The Rosenhan experiment was a famous experiment into the validity of psychiatric diagnosis conducted by David Rosenhan in 1972. It was published in the journal Science under the title “On being sane in insane places”.
Rosenhan’s study consisted of two parts. The first involved the use of healthy associates or ‘pseudopatients’, who briefly simulated auditory hallucinations in an attempt to gain admission to 12 different psychiatric hospitals in 5 different states in various locations in the United States. The second involved asking staff at a psychiatric hospital to detect non-existent ‘fake’ patients. In the first case hospital staff failed to detect a single pseudopatient, in the second the staff falsely detected large numbers of genuine patients as impostors. The study is considered an important and influential criticism of psychiatric diagnosis.
The study concluded “It is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals” and also illustrated the dangers of depersonalization and labelling in psychiatric institutions. It suggested that the use of community mental health facilities which concentrated on specific problems and behaviors rather than psychiatric labels might be a solution and recommended education to make psychiatric workers more aware of the social psychology of their facilities.