How is the Rosenhan experiment viewed in modern psychiatry?

I find it very interesting as relates to bias and the pathologizing of everyday behaviour(the pseudopatients note taking being seen as a symptom).

Also interesting is the idea that what you are diagnosed with depends on the hospital and doctors you see.

And since this study was done a LOT has changed, but certainly pathologizing everyday behaviour has accelerated to the point psychologist Christopher Moeller can say not having a facebook account is the sign of a psychopath.

How does modern psychology view these experiments?

Definitely, I’d like an update on this too!

Funny thing: I swear to Og, when that experiment was controversially in the news in the first place, I thought it was done by Zimbardo!

From all that I can tell, psychiatric or psychological diagnoses are a crapshoot. The tendency is to just give some very knee-jerk broad-brush diagnosis. Like, you get a 15-minute interview, then you’re labeled as
(a) “depressed” or
(b) “anxiety disorder” or
© “OCD” or
(d) all of the above.

and then they start throwing pills at you until one of them either
(a) cures you or
(b) kills you
whichever comes first.

If you are seriously enough disturbed that you need to be taken in for “observation”, the “common knowledge” is that you dare not express annoyance at this, as it will only confirm your pathological inability to manage anger. Or something like that.

Not that I have any experience quite like that (yet). Some years ago I realized, in retrospect, that I had come very close to having that experience. Can somebody chime in here with some ignorance-fighting? Is there anything to the popular horror stories like this? Or have I just been re-reading One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest a little too much?

But, to stick to the topic: Yes, I’d like to see some update on Rosenhan too.

If it were Zimbardo, he’d make sure to let everyone know about how groundbreaking it is.

If modern psychiatric drugs kill you, then you need to decrease intake by 1000%.

I’ve never heard of this and it sounds interesting. I don’t know if this instituted any changes in psychiatry. The fact that it took some months to get out and they had to lie is frightening. I think “Kafkaesque” would be appropriate.

Criticisms I would make for it are: it’s not a true experiment. There are no experimental conditions (like send fakers and real schizophrenics in), and it probably has many confounds if it were experimental.

Well, the facilities were presumably admitting real patients (probably including schizophrenics) at the same time as the fakes. While not precisely a control group, that does provide some baseline to compare the treatment of the fakes against.

I agree that the results are disturbing, if not terribly surprising.

This is a plot point in an episode of Lou Grant. Rossi (played by Robert Walden) is investigating the treatment of patients at a psychiatric hospital. He is admitted and disappears while the rest of the newsroom staff try to find him. They find him in the psych hospital, stoned on drugs. When they go through his desk, they find a note about Rosenhan’s study. I think you can find the episode on Hulu; it’s where I saw it.

I thought I was the only one that remembered that.

Yeah, but who would share that information? Were the “patients” hanging around the front desk? And although much less likely, how would they know if some of the people not involved were fakes?

It would presumably only take some legwork to determine if the real patients were released at the same rate as the fakes, and it might have been possible to arrange interviews with a sample once they were out. Also the fake patients interacted with the real patients and took notes. The latter method is shaky, at best, as science, but it’s still information.

I’m not suggesting that the experiment was at all rigorous, just that it does provide some basis for comparison. I don’t know how you’d design a rigorous experiment along these lines without running into serious ethical issues.


This guy’s some outlandish quack, right? No one seriously believes that. Please tell me no one believes that.

Here is the source article, the English translation is pretty rough though.

Here is a English language overview.

James Holmes’s lack of “internet presence” was frequently commented on by the television talking heads.

The book Opening Skinner’s Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the Twentieth Century (’s+box) discusses the Rosenhan experiment, and offers an updated look both at the current perception of the eperiment and the current state of psychogical admissions. There’s a description in the amazon review.

The original study scared the crap out of me when I first learned about it. (One of my early interests was Psychology, but after a few classes I decided it wasn’t for me.)

And now I go and learn I’m psychopath! (no Facebook account here.)

Khadaji - You could’ve just asked up, we’d’ve told you about your psychopathology. Dopers are just helpful that way.


Any responsible psych*ist wil not reach a diagnosis in 15 minutes.

Two years ago, when I was 28, I finally got up the nerve to ask my GP about a referral for ADHD* testing. Sure, he spent just a few minutes asking me why I thought I may have it, but after that, he gave me a referral and contact info for several different psychologists so i could set up my appointments.

To receive a diagnosis, I had to:

  • Meet with a psychologist 3-5 separate times (an hour each) so she could not only get my history but also observe me over multiple sessions.

  • Take home questionnaires about my behaviors, tendencies etc to fill out, one for me and one for my husband, which we were to fill out privately and not discuss until after the next appointment.

  • When the psychologist felt confident in her diagnosis that I did indeed have ADHD (Inattentive),

  • I had to set up an appointment with a psychiatrist, to whom she sent her documentation and evaluation.

  • The psychiatrist then evaluated me for about 60-90 minutes.

Only at that point did I get an official diagnosis.

I hear of people who get anti anxiety/antidepressant/ADHD medication after just asking about it, but I didn’t experience that. Perhaps some GPs don’t want to bother with a referral and just prescribe a med to see if it helps. If so, that’s not the psych*ists’ fault.

  • As an aside, there is no “ADD” anymore, strictly speaking. The terminology has evolved to ADHD with specific types: hyperactive (physically hyperactive), inattentive (mentally hyperactive) or combined (a mixture of the previous two). So a kid who would’ve been described as having both ADD and ADHD a decade ago would now likely be diagnosed as ADHD Combined.

From my experience, a diagnosis is very hard to come by–with the possible exception of depression.

What happens is you present with symptoms. You’ve only given a few minutes with the doctor, so what is he going to do? Use the time to ask you a trillion questions and work out a complex algorithm in his head? Or write you a prescription for medication for the symptoms you are presenting with and hope for the best?

On my chart, for the longest time, I only had one diagnosis. But if you’d looked at the list of medications I had tried, you would have thought I had eleventy billion different disorders.

I am sure some 15 minute diagnoses happen, but I think they are more uncommon than the Internet would have you think. I am a psychologist, and what may look like just a series of questions to you is following a diagnosis tree to me. Plus I am observing, and comparing what I see to the data bank in my head.

See, I gather from this, that you have had access to psych*ists who are actually getting paid (by you or insurance or somebody) to do their jobs.

Contrast the poor HMO members, or Medicare or Medicaid schmucks who get (and this only if they’re lucky) only perfunctory assembly-line one-size-fits-all medical care, including psych* care. Consider the example you pointed out yourself: No more ADD, but a variety of more specific higher-resolution diagnoses. But with the quick-and-dirty style care, you’d just get a superficial evaluation (nothing like what you described!) followed by a generic AD* diagnosis and a bottle of pills. Just take two at bedtime, and if you’re still alive in the morning, you needn’t call back.

I’ll give a shred of credit to my HMO, however: Pills aren’t their first choice of treatment, they seem to be the second choice. First of all, after your 15-minute initial interview and a rough diagnosis, you get steered into “group therapy”, which in this HMO seems to mean some kind of superficial CBT indoctrination bullshit.

(BTW, before the full SDMB pounces, I’ll say: I’m not so sure if CBT is worthwhile or total BS, only that I’ve only experienced it in “group therapy” as done at this HMO, which I’m sure was vastly worse than total BS. I got one remark from even sven several months ago that seemed to suggest it could be useful in 1-on-1 talk therapy, but I haven’t had that pleasure.)