Do psychopaths have a conscience

What’s the Difference Between a Sociopath and a Psychopath?

Written by Kara Mayer Robinson

You may have heard people call someone else a “psychopath” or a “sociopath.” But what do those words really mean?

You won’t find the definitions in mental health’s official handbook, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Doctors don’t officially diagnose people as psychopaths or sociopaths. They use a different term instead: antisocial personality disorder.

Most experts believe psychopaths and sociopaths share a similar set of traits. People like this have a poor inner sense of right and wrong. They also can’t seem to understand or share another person’s feelings. But there are some differences, too.

Do They Have a Conscience?

A key difference between a psychopath and a sociopath is whether he has a conscience, the little voice inside that lets us know when we’re doing something wrong, says L. Michael Tompkins, EdD. He's a psychologist at the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center.

A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out,” Tompkins says.

A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it’s weak. They may know that taking your money is wrong, and they might feel some guilt or remorse, but that won’t stop their behavior.

Both lack empathy, the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. But a psychopath has less regard for others, says Aaron Kipnis, PhD, author of The Midas Complex. Someone with this personality type sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit.

They’re Not Always Violent

In movies and TV shows, psychopaths and sociopaths are usually the villains who kill or torture innocent people. In real life, some people with antisocial personality disorder can be violent, but most are not. Instead they use manipulation and reckless behavior to get what they want.

“At worst, they’re cold, calculating killers,” Kipnis says. Others, he says, are skilled at climbing their way up the corporate ladder, even if they have to hurt someone to get there.

If you recognize some of these traits in a family member or coworker, you may be tempted to think you’re living or working with a psychopath or sociopath. But just because a person is mean or selfish, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a disorder.

'Cold-Hearted Psychopath, Hot-Headed Sociopath'

It’s not easy to spot a psychopath. They can be intelligent, charming, and good at mimicking emotions. They may pretend to be interested in you, but in reality, they probably don’t care.

“They’re skilled actors whose sole mission is to manipulate people for personal gain,” Tompkins says.

Sociopaths are less able to play along. They make it plain that they’re not interested in anyone but themselves. They often blame others and have excuses for their behavior.

Some experts see sociopaths as “hot-headed. ” They act without thinking how others will be affected.

Psychopaths are more “cold-hearted” and calculating. They carefully plot their moves, and use aggression in a planned-out way to get what they want. If they’re after more money or status in the office, for example, they’ll make a plan to take out any barriers that stand in the way, even if it’s another person’s job or reputation.

Brain Differences

Recent research suggests a psychopath’s brain is not like other people’s. It may have physical differences that make it hard for the person to identify with someone else’s distress.

The differences can even change basic body functions. For example, when most people see blood or violence in a movie, their hearts beat faster, their breathing quickens, and their palms get sweaty.

A psychopath has the opposite reaction. He gets calmer. Kipnis says that quality helps psychopaths be fearless and engage in risky behavior.

“They don’t fear the consequences of their actions,” he says.

The Cluelessness of the Psychopath – Association for Psychological Science – APS

Hannibal Lecter is arguably the world’s most famous psychopath. I know—he’s not real. Still, the anti-hero of The Silence of the Lambs embodies the chilling constellation of traits generally associated with this rare mental disorder. A highly intelligent physician and psychiatrist, Lecter is superficially charming, even urbane—at least when he’s not cannibalizing his innocent victims. He is rarely emotional, and despite the brutality of his crimes, he shows absolutely no evidence of empathy or a guilty conscience.

That’s what makes psychopaths so mysterious and incomprehensible—the lack of normal human feeling. How could somebody’s child develop into that kind of merciless automaton? What did Hannibal Lecter’s inner life feel like as he was growing up?

One leading idea is that this psychopathic derangement is linked to childhood temperament, specifically fearlessness, which lays the groundwork for the development of full-blown psychopathic disorder in adulthood. There is evidence to support this notion: Psychopaths have great difficulty learning about pain—learning to avoid electrical shocks and loud noises, for example—and their ability to recognize fearful faces is also impaired. Perhaps most notably, psychopaths don’t respond normally to fear-inducing punishments—making it very hard for parents and others to teach them right and wrong.

Despite the popularity of the so-called “fearlessness hypothesis,” a growing number of experts question whether it goes deep enough. Perhaps, they argue, the problem is even more fundamental, perhaps neurological—a problem with attention, which makes psychopaths unresponsive to fear-provoking cues in the world. According to this competing theory, psychopaths appear fearless because they aren’t paying close enough attention to the things that normally scare people? This theory has inspired clinical interventions that train kids to consciously focus on emotional cues around them—an approach that has not been especially successful.

Now another group of psychological scientists is going even further, suggesting that the roots of the disorder may reach deep into the unconscious mind. Patrick Sylvers of the University of Washington, working with Patricia Brennan and Scott Lilienfeld of Emory, suspected that psychopaths may suffer from a deficit in “preattentive processing”—the constant, automatic scanning of one’s surroundings that takes place outside of conscious awareness. Theoretically, if children lack this basic cognitive machinery, they would never learn to decode normal signs of danger, and without this acquired fear, they would fail to socialize into adults with conscience.

At least that’s the theory, which the scientists decided to test in the laboratory. They recruited 88 boys, between 7 and 11 years old, who had troublesome histories both at school and at home, and screened them for what’s called “callous unemotionality.” This includes an unsettling disregard for others’ needs, shallow emotions, and lack of remorse and empathy—very similar to the core traits of the adult disorder. They also tested them for impulsivity and conduct problems, and for signs of narcissism, like bragging a lot, which is also seen in many adult psychopaths.

Following this screening, the scientists gave the boys a visual test that measures unconscious emotional processing. Specifically, they wanted to see if the test subjects, compared with normal boys of the same age, were slower to become aware of fearful faces that were flashed rapidly—so rapidly that they were not registered by the conscious mind. If so, this would be evidence that the troubled boys are not automatically assimilating threatening cues in their world. They also flashed happy, disgusted and neutral faces for comparison.

The results, reported on-line in the journal Psychological Science, were clear and provocative. Indeed, they comprise the first evidence ever that kids with psychopathic traits have a significant deficiency in their automatic, unconscious processing of certain cues—especially fear cues but also cues for disgust. Fear and disgust are closely related in the primitive mind, and the findings suggest that these troubled kids have a fundamental impairment in recognizing—“in the blink of an eye”—any kind of social danger. So perhaps the childhood roots of Hannibal Lecter’s murderous personality lay not in fearlessness itself, nor even in his conscious thought processes, but rather in his general social cluelessness.

Wray Herbert’s book, On Second Thought, is now available in paperback. Excerpts from his two blogs—“We’re Only Human” and “Full Frontal Psychology”—appear regularly in Scientific American Mind and in The Huffington Post.

“Conscience? And where is it distributed?, Psychology - Gestalt Club

Popular publications write about the psychopathic personality type warning articles - “do not mess around!”, “carefully, maniac-psychopath”, “what are the signs of a psychopath?”, or use words "sociopathy", "antisocial behavior".

There are many stories of life, permeated disappointment and despair, describing the broken destinies of women, broken hearts and non-healing emotional wounds from the series “fell in love psychopath, which is my fault, "or" experience, alas, comes with reptiles. "

Together, all these stories, films, TV shows form the image selfish, ruthless man who despises sympathy and conscientiousness, considering them human weaknesses and recognizing only strength.

The extreme pathological signs of a psychopath are impulsive, sadistic murderers and rapists. On the other end of the spectrum psychopathic personality - highly organized people, located to a career ascent "over the heads", or to conditionally legitimate transactions, whose cold indifference to others makes it easier achieve external results in a competitive environment.

Psychopathic personality type characterized by a person's tendency to assert himself through others, deliberately manipulate other people.

There are two psychopathic personalities species - aggressive-impulsive and passive-parasitic. In the first case, antisocial behavior, violations of the law are observed, and in the second - more hidden deception, lies, for example, pulling money when building financial pyramids.

The psychopathic personality type within the norm is a person who more often a man, with experience of a turbulent youth, sometimes with a history of drives in police, or even served time in his youth. At an older age he becomes an exemplary family man and an honest citizen. Only in close communication, negative impulsivity remains noticeable: neither with swears at nothing, yells at his wife, humiliates another person.

In a stressful situation, the signs of a psychopath appear more stronger than under calm conditions. Psychopathic personality acts as if he has no control over his actions.

Before the divorce, my ex-husband and I got together and parted ways once. He shouted: “You will never find anyone! Who needs you with child! I will take the child and you will only earn on way to see him!” He called my mom and told me what a "whore" I am, called my work, said that I was stealing money, took my phone. Then I finally decided get a divorce, although in a normal situation he drove me from work, looked after, behaved quite decently.

From a therapeutic conversation

Less impulsive psychopathic people look parties as ordinary people who do not have anti-social tendencies, who have never sat and faced the police. In these cases, the psychopathic personality type manifests itself in small things: in self-justification, in degrading jokes that seem to a psychopath especially funny.

- After the death of your father, you have been living with your mother for a week, you look like an old woman, she abandoned us with a child, get together!

— Why do you say that? It hurts, my father died, my mother is going through hard.

- I support you so much, otherwise you will fall apart.

Dialogue from the words of a client in a therapeutic conversation

Walking around the city, somewhere nearby a sewer burst there is an unpleasant smell. My young man is suddenly loud says: “Darling, how many times have I asked you not to spoil the air in in public places!" The surrounding people laugh, but he almost bows.

Life story

Psychopathic personality type: inner world and formation

The real reasons pathological psychopathy is still unknown. There is a hypothesis which psychopathy arises as a result of innate genetic deviations in the brain, and may be aggravated, or, conversely, partly smoothed out by education.

The psychopathic personality type does not understand feelings. psychopaths learn the language of feelings and emotions as "the second non-native". If a to an ordinary person for emotional pleasure enough of a beautiful scenery, painting, music, witty joke, or pleasant sex, then the psychopathic personality type needs more sharp, shaking experiences to feel alive. Moreover, the inability of a psychopathic person to learn stop yourself in an unsafe search for strong sensations.

He crashed some cars. In words, he seems to understand - not you need to behave like this on the road, but the behavior does not change. Or gets behind the wheel drunk, or, being sober, reckless and cuts, is attached to the tail of the car in front, 10 centimeters from bumper and props it up. I can't understand why?

From a therapeutic conversation

Human childhood filled with chaos, insecurity, instability, contributes to the fact that the child, even being genetically little predisposed to psychopathy, subsequently will spend his life confirming his power and authority over other people.

In families where there are weak indulgent mothers and explosive sadistic fathers who beat their children for the sake of "education", creates an atmosphere of insecurity and instability, where the physical strength will be decisive in conflicts.

My drunken father often beat my mother, I remember she ran away barefoot over the snow. This went on until I was 14 then I stood up to my full height and said: “You will touch your mother even with a finger - I'll kill. Father recognized only strength, since then he has not never raised a hand to his mother.

Life story

In conditions of frequent moves, losses, breaks, especially if there is alcoholism and other addictions, practically cannot develop a normal sense of security, self-confidence, that encourages children subsequently to seek confirmation of their own authorities.

Conversely, caring and loving attitude of parents smoothes the level of cruelty a congenital psychopath who will grow into a businessman with "dirty" business practices, or indifferent to the experiences of others dependent, but not a murderer.

Another option for aggravating the predisposition to power-manipulating or anti-social nature, is reinforcement by parents of manipulative behavior, indulgence permissiveness.

Parents violently resist teachers or others relatives when they try to set boundaries for their offspring.

At school the teacher does not understand my child, says that he not ready for school rules. He doesn't do his homework in class wants to sit at a desk and pinches other children. He was put off separately, but he just wants to communicate! This teacher did not find common language with my child. So we'll go home education.

From a personal conversation

In families where gifts or money are given in exchange for love and attention to the cares of the child, or they take away what was donated in cases of misconduct, children learn to lie, distract, blame others, portray confusion, that is, manipulate.

Initially hyperactive, demanding, stubborn children require more active, energetic upbringing. It is necessary that they actions were noticed, commented on, discussed, and provided sufficient stimulation.

About the features of interaction with a hyperactive child read the article "

Very active child: what to do?


Otherwise there will be “too many” such children. An adult, especially if it is a single mother or grandmother who gave the child upbringing while the parents are working, will not be able to set clear limits and stable discipline.

Then the child learns permissiveness and understands that cope with the undesirable consequences of their actions with the help of lie, intimidate or flee.

He was the only child to be conceived and delivered at a later age with medical help, and then he was immediately given away old grandmother to raise. Grandmother raised her grandson on down pillows and fed from a silver spoon. He can do everything.

Now he is a charming man, talkative and educated, whose image does not correspond in any way to “strange acts” - recklessness and aggressive behavior on the road with a series of broken cars, fun with a gun in an apartment with a small child, indifference to own children: “I have my own affairs”, real financial and household use of a beloved woman. "You know, I'm doing cleaning so that he doesn’t yell,” his wife says.

Life story

Thus, a psychopathic personality can be formed in result:

congenital genetic abnormalities in the brain;

early experiences of family chaos, neglect and insecurity, due to which compensation is formed in the form of conscious using others for their own benefit;

parents' indulgence in manipulative behavior;

lack of stable discipline and restrictions for active and impulsive child.

Psychopathic personality type characterized by superficial and impoverished emotions, inability to sympathize with others, lowering the moral foundations and conscience, tendency to manipulate others, impulsiveness.

It is a matter of honor to deceive the state!…

From a personal conversation

In addition, it can be assumed that psychopathic people suffer from envy. It is impossible to admit to envy, because it is will be equated with weakness, but the craving to destroy what a person wants most of all, speaks of envy. Depreciation and neglect of everything related to love, tenderness, kindness, affection characteristic of antisocial people.

Perhaps the tendency of some teenagers to torture and kill animals says that animals cause tenderness, love and affection, and with it the all-consuming envy that a teenager cannot stand it and kills the object of envy.

If a young person with psychopathic psychology could to avoid self-destruction, stuffed "bumps", got the experience of restrictions, and a little later in middle age, the level of physical and mental strength decreases, the consequences of a "violent" life affect health - all it promotes maturity, increased self-control and reflections. Man becomes more reserved, anti-social tendencies are smoothed out.

Then envy, manipulation, shamelessness, inability to sympathize - fade into the background, and may reappear only in stressful situations.

Sometimes a psychopathic person skillfully disguises himself as companion comrade. He is interesting, has charm, hanging tongue, shows emotions, and only on impulsive actions you can understand that you have a psychopathic personality.

These are risky actions, stories on the verge of the law, career climbing "over the heads", boasting of daring actions.

All this can be served with a spicy emotional sauce, which attracts women, forcing them to see in a psychopath instead of emotional poverty - masculinity, instead of impulsiveness - the ability to take risks and courage, and instead of shamelessness - charm predator, next to which a woman hopes to feel like a "wife general."

Yesterday the cars of the general of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the head of the FSB collided. The traffic police car that arrived at the scene was found guilty accidents…


Psychopathic personality: relationships with others

He studied at a good university, at the Faculty of Mathematics, but women led me astray. I married early classmate, daughter of a wealthy man, three years later divorced. However, since then I realized that women adore me, and the ability to live at their expense is always with me.

— Do you have children?

Yes, at least two.

From a conversation with a professional gigolo

It is completely unrealistic to expect love, care and tenderness, except depicted feelings, from a psychopathic person. However, it is possible earn his respect by standing up for your boundaries and showing yourself as demanding person.

Psychopathic person perceives kindness or compliance as a weakness, he only understands the language of human exploitation. Any an antisocial person respects authority, therefore clarity and rigidity in his respect will be taken with understanding. In communication with a psychopathic person needs to speak directly, restrain promises and carry out threats.

I recorded the beatings and told my husband about it, only then did he went to contact in our divorce.

Life story

Psychopathic people in middle age can "burn out" after a stormy youth.

The psychopathic personality becomes more susceptible to other people's feelings, especially after suddenly noticing your addiction or attachment to another person.

Awareness of the moment of affection is accompanied by scandals, attempts to get rid of, and then a prolonged depression, after which the psychopathic person becomes more mature.

Maxim was a drunkard, a womanizer and a gigolo. One day he fell in love with Natalya, being sure that she is in love with him much more. After intimacy, unexpectedly, she says: "Honey, you won't drink, smoke and get a job. Maxim was furious and left: “Women you have to be able to properly suppress, so as not to burrow. " After the series breaks and rapprochements, instead of apologies and "crawling on your knees" Maxim hears: “I loved you and love you, but it would be better if we let's part. I don't want to break you, and I won't let you break me." Maksim amazed: “Stubborn! But my heart yearns for her."

Natalia wanted to be with him, but she could not accept much, she was I am sure that it will only benefit him and that he understands. After a few years of irreconcilable love and war, everything is the same happened.

Life story

Any shift from using words to manipulate and lie in direction of using them for verbal self-expression of feelings and emotions is an important achievement for a psychopathic person warehouse.

Any occasion where such a person slows down his sudden aggressive impulses, masters self-control, is serious achievement and a step towards maturity.

Unfortunately, psychopathic people themselves rarely believe that with something is wrong with them, or they admit that they need help. If this happens, then look first for some more mercantile goals in such confessions.

So, we have identified the following features of a person with psychopathic personality type, and suggested ways to integrate them into life:

Envy for the happiness of others, for love, affection, tenderness, unbearable feelings of envy and attempts to devalue or destroy objects of envy.

How to cope with envy, read the article "

How to stop envy


Depletion of emotions and feelings and need for extreme stimulation in order to feel alive. It is important to know about these tendencies, and develop self-control using extreme where it will be appropriate and dosed.

Lack of conscience, power orientation and manipulation other people. Establish clear boundaries with others people based on mutual respect, if there is no love and sympathy.

Denial of the psychopathic personality of their psychological difficulties and problems. Sometimes self-recognition of sociopathic tendencies require a great deal of courage. Well if it happen with sufficient honesty to oneself, and not for the sake of manipulation of others.

"Possibility of burnout" from antisocial tendencies to average age.

Psychopaths are capable of empathy - BBC News0188

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Image caption,

Mirror neurons also fire in psychopaths, but only when given a special signal.

Previously it was believed that they are completely deprived of it.

Researchers put criminals with psychopathic tendencies into an MRI machine, showing them videos of one character hurting another.

They were asked to empathize with a person in pain.

It turned out that on their brain activity scans, the region responsible for experiencing pain only activated when they were asked to imagine the pain experienced by the person they were watching on the screen.

Authors an article published in the journal Brain notes that the results explain how psychopaths can be both insensitive and charming.

The authors suggest that psychopaths can be taught to activate an "empathy switch" that may help them in rehabilitation.

The ability to empathize (compassion for a particular emotional state) is essential in the development of social skills of the individual.

Criminals with psychopathological tendencies are usually unable to empathize with other people, including their victims. Experience shows that they have a much greater tendency to re-offend upon release than offenders without mental impairment.

Psychopathy is a mental disorder characterized by superficial charm, a tendency to pathological lying, and a limited capacity for remorse.

Mirror neurons

Neuroscientists have found that the mirror neurons in test criminals are activated only after they are asked to imagine themselves in the place of the victim. Without such a signal, the areas of their brain that are associated with the sensation of pain are activated little.

Mirror neurons are neurons in the brain that fire both when a certain action is performed, and when another being performs this action.

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Christian Keizers of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who led this study, believes the results could change the way we think about the behavior of criminals with psychopathological disorders.

"It used to be thought that these were insensitive people, incapable of expressing emotions and therefore unable to share other people's emotions as well. Our research shows that this is not so simple. Such people are capable of empathy, but they can arbitrarily turn on or turn off by default, this switch is normally in the off state."

According to Professor Keizer, the fact that psychopaths can force themselves to experience empathy, at least under certain conditions, may have a positive meaning.

"The notion that psychopaths do not have empathy did not leave much hope. Such people turned out to be incapable, as it was believed, of normal moral development. However, we were able to show that they do have empathy, although only under certain conditions. Therefore, psychotherapists now have something to work on," the scientist explains.

However, according to him, it remains unclear how this ability to turn empathy on and off can be transformed into the spontaneous ability of empathy that normal people have.

Decisive question

Photo caption,

The activation of pain centers in the brain of psychopaths was stronger when they received a request to empathize with the victim (foreground)

Essie Wieding of University College London, who was not involved in this study, says the results are extremely interesting.

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