To test Laing's criticisms of mental health, Rosenhan formed a group of 8 participants, including himself (referred to as "pseudopatients") to try and get admitted to mental hospitals and see how long it took medical staff to realise they were healthy.
i'm fine, can I go?
not yet, only when you're better...
In order to get admitted, the pseudopatients had to attend a clinical interview at their chosen hospital to be diagnosed. All of them reported the same symptoms: hearing a voice repeat the words 'empty', 'hollow' and 'thud'.
you finally seem to be healthy, now you can go
All of the 8 pseudopatients were admitted to mental hospitals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Even by the vague standards of DSM-II, they shouldn't have been diagnosed with this, so this is a false positive.
When they were admitted, they started behaving normally and stopped reporting to hear voices. They requested to be discharged and secretly disposed of any medication they were given. They also recorded what they heard and saw while there.
None of the staff recognised that the pseudopatients were actually healthy. It took between 7 and 52 days for them to be discharged; the mean length of stay was 19 days.
Rosenhan concluded that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals and refers to mental health diagnoses as "labels" which are attached to patients. His study shows that these labels are often wrongly given and claims that labels, once attached, are very hard to change or remove.