Faking mental disturbance to test the system

“In 1972, David Rosenhan, a newly minted psychologist with a joint degree in law, called eight friends and said something like, “Are you busy next month? Would you have time to fake your way into a mental hospital and see what happens?”

When David Rosenhan first presented to the psychiatrist he complained of a voice in his head that simply said ‘thud’. After some simple test he was admitted and kept in the institution for weeks, despite immediately telling his doctor that the voice had now disappeared. How could it be so simple to fool a professional? Back in 1972 Rosenhan’s report of his experiences scandalised the psychiatric profession.

Inspired by Rosenhan, psychologist Lauren Slater repeated the experiment recently and her conclusions were only marginally less disturbing.

A summary of Rosenhan’s research. Rosenhan’s original article in full. Review of Lauren Slater’s book.

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 31 January 2004

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