Approximately 40 years ago, psychologist David Rosenhan conducted a daring experiment.1 He and seven confederates presented themselves for psychiatric evaluation at several psychiatric institutions, with each claiming to hear voices that said “empty,” “hollow,” or “thud.” All eight were subsequently admitted to the hospitals in all but one case with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Once entry was gained, each was instructed to tell hospital staff that he or she felt better, and desired to be discharged.
In reality, of course, neither Rosenhan nor his confederates were hearing voices or having any symptoms of mental illness. None had any psychiatric history whatsoever, in fact.
Rosenhan’s experiment sought to determine just how long it would take for the psychiatric experts in a hospital setting to figure out that the pseudopatients were not mentally ill. The results were alarming. The pseudopatients were not easily detected – in fact they were never detected to be pseudopatients
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