In 1973, D. L. Rosenhan published a ground-breaking psychiatric study in January 19 issue of Science magazine. The article exposed a serious short-coming in the psychiatric hospitals at the time, and therefore it became very controversial. Dr. Rosenhan, a professor of psychology and law at Stanford University, designed the study to try to answer the title question: “If sanity and insanity exist, how shall we know them?”
The now famous (some offended or embarrassed psychiatrists preferred to call it “infamous”) experiment that was carried out involved 12 different psychiatric hospitals and 8 different people, mostly professionals (including the author). Each of the eight were totally and certifiably sane “pseudo-patients”.
Each one secretly gained admission to one or two different mental hospitals by falsely complaining to a psychiatrist that they had been hearing voices over the past few weeks. The “voices” in each case were saying only the three words “empty,” “hollow,” and “thud.” No visual hallucinations or other psychological abnormalities were relayed to the examining psychiatrist. Except for the fake “chief complaint”, the intake histories relayed by the patients were entirely truthful. Each “patient” was immediately admitted, much to the surprise of most of the pseudo-patients.
All but one of the admitted “patients” were given a diagnosis of “schizophrenia”. The other one was labeled “manic-depressive”. When they were discharged, the eleven had discharge diagnoses of “schizophrenia, in remission,” despite the fact that absolutely no psychotic or manic behaviors had been observed during their stays.