David Rosenhan

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David Rosenhan
David L. Rosenhan

(1929-11-22)22 November 1929
Died6 February 2012(2012-02-06) (aged 82)
Alma mater
Known forRosenhan experiment
Scientific career
InstitutionsSwarthmore College, Princeton University, Haverford College, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University
ThesisSome perceptual correlates of anxiety (1958)

David L. Rosenhan (/ˈrznən/; November 22, 1929 – February 6, 2012)[1] was an American psychologist. He is best known for the Rosenhan experiment, a study challenging the validity of psychiatry diagnoses.[2]


Rosenhan received his Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics in 1951 from Yeshiva College, his master's degree in economics in 1953 and his doctorate in psychology in 1958, both from Columbia University.[1] As further described in his obituary published by the American Psychological Association (APA), "Rosenhan was a pioneer in applying psychological methods to the practice of law, including the examination of expert witnesses, jury selection, and jury deliberation."[1] He was a professor of law and of psychology at Stanford University from 1971 until his retirement in 1998. Before joining the Stanford Law School faculty, he was a member of the faculties of Swarthmore College, Princeton University, Haverford College, and the University of Pennsylvania.[3] He also served as a research psychologist at the Educational Testing Service.[1] He later became a professor emeritus in law and psychology at Stanford University.[4] Rosenhan was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and various psychological societies, including the APA,[1] and had been a visiting fellow at Wolfson College at Oxford University.[5]

Rosenhan died on February 6, 2012, at the age of 82.[4]


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.[6]

In 1973, Rosenhan published "On Being Sane in Insane Places",[7] which describes what is now called the Rosenhan experiment. In this study report, Rosenhan uses "hard labeling"[clarification needed] to argue that mental illnesses are manifested solely as a result of societal influence.[citation needed] The study experiments arranged for eight individuals with no history of psychopathology to attempt admission into twelve psychiatric hospitals, all with an aim for and subsequent admission with diagnoses of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.[8] The report goes on to describe psychiatrists then attempting to treat the individuals using psychiatric medications; all eight were described as being self-discharged within 7 to 52 days, with an average stay of 19 days, after having stated that they accepted their diagnosis.[8] Later,[when?] a research and teaching hospital challenged Rosenhan to run a similar experiment involving its own diagnosis and admission procedures, where psychiatric staff were warned that at least one pseudo-patient might be sent to their institution.[citation needed] In that study, 41 out of 193 new patients were believed by at least one staff member to be actors; in fact, Rosenhan reports having sent no actors.[8] From the results of his experiment, Rosenhan concluded that, "It is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals."[8] Thus, that existing forms of diagnosis were grossly inaccurate in distinguishing individuals without mental disorders from those with mental disorders, a conclusion that resulted in an explosion of controversy.[citation needed]

The Rosenhan experiment can be described as addressing the relationship between psychiatric and medical diagnoses and labeling theory,[according to whom?] theorising that deviance is a product of external judgements, or labels, that can modify an individual's self-identity and change the way others respond to the labeled person.[according to whom?][citation needed] In this description, by negatively labeling those seen as deviant from standard cultural norms, the behavior of individuals may be adjusted to coincide with the terms used to describe them.[citation needed] In short, by actively labeling certain acts as deviant and others as normal, distinct stereotypes are created.[according to whom?][citation needed]

Criticism of research[edit]

External videos
video icon Q&A interview with Susannah Cahalan on The Great Pretender, November 10, 2019, C-SPAN

In a 2019 book on Rosenhan by author Susannah Cahalan, The Great Pretender, the veracity and validity of the Rosenhan experiment was questioned; Cahalan argues that Rosenhan never published further work on the experiment's data, nor did he deliver on a book on it that he had promised. Moreover, she presents her inability to find the experiment's subjects, save two—a Stanford graduate student who had experiences similar to Rosenhan's, and one whose positive psychiatric hospital experience was excluded from the published results.[9] As noted by Alison Abbott in a review of the book in the journal Nature, Kenneth J. Gergen, a Stanford University colleague stated that "some people in the department called him a bullshitter', a conclusion with which Cahalan appeared to be in agreement, although, Abbott writes, "[s]he cannot be completely certain that Rosenhan cheated. But she is confident enough to call her engrossing, dismaying book The Great Pretender."[10]

Further pseudo-patient studies in the vein of Rosenhan have met with significant methodologic and other concerns.[11][12]


  • David L. Rosenhan (1953). Consumer Subsidies as a Counter-cycle Measure.
  • David L. Rosenhan; Silvan S. Tomkins (1964). On Preference for Hypnosis and Hypnotizability. Educational Testing Service.
  • David L. Rosenhan; Samuel Messick (1964). Affect and Expectation. Educational Testing Service.
  • David L. Rosenhan (1966). Double Alternation in Children's Binary Choice Responses. Educational Testing Service.
  • David L. Rosenhan (1966). Aloness and Togetherness as Drive Conditions in Children.
  • David L. Rosenhan (1968). Some Origins of Concern for Others. Educational Testing Service.
  • David L. Rosenhan; William Ross Ashby (1968). Foundations of abnormal psychology. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 9780030561603.
  • Christopher Peterson; David L. Rosenhan; Lisa M. Bossio; Martin E. P. Seligman (1989). Casebook and Study Guide, Abnormal Psychology. W W Norton & Company Incorporated. ISBN 978-0393956986.
  • David L. Rosenhan (1998). Abnormality-Trans. W. W. Norton, Incorporated. ISBN 978-0393972405.
  • Rosenhan DL (August 1962). "Naysaying and the California Psychological Inventory". Journal of Consulting Psychology. 26 (4): 382–383. doi:10.1037/h0043264. PMID 14494017.
  • Rosenhan DL (September 1966). "Effects of social class and race on responsiveness to approval and disapproval". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 4 (3): 253–259. doi:10.1037/h0023703. PMID 5969153.
  • Rosenhan DL (October 1975). "The contextual nature of psychiatric diagnosis". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 84 (5): 462–474. doi:10.1037/h0077123. PMID 1194507.


  1. ^ a b c d e Ross L, Kavanagh D (September 2013). "David L. Rosenhan (1929-2012)" (PDF). The American Psychologist. 68 (6): 469. doi:10.1037/a0032245. PMID 24016118.
  2. ^ "SLS News | Stanford Law School Mourns the Loss of David L. Rosenhan, Professor of Law & Psychology, Emeritus". Blogs.law.stanford.edu. 2012-02-16. Archived from the original on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2012-03-15.
  3. ^ His position at the University of Pennsylvania was as a lecturer.[citation needed]
  4. ^ a b Romero, Judith (February 16, 2012). "Stanford Law School Mourns the Loss of David L. Rosenhan, Professor of Law & Psychology, Emeritus". SLS News. Stanford Law School (SLS). Archived from the original on 2012-03-05. Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  5. ^ "Guide to the David L. Rosenhan Papers". oac.cdlib.org. Retrieved 2022-09-29.
  6. ^ Michael Eysenck (2004). Psychology: An International Perspective. Taylor & Francis. pp. 794–799. ISBN 978-1841693613. Archived from the original on 2016-01-11. Retrieved 2015-06-20.
  7. ^ Rosenhan, D.L. (January 19, 1973). "On Being Sane in Insane Places". Science. 179 (4070): 250–258. Bibcode:1973Sci...179..250R. doi:10.1126/science.179.4070.250. PMID 4683124. S2CID 146772269. Archived from the original on February 12, 2009. Retrieved November 10, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d Rosenhan, D. L. (1973-01-19). "On Being Sane in Insane Places". Science. 179 (4070): 250–258. Bibcode:1973Sci...179..250R. doi:10.1126/science.179.4070.250. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 4683124.
  9. ^ "Review: 'The Great Pretender,' by Susannah Cahalan". Star Tribune. Archived from the original on 2019-11-03. Retrieved 2019-11-03.
  10. ^ Abbott, Alison (29 October 2019). "On the troubling trail of psychiatry's pseudopatients stunt". Nature. 574 (7780): 622–623. Bibcode:2019Natur.574..622A. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-03268-y. 'But some people in the department called him a bullshitter,' Kenneth Gergen says. And through her deeply researched study, Cahalan seems inclined to agree with them.
  11. ^ Spitzer, Robert L. (October 1975). "On pseudoscience in science, logic in remission, and psychiatric diagnosis: A critique of Rosenhan's "On being sane in insane places"". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 84 (5): 442–452. doi:10.1037/h0077124. ISSN 1939-1846. PMID 1194504.
  12. ^ Lilienfeld, Scott; Spitzer, Robert; Miller, Michael (November 11, 2005). "A Response to a Nonresponse to Criticisms of a Nonstudy: One Humorous and One Serious Rejoinder to Slater". The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 193 (11): 745–746. doi:10.1097/01.nmd.0000185884.74792.6d. PMID 16260930. S2CID 13523722. Archived from the original on September 27, 2019. Retrieved November 11, 2019 – via insights.ovid.com.

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