Being Sane in Insane Places: The Rosenhan experiment

Day Hospital (Luca Rossato: fotografo) Click to enlarge.

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The Marketing of the President

You can tell a lot from a face

Contrasting poems on the balance between living and dying

All are titles of recent posts. A common thread is, How do we know what is emotionally real? How can we tell?

And then, last night when I was cleaning my fridge (or at least its door) this came on the World Service: The Rosenhan Experiment (this link is to a 10 minute podcast.) Here is the written introduction:

In 1969 an American psychologist called David Rosenhan put psychiatrists to the test.

He and several volunteers had themselves admitted to psychiatric hospitals, although they were perfectly sane.

They then waited for the doctors to notice their normal behaviour.

You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out what happened. The bottom line, however, is that it is more difficult than one might think to know what is emotionally real, to distinguish between the sane and the insane. Perhaps we’re all just ‘sane enough’.

A 30minute podcast by Claudia Hammond on the Rosenhan’s study is here.

Rosenhan’s famous paper: On Being Sane in Insane Places (pdf). Science, vol. 179, no. 4070, 1973, pp. 250-258.

Psychiatrists were very upset by Rosenhan’s paper. They will say that it’s all different now and this would never happen again.

But what do you think?

[To give you some ideas, a discussion forum on this question is here.]

A psychiatrist responds:

Spitzer, Robert L. “On Pseudoscience in Science, Logic in Remission, and Psychiatric Diagnosis: A Critique of Rosenhan’s “On Being Sane in Insane Places” Journal of Abnormal Psychiatry.” 1975, Vol. 84, No. 5: 442–452.

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