Rosenhan's Pseudopatient Study

Photo: Ed Souza/Stanford News ServiceForty years ago today, Science published David Rosenhan's "On Being Sane in Insane Places."

The article recounts an experiment where Rosenhan and seven others (including psychologist Martin Seligman when he was a graduate student), were admitted to 12 psychiatric hospitals over a three year period. 

Their only symptom being that they heard voices saying, "empty," "hollow," "thud." After admittance, they acted normally and waited for doctors and staff to detect their sanity, but no one did. The average stay was 19 days. Everyone was released with diagnoses "in remission," rather than a clean bill of health.

While the design and usefulness of the research has been criticized, the study continues to be cited for its impact on diagnostic criteria and the stigmatic effect of labeling, which is why Soomo included this in our interactive Psychology assignment, "On Being Sane in Insane Places." We paired the study with the BBC's Mind Changers podcast, which interviews Rosenhan's colleagues and surveys his personal papers from the time. 

Rosenhan passed away last year at the age of 82. 

in disorders , research