The Rosenhan Experiment and its implications

The Rosenhan Experiment and its implications

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It is known by the name of Rosenhan experiment to the investigation carried out by David Rosenhan between 1968 and 1972, where he intended to demonstrate that the psychiatric analysis carried out then in the mental institutions of the United States. had major failures that worsened patients' mental health.


  • 1 What was the Rosenhan experiment?
  • 2 What did this experiment teach us?
  • 3 The reaction of psychiatrists

What was the Rosenhan experiment?

The Rosenhan experiment It was designed to check the inefficiency of the practice of psychiatric analysis In U.S.A. in the late 70s. For the psychologist David L. Rosenhan, the institutions they were not able to distinguish the "ropes" from the "crazy", and set out to prove it.

In addition, he maintained the thesis that many of the inpatients in psychiatric institutions would improve significantly in their lives and in their condition if they were removed from a hostile and aseptic environment - like that of the institutions - and received adequate therapy.

In fact, the study stated that the professionals of these institutions were not prepared to attend with due humanity and empathy for the sick, which was antitherapeutic.

To prove his ideas, Rosenhan used a handful of volunteers of both sexes and varied professional occupations that he instructed to impersonate patients with acoustic hallucinations and will be admitted to different psychiatric hospitals.

They all got it, without exception, although they lived different experiences. Despite being pseudopatients, were diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses, and variable periods passed as internal.

In fact, even though the volunteers referred the same symptoms, the diagnoses among them were not the same, and their hospitalizations in the institutions had different durations.

Everyone returned to the street after accept the psychiatrist's diagnosis and promise that they would take their medication that they obviously did not take. The professionals in charge of the pseudo patients were not even able to realize this fact.

What did this experiment teach us?

Although not everyone suffered the same type of treatment, for Rosenhan their experiences represented sufficiently clear indications that it was necessary to humanize the therapy of psychiatric patients.

The privacy, autonomy and respect A really sick people were an anecdote in the day to day of a psychiatric hospital. Attention was reduced to a few minutes a day and, even so, some pseudo patients suffered verbal abuse by some staff members.

Rosenhan's intuitions when he carried out the experiment and the notes taken by the pseudo patients during his experience revealed the need for denounce segregation and mortification to which the true patients were subjected.

Depersonalized and helpless, the patients were labeled and referred according to their diagnoses, going through a deeply painful experience that generated feelings of abandonment.

This, Rosenhan understood, was obviously quite the opposite of what was intended with assistance, whether public or private, in mental health.

It is important to note that Rosenhan did not intend to replace the voice of patients who were real sick, but to show that, even when they had good intentions, professionals in psychiatric institutions did not treat patients in a manner consistent with the idea that they could to get better.

Moreover, his criticism went a step further: even if the pseudo patients had lied with their hallucinations, why had they continued as admitted patients so long after having claimed that they no longer had them?

The reaction of psychiatrists

With the publication of the definitive study in 1973, some managers of psychiatric hospitals Americans felt cheated and insulted, and others did not take Rosenhan's experiment seriously.

In order to demonstrate that the idea that "we are not able to distinguish the ropes from the crazy" was still a valid idea, Rosenhan challenged one of the institutions, informing his staff that in the short term several pseudo patients would try to be admitted In the institution.

During the following months, the psychiatric hospital staff carried out numerous psychiatric evaluations, and it was also allowed that each person on the staff could, individually, point to a pseudo patient.

The results were evident: of 193 admitted to the institution, 41 patients were designated as “false” by at least one member of the hospital team, 23 were labeled as doubtful patients by at least one psychiatrist and 19 were labeled by a psychiatrist and another member of the team.

Reality? Rosenhan had not sent to no fake patient. The staff professionals were simply confirming their own biases.

The Rosenhan's experiment it served to put the finger on the sore on two crucial issues: the general treatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals and the extension of diagnoses when there are no powerful reasons to do so.

In fact, the publication of the study Rosenhan It is a before and after in the reform of psychiatric diagnosis and the treatment of patients in institutions of this type.


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