Rosenhan received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Yeshiva University. At Columbia University in 1953 he earned his master's degree, and five years later his Ph.D in psychology. Rosenhan was a leading expert on psychology and the law. He was a pioneer in the application of psychological methods to the practice of trial law process, including jury selection and jury consultation. He was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has been a visiting fellow at Wolfson College at Oxford University. Before joining the Stanford Law School faculty in 1970, he was a member of the faculties of Swarthmore College, Princeton University, and Haverford College. He was also a research psychologist at Educational Testing Service and a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1973 Rosenhan published "On Being Sane in Insane Places", one of the most widely read articles in the field of psychology. The article details the Rosenhan experiment. The experiment arranged for eight individuals with no history of psychopathology to attempt admission into twelve psychiatric hospitals. All individuals were admitted with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Psychiatrists then attempted to treat the individuals using psychiatric medication. All eight were discharged within 7 to 52 days, but only when they had stated that they accepted their diagnosis. In a later part of the study, a research and teaching hospital challenged Rosenhan to run a similar experiment involving its own diagnosis and admission procedures. Psychiatric staff were warned that at least one pseudo-patient might be sent to their institution. 83 out of 193 new patients were believed by at least one staff member to be actors. In fact, Rosenhan sent no actors. The study concluded that existing forms of diagnosis were grossly inaccurate in distinguishing individuals without mental disorders from those with mental disorders. The paper created an explosion of controversy. Critics have questioned the validity and credibility of the study, but concede that the consistency of psychiatric diagnoses needs improvement.
Along with Martin Seligman, Rosenhan believed that there are seven main features of abnormality: suffering; maladaptiveness; vividness and unconventionality; unpredictability and loss of control; irrationality and incomprehensibility; observer discomfort; and violation of moral and ideal standards.
Professor Rosenhan held a joint appointment with the Stanford University Department of Psychology and later became professor emeritus at Stanford University. He died on February 6, 2012, at the age of 82.
- "SLS News | Stanford Law School Mourns the Loss of David L. Rosenhan, Professor of Law & Psychology, Emeritus". Blogs.law.stanford.edu. 2012-02-16. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
- Rosenhan D (1973). "On being sane in insane places". Science 179 (4070): 250–258. doi:10.1126/science.179.4070.250. PMID 4683124. http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/179/4070/250.
- Spitzer R.L., Lilienfeld S.O., Miller M.B. (2005). "Rosenhan revisited: The scientific credibility of Lauren Slater's pseudopatient diagnosis study". Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 193 (11): 734–739. PMID 16260927.
- [dead link]
- Stanford Law School Mourns the Loss of David L. Rosenhan, Professor of Law & Psychology, Emeritus, Stanford Law School (SLS) News, February 16, 2012 (downloaded March 13, 2012)
- Rosenhan, D.L. (January 19, 1973). "On Being Sane in Insane Places". Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 179 (4070): 250–258. doi:10.1126/science.179.4070.250. PMID 4683124. Retrieved 2009-08-12.