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Textbook fail: Rosenhan's classic "On Being Sane In Insane Places" covered without criticism

21 February 2017

A survey of abnormal psychology textbooks suggests that some give space to a classic but flawed study without offering an alternative interpretation.

A 1970s study led by psychologist David Rosenhan, "On Being Sane In Insane Places", has become one of the seminal works in its field, after the researchers presented themselves at psychiatric hospitals and were admitted due to showing signs of mild anxiety and complaining of auditory hallucinations.

Rosenhan claimed that his study showed the stigmatising power of psychiatric labels and the inability of staff to distinguish normality from supposed abnormality, but it was a study that suffered from a number of methodological issues that have been discussed by the likes of Scott Lilienfeld in his book on psychology myths.

This has not stopped Rosenhan's study from remaining a significant piece of work, however, and a new survey of 12 contemporary abnormal psych textbooks in the journal Teaching of Psychology found that half still give space to this flawed study - and only two include any criticism or alternative interpretations of it at all.

It is merely a small survey at this stage and the names of the textbooks are not divulged, but it does suggest that presenting classic but methodologically questionable studies without criticism could be an issue for psychological material.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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