Critically Assessing Rosenhan

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Question: With reference to alternative evidence, critically assess Rosenhan’s (1973) research ‘On being sane in insane places’. David Rosenhan (1973) asked the now-famous question ‘If sanity and insanity exist, how shall we know them?’ Rosenhan did not suggest that there is no such thing as deviant or odd behaviour, nor that ‘mental illness’ is not associated with personal anguish. However he did raise an important question about whether the diagnosis of insanity is based on characteristics of patients themselves or merely the context in which patient is seen. Rosenhan aimed to investigate whether psychiatrists could distinguish between people who are generally insane/mentally ill and those who are seen as ‘sane/normal’. He argued that the question that weather the person is mentally ill or whether it is the specific context in which we see that person can be investigated by getting ‘normal’ people (people who have never had serious psychiatric symptoms) to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital and if the ‘pseudopatients’ were diagnosed as sane, this would show that the sane individual can be distinguished from the insane context in which they are found. On the other hand if the pseudopatients were diagnosed as insane, then it shows that it is the context rather than the person them self that determines the diagnosis. Rosenhan used pseudopatients that consisted of five men and three women of various ages and occupations (e.g. student, housewife and painter) and including Rosenhan himself they attempted to gain admission to 12 different hospitals in five different states in the USA. They gained admission by claiming different symptoms that would link to mental illness for example hearing voices saying words such as ‘empty’ ‘hollow’ and ‘thud’. They gained admission and once admitted they were told to behave as normal the same as they would in everyday life. They spent their time talking to...
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