Society has conspired with Hollywood to put two seemingly-sexy psychology
terms into our collective consciousness — psychopath and sociopath.
Psychopath and sociopath are pop psychology terms for what psychiatry calls
an antisocial personality disorder. Today, these two terms are not really well-
defined in the psychology research literature.
Nonetheless, there are some general differences between these two types of
personality types, which we’ll talk about in this article.
Both types of personality have a pervasive pattern of disregard for the safety
and rights of others. Deceit and manipulation are central features to both
types of personality. And contrary to popular belief, a psychopath or sociopath
is not necessarily violent.
The common features of a psychopath and sociopath lie in their shared
diagnosis — antisocial personality disorder . The DSM-5 defines antisocial
personality as someone have 3 or more of the following traits:
1. Regularly breaks or flaunts the law
2. Constantly lies and deceives others
3. Is impulsive and doesn’t plan ahead
4. Can be prone to fighting and aggressiveness
5. Has little regard for the safety of others
6. Irresponsible, can’t meet financial obligations
7. Doesn’t feel remorse or guilt
Symptoms start before age 15, so by the time a person is an adult, they are
well on their way to becoming a psychopath or sociopath.
Traits of a Psychopath
Psychology researchers generally believe that psychopaths tends to be born
— that it’s a genetic predisposition — while sociopaths tend to be made by
their environment. Psychopathy might be related to physiological brain
differences. Research has shown psychopaths have underdeveloped
components of the brain commonly thought to be responsible for emotion
regulation and impulse control.
Psychopaths, in general, have a hard time forming real emotional attachments
with others. Instead, they form artificial, shallow relationships designed to be
manipulated in a way that most benefits the psychopath. People are seen as
pawns to be used to forward the psychopath’s goals. Psychopaths rarely feel
guilt regarding any of their behaviors, no matter how much they hurt others.
But psychopaths can often be seen by others as being charming and
trustworthy, holding steady, normal jobs. Some even have families and
seemingly-loving relationships with a partner. While they tend to be well-
educated, they may also have learned a great deal on their own.
When a psychopath engages in criminal behavior, they tend to do so in a way
that minimizes risk to themselves. They will carefully plan criminal activity to
ensure they don’t get caught, having contingency plans in place for every
Psychopath Pop Culture Examples: Dexter, Anton Chigurh in No Country for
Old Men , Henry in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Patrick Bateman in American
Traits of a Sociopath
Researchers tend to believe that sociopathy is the result of environmental
factors, such as a child or teen’s upbringing in a very negative household that
resulted in physical abuse, emotional abuse, or childhood trauma.
Sociopaths, in general, tend to be more impulsive and erratic in their behavior
than their psychopath counterparts. While also having difficulties in forming
attachments to others, some sociopaths may be able to form an attachment
to a like-minded group or person. Unlike psychopaths, most sociopaths don’t
hold down long-term jobs or present much of a normal family life to the
When a sociopath engages in criminal behavior, they may do so in an
impulsive and largely unplanned manner, with little regard for the risks or
consequences of their actions. They may become agitated and angered
easily, sometimes resulting in violent outbursts. These kinds of behaviors
increase a sociopath’s chances of being apprehended.
Sociopath Pop Culture Examples: The Joker in The Dark Knight , JD in
Heathers , Alex Delarge in A Clockwork Orange
Who is More Dangerous?
Both psychopaths and sociopaths present risks to society, because they will
often try and live a normal life while coping with their disorder. But
psychopathy is likely the more dangerous disorder, because they experience a
lot less guilt connected to their actions.
A psychopath also has a greater ability to dissociate from their actions.
Without emotional involvement, any pain that others suffer is meaningless to
a psychopath. Many famous serial killers have been psychopaths.
Not all people we’d call a psychopath or sociopath are violent. Violence is not
a necessary ingredient (nor is it for a diagnosis of antisocial personality
disorder) — but it is often present.
Clues to a Psychopath or Sociopath in Childhood
Clues to psychopathy and sociopathy are usually available in childhood. Most
people who can later be diagnosed with sociopathy or psychopathy have had
a pattern of behavior where they violate the basic rights or safety of others.
They often break the rules (or even laws) and societal norms as a child, too.
Psychologists call these kinds of childhood behaviors a conduct disorder .
Conduct disorders involve four categories of problem behavior:
Aggression to people and animals
Destruction of property
Deceitfulness or theft
Serious violations of rules
If you recognize these symptoms (and the specific symptoms of conduct
disorder ) in a child or young teen, they’re at greater risk for antisocial
Psychopathy and sociopathy are different cultural labels applied to the
diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. Up to 3 percent of the population
may qualify for a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. This disorder is
more common amongst males and mostly seen in people with an alcohol or
substance abuse problem, or in forensic settings such as prisons.
Psychopaths tend to be more manipulative, can be seen by others as more
charming, lead a semblance of a normal life, and minimize risk in criminal
activities. Sociopaths tend to be more erratic, rage-prone, and unable to lead
as much of a normal life. When sociopaths engage in criminal activity, they
tend to do so in a reckless manner without regard to consequences.
gotten from world of physiology.
written by John M Grohol