Also Rosenheim noted that staff spent very little time with patients.

This study  followed  criticisms of psychiatry by R. D. Laing and others, and became part of the anti-psychiatry movement and was often cited in introductory psychology books.

The hospitals complained that anybody could claim symptoms in any medical field to fool doctors, and challenged Rosenheim to do the study again. They would detect the imposters. In a second study Rosenheim sent no volunteers but the hospitals detected patients they thought were imposters.

The study highlighted not only the difficulty in the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions, but also how psychiatric labels once applied could become self-fulfilling.

Thankyou to Today in Psychology History for the date, and for two blogs On the Rosenheim Experiment and On Being Sane in Insane Places for more details.

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