Course description

This seminar explores through case materials and empirical research the insanity defense in the legal system and its impact on psychology law and society. Topics include the history of the defense; the relation among psychopathology insanity and diminished capacity; the impact of research in neuroscience on questions of free will and responsibility; the effects of different standards for determining insanity; arguments for its retention abolition and revision; the characteristics of the psychopath and whether the defense is or should be available to psychopaths or to terrorists; the impact of religion; media and other responses to it; controversies surrounding pre- and post-conviction commitment; and its impact on issues surrounding the death penalty. The course provides background in American law and in abnormal and forensic psychology and analyzes the roles of lawyers and of psychologists in theory and in practice.


Associated Schools

  • Harvard Division of Continuing Education

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