During the late ’60s and early ’70s, psychologist and Stanford University professor David Rosenhan wanted to test the reliability and validity of psychiatric diagnoses.
Along with seven of his associates he referred to as “pseudopatients,” Rosenhan began calling multiple psychiatric hospitals to make appointments under fake names as part of what would later be known as the Rosenhan experiment. None of these people — including a psychology graduate student, three psychologists, a pediatrician, a psychiatrist, a painter, and a housewife — had any history of mental illness, but they pretended to be experiencing auditory hallucinations.
In the first part of the study, they were all admitted to 12 different hospitals across the U.S., and nearly all of them were diagnosed with schizophrenia “in remission” before they were released. What’s more alarming is how they were treated during their stays.
In their initial psychiatric assessments, Rosenhan and the others said they were hearing voices that seemed be saying the words “empty”, “dull”, and “thud.” After they were admitted, they acted like their normal selves and told staff that they weren’t experiencing any more hallucinations.
But despite their sane behavior, seven of them were diagnosed with schizophrenia and one was diagnosed with manic-depressive psychosis even though they all claimed to have the same symptoms. Their average stay was 19 days, with some staying up to 52 days.
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