PSYC S-980V Summer Seminar: The Insanity Defense

7-week session | CRN 33640

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.

Course information
Class meetings

Mondays, Wednesdays, noon-3 pm
Boylston Hall 104

Start date

Monday, June 25


4 credits

Course tuition


Enrollment status

  • Limited to 15 students
  • Current enrollment: 15
  • Waitlist: 1
  • Availability: Waitlist
  • Notes

    Harvard College students see additional information. See the Summer Seminars description for more information on this class.



    Ellsworth Lapham Fersch, PhD, JD.

    Lecturer on Psychology, Harvard Medical School

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