Rosenhan’s article “Being Sane in Insane Places” is dedicated to the issue of sanity, insanity, and the line between them, if it exists at all. The researcher showed that distinguishing a sane person from an insane one is not easy, and the perception of normality varies greatly in different conditions. To prove his point, Rosenhan (1973) described an experiment where eight sane people, including himself, claimed they heard voices, was diagnosed with mental illnesses and were administered to different hospitals. Despite behaving perfectly “sane” after admission, they were already labeled as sick and were treated as such (Rosenhan, 1973). In brief, the label “insane” can be given very easily, but it will stick with a person for a long time, greatly affecting his life.
I believe Rosenhan made an important remark about the impact of culture and environment. The scholar noted that cultural beliefs affect the perception of normality and abnormality (Rosenhan, 1973). Moreover, oppressive environments can make people seem sick (Rosenhan, 1973). Therefore, if someone’s behavior seems strange, one should not immediately assume they are insane. What seems weird and even deviant in one culture may be accepted and appreciated in another one. Thus, cultural and social differences are vital for effective personal and professional communication.
Similar ideas are reflected in Ronson’s talk “Strange Answers to the Psychopath Test.” The speaker noted how presupposed beliefs affect people’s judgment, even among psychiatrists who must be objective (Ronson, 2012). Ronson (2012) concludes that there are “gray” areas of behavior, which one cannot undoubtedly refer to either to sanity or insanity. For example, he tells the story of Tony, who faked mental illness to avoid a jail sentence and was labeled as a psychopath by the doctors (Ronson, 2012). At the same time, Al Dunlap, who has more “typical psychopathic” traits, was perceived as a determined and talented leader (Ronson, 2012). Thus, Ronson also noticed how a label might affect one’s attitude toward a person.
What seems striking is how one behavior can be interpreted differently and can lead to opposite labels. For instance, a lack of sympathy can be seen as a psychopathic trait or just rationality (Ronson, 2012). One’s persuasive tactics might be viewed as manipulation or a part of diplomacy. People would assume what fits their outlook or what is beneficial to them. Therefore, I would be more careful in my judgments and give people more benefit of the doubt before labeling them as insane.
Ronson, J. (2012). Strange answers to the psychopath test [Video]. TED. Web.
Rosenhan, D. L. (1973). Being sane in insane places. Science, 179(4070), 250-258. Web.