The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis that psychiatrists cannot reliably tell the difference between people who are mentally stable and those who are mentally unstable.
8 mentally stable people were granted admission into 12 different hospitals. They all told the same story of how they would hear a voice inside their head, it was unclear but often said “empty”, “hollow” and “thud”.
Right after they were admitted, the patients stopped showing any signs of abnormality. They took part in activities and talked to faculty and other patients as they would normally.
None of the psychiatrists ever stopped to say “I think they are getting better” or “they seem absolutely fine now” In fact, nurses and psychiatrists took normal activity such as walking or writing and attempted to represent it as a form of pathological behavior.
For example, staff would point to patients waiting outside the lunchroom as a form of oral-acquisitive syndrome, when really they were just bored and were anticipating their meal.
It’s interesting to note that even though staff didn’t recognize that these people were completely fine, patients recognized that they didn’t seem to have any problems.
This study highlights how powerful labels can be.
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i think it’s also interesting to mention that after David Rosenhan exposed the results of his experiment, psychiatric wards were outraged. they then challenged him to send another batch of perfectly healthy individuals, boasting that this time, they would accurately find every single one. Rosenhan agreed.
a month or so after the claim, one of the hospitals proudly stated they had found an average of 40 fake patients.
Rosenhan then revealed he never sent any.