2019 – 68 – psychology

Psychology: Being Sane in Insane Places

Hello friend,

Okay, the reference of ‘Being Sane in Insane Places’ is about psychiatry but the fundamental aspect holds true in a prison environment. The study I’m talking about was by D.L Rosenhan from 1973 – Google it and check it out. He set up an experiment where eight people, with no mental illness, were sent into twelve mental hospitals. Their brief was to arrive at admissions complaining that they had been hearing voices saying “empty”, “hollow”,and “thud”. As soon as they were admitted to the psychiatrict ward, the psuedopatient ceased simulating any symptoms of abnormality. Despite this, they were all diagnosed with schizophrenia before being discharged – after 7 to 52 days – with a diagnosis of schizophrenia “in remission”.

“Failure to detect sanity during the course of hospitalization may be due to the fact that physicians operate with a strong bias toward what statisticians call the type 2 error.This is to say that physicians are more inclined to call a healthy person sick (a false positive, type 2) than a sick person healthy (a false negative, type 1). The reasons for this are not hard to find: it is clearly more dangerous to misdiagnose illness than health. Better to err on the side of caution, to suspect illness even among the healthy”. This sounds eerily familiar. “… this practice [looking for data that will confirm our beliefs] leads to erroneous conclusions, and it is only by looking for disconfirmatory as well as confirmatory information that we can really test our hypotheses”. Remember this when you read my next blog on my Category A review.

When the staff were informed of the experiment and asked to identify the pseudopatients, 41 out of 193 were identified; however, no genuine pseudopatient had been admitted during the period the staff had been asked about; in other words, they most likely wrongly identified real cases of mental illness as pseudopatients.

If properly qualified psychiatrists so easily misdiagnose, how accurate do you think prison psychologists – many who are trainees just out of university – are; particularly when they know nothing ‘real’ about you and only interview you for 60-90 minutes?

Be happy, be safe and be kind.
Graham Coutts, 11th November 2019

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