Faking Insanity

Tuesday’s discussion about the criminal justice system, the insanity defence, and neuroscience immediately reminded me of a This American Life episode I heard over the summer. In this clip, we meet Tony, a patient being treated at a psychiatric facility. Tony believes that he faked insanity to have a shorter sentence but now can not get out. The story is about 20-25 mins long (Act 1, begins at 4:30) but I do recommend finding some time to listen to it if you can (once you start, it will be hard to stop, well at least it was for me). Tony’s story is still one of the most baffling/mind-boggling that I have heard on this show. I wish that there was a clear-cut neurobiological assessment of Tony’s case to turn to because, well, not to spoil it, but I still can’t figure out if he is actually insane.

Turning the tables just a bit on Sapolsky’s view in his article, could an application of neuroscience not only help get the proper care to people who need it instead of putting them in jail,  but also help better asses the state of psychiatric patients in order to make sure that the level of care is appropriate and not merely a figment of the DSM?

4 thoughts on “Faking Insanity

  1. I found this fascinating. My immediate thought when the narrator was describing his first meeting with Tony was that he was a psychopath. Calmness and verbal facility, which the narrator seemed to think indicated Tony’s health, are two of the key features of psychopathy. Along with these are superficial charm (he seemed very good at social interactions, smiled a lot, etc) and above average intelligence (could explain why he was so adept at manipulating movie plots into a personal story). What surprised me was that one of the psychiatrists acknowledged that he thought Tony was a psychopath. Typically psychopaths are not kept in institutions because common thought says they can’t be treated: they have no remorse and simply don’t care, translating to no desire to change, and they are indifferent to punishment, even physical harm. It seems like the doctors would have transfered Tony to a prison by now.

    And I just want to add as a side note that I find psychopaths completely fascinating. The idea that someone can have no remorse is mind boggling and I am impressed by their manipulation skills- they are master charmers, always very calm and collected, and can come off as very friendly/loving despite their inability to care for/love anyone but themselves. Overall not a good thing to be, but I admire some of their traits: intelligence, charm, lack of anxiety.

    Wow, that was long. Sorry but I love forensic psychology…


  2. This is interesting. Law and Order shows usually frustrate me when the lawyers claim insanity. Clearly, it’s acting so you see when some of the people are actually faking it, but that’s what scares me with the legal system. Some people actually get away with “faking insanity.” And some of them never feel the guilt, just like psychopaths.


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