In 1973, sociologist David Rosenhan sought to examine how difficult it would be for people to shed the “mentally ill” label. As you know from your text (page 65) and the video clip (Dr. Rosenhan’s article is also in the Content section under “Interesting Links”) the pseudopatients did not exhibit any symptoms after admission to the hospital. Ironically, their sanity was not detected by hospital staff, but it was detected by the actual patients in the hospitals. At no time during their stay in the hospital was the legitimacy of their schizophrenic label questioned. It was simply assumed that they were schizophrenic, and everything the pseudopatients did and said while in the mental institutions was understood from this premise. Rosenhan concluded that the staff were doing their jobs as designed and made no conscious effort to misconstrue the evidence.
The moral is that psychiatric labels are so powerful that they can profoundly affect the way information is processed and perceived. Had the same behaviors been observed in a different context, they no doubt would have been interpreted in an entirely different fashion.
Discuss the role of context in influencing our interpretations of abnormal behavior. Also please discuss your views on the stigma of mental illness – is it changing? What are some of the benefits of labeling – giving a diagnosis?
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