Nisha Ghei                 Psychology

Rosenhan DL (1973):

Sane in Insane Places

(Science 179, 250-58)


Psychological diagnosis- an attempt to classify oddness in people.

-Very difficult to do                                                                                              Observers often cannot agree on a diagnosis.  Classification can lead to the carers ignoring the signs and symptoms that do not fall into the diagnostic pattern.

Benefits?  Hopefully an understanding of needs and effective treatment.

History: Greeks- senility, alcoholism, mania, melancholia, paranoia.

Kraepelin (1896)- 1st comprehensive system of psychological disorders.  He believed that diagnosis should be based on the careful observations of symptoms (like physical illness).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1952- DSM)

The Study

The definition and categorisation of abnormality is difficult and controversial.  Rosenhan asks, ‘if sanity and insanity exist, how shall we know them?’  He questions whether madness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

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Do the salient characteristics that lead to diagnosis of abnormality reside in the patients themselves, or in the environment and contexts in which observers find them?

If ‘normal’ people attempt to be admitted to psychiatric hospitals, will they be detected as being sane, and if so how?


8 ‘sane’ people: a graduate, 3 psychologists, a paediatrician, a painter, a housewife and the author.


They attempted to gain admission to 12 different hospitals in 5 different US states.  They telephoned for an appointment and arrived complaining that they had been hearing voices- unfamiliar, same sex ...

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