What is a psychopath vs sociopath

Psychopathy vs Sociopathy - Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri

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 antisocial personality disorder. These two terms are not well-defined in the psychology research literature — hence the confusion about them.

Nonetheless, there are some general similarities as well as differences between these two personality types. Both sociopaths and psychopaths have a pervasive pattern of disregard for the safety and rights of others. Deceit and manipulation are central features to both types of personality. 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 having three or more of the following traits:

  • Regularly breaks or flouts the law
  • Constantly lies and deceives others
  • Is impulsive and doesn’t plan ahead
  • Can be prone to fighting and aggressiveness
  • Has little regard for the safety of others
  • Irresponsible, can’t meet financial obligations
  • Doesn’t feel remorse or guilt

In both cases, some signs or symptoms are nearly always present before age 15. By the time a person is an adult, they are well on their way to becoming a psychopath or sociopath.

Traits of Psychopathy

Psychology researchers generally believe that psychopaths tends to be born — it’s likely a genetic predisposition — while sociopaths tend to be made by their environment. (Which is not to say that psychopaths may not also suffer from some sort of childhood trauma.) 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 possibility.

Traits of Sociopathy

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 outside world.

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.

Which 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 Psychopathy or Sociopathy 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 or laws

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 personality disorder.


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 among 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.

Information for this article provided by PsychCentral.com

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.

how they differ and how they perceive reality

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Sociopath and psychopath: how do they differ? How do sociopathy and psychopathy develop? Why do such people violate social norms and why do they sometimes attract us? What allows them to be not only villains, but also heroes? What sociopathic features does the world of big business have, and what place do sociopaths occupy in culture and mass cinema? We understand.

Let's not confuse psychopaths rushing through the square with a chainsaw turned on, and sociopaths, or "strange", original, existing, as it were, on the verge of the norm, but still included in the social system, people. These concepts are practically synonymous and designate souls with the same radical, but with different spectrums of feelings.

Psychopaths are people with an anti-social orientation. Psychopathy is a diagnosis with pronounced pathological behavior with complete preservation of thinking.

Sociopathy is a milder expression of psychopathy. If a person, despite his anti-social nature, nevertheless fits into society, is able to exist in it, but actively neglects the rules and norms, then we are dealing with sociopathy. Its classic features include charisma, high intelligence, lack of nervousness, a tendency to lies and hypocrisy, an inability to shame, repentance, empathy and love, anger, self-centeredness, a lack of morality and morality.

From the point of view of psychoanalytic theory, sociopathy is a dynamic structure of personality along with masochistic, hysterical and others. We all have a personality structure that is made up of genetic prerequisites and individual history. Also, sooner or later, we all face various injuries, but only a few receive a specific diagnosis.

Where does sociopathy come from? From a biological point of view, the hormonal apparatus of a sociopath produces less serotonin. Such a person is not able to "get enough" of communication, take the necessary emotions from it, experience empathy. To satisfy his emotional needs, he needs a completely different, stronger stimulus. In addition, such a person reacts to external stimuli more aggressively than "ordinary" people. It is his response to any potential danger.

Sometimes the development of sociopathy is influenced by childhood trauma: the child is faced with an early experience of violence, death, which leaves a mark on his psyche. At the same time, the adrenaline received once becomes a sentence for him. As a rule, in the future such a person experiences problems with trust and does not have authority.

Like the characters in Diana Setterfield's debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, children can be sociopathic even when they appear to be perfectly fine. They believe that they can do anything that helps them to exist comfortably. At the same time, the prohibitions of adults are perceived by them as a challenge. Gradually, a psychopath can form from such an "adrenaline" personality.

As a rule, the childhood experience of a psychopath is a hell in which total arbitrariness on the part of adults or the complete absence of laws of any norms and rules reigns. They are usually raised by an indifferent, "absent" mother, who, in turn, may have her own history of abuse, be depressed, overwork several jobs for a living, or simply be the weak-willed victim of a tyrannical husband.

If the future sociopath grows up in a relatively prosperous environment, then he has a chance to integrate into society and find not only application, but also recognition. For example, he can catch criminals, like Sherlock, or solve mysteries on the verge of life and death, like Dr. House. Sherlock, during an explanation with Moriarty, says: "I am the second you." And this is only partly a metaphor.

A still from Sherlock (Season 1 episode 3) / © BBC

A sociopath can achieve really good heights on the social ladder thanks to a developed intellect, the ability to easily overcome stress and the habit of stepping over people indifferently.

What is the portrait of a socialized sociopath? Such a person experiences absolute indifference to people and social norms. At the same time, for “ordinary” people, a set of certain rules makes the world more predictable and safe, and empathy fills it with warmth and meaning. A sociopath, on the other hand, is outside the legislative field, does not need excuses, and seeks goals from the outside. Nancy McWilliams, author of Psychoanalytic Diagnosis, notes that, conceptually, diagnosis refers to a basic lack of human attachment and adherence to very primitive defenses.

It is noteworthy that the sociopath is not insane and is able to answer for his actions. He distinguishes good from evil and understands the laws that he deliberately violates. At the same time, when committing crimes, he does not suffer from internal conflicts, since he feels absolute permissiveness.

He juggles norms with virtuosity. A sociopath may refuse to hold generally accepted holidays, accept traditional patterns of thinking, recognize himself as a citizen of a particular country, store things and photographs and honor the memory of his relatives, follow medical recommendations, comfort (he can live in a car, in a forest hut or travel on foot) . Such a person does not trust anyone or anything, she tastes everything. Of course, on your own. There are no laws for her. She offers hers to the world.

Sociopath easily endures loneliness, often changes partners. In the complete absence of empathy, the desire to create a family may arise not on a sensual, but on a pragmatic level: this is how the individual tries to better integrate into society. An example of such a type in the cinema is the already mentioned protagonist of the series "Doctor House".

© Fox

Such people attract with their eccentricity and extraordinary talents, but it is almost impossible to get along with them under one roof. It is important to remember that sociopaths themselves are not capable of building deep relationships. Adult love is built on the ability to feel the other and sympathize with the other. But for the sociopath, the environment is only a means to an end, an almost inanimate function. His relationship with others is based on exploitation. Therefore, the more pronounced the sociopathic radical, the less chance there is to create a family with such a person.

Sociopathic character can also be represented in the relative social norm. Then we are dealing with a person who does what others are not capable of. This means not only negative, but also positive, creative and even heroic deeds. He works in the war. He works where there is blood and death. Where it is dangerous, including in big business or in areas with great responsibility. He is in the sea, he is in space, he is under water and where the elements are raging.

Sociopaths are different. They take on responsibility that is difficult for an ordinary person to take on. They walk on the other side of death and survive. Their knowledge is sacred. When faced with death, they experience neither suffering nor guilt. This is what makes them attractive.

The psychopathic type is often reflected in literature, mythology and cinema, including mass cinema. In mythology, this is the hero of the epic. The one who descended into hell and came out of it. A hero is a former warrior who is legalized by our consciousness. Our consciousness cannot stand violence and lack of norms. If someone breaks the rules and stays with us, he becomes a hero, he has a special status. At the same time, a psychopath who does not turn towards society must be punished. He is either a hero or a criminal: there is no middle ground for him. There is no warm world with a fire in the depths of a cave where children, women and old people are.

In modern mythology, which we can easily find in the Game of Thrones series, a whole clan of Lannisters has sociopathic traits. Its representatives are not tormented by their cruelty and enjoy absolute permissiveness: the murder of children, incest, the execution of their own son, the attack on their father - all this appears to them as the norm.

The whole family, to the last, is marked with a special right - the right to choose right itself. As the heroes themselves say, "Lannisters always pay." But I want to add: "If they want it." You can serve the Lannisters only for money. In the Lannister world, no one expects loyalty or love. Everything is bought and sold there. Like no one else, they master the emotional vocabulary of manipulation.

Is it possible to live in community with a sociopath? You can cooperate with him. And he can be served. You can turn your shoulder to him, but you should not expect the same in return. The goal will always belong to him, as well as the main prey. Lions are not known to be interested in the opinion of sheep. Their main psychic defense - magical thinking - makes them, in a sense, rulers.

In a global, sociological sense, the world of big business has sociopathic features, in which calculation, manipulation, cruelty and attempts to achieve a goal without any reflection rule. In everyday life, a sociopath acts in a similar way: not knowing how to feel, such a person chooses an action. And if he regrets anything, it is only that another scam failed.

No wonder the Lannister kingdom is the most comfortable of the kingdoms in Game of Thrones. These are the best lands with a pleasant climate, beautiful women and the sweetest fruits. This is the prototype of the world, which is controlled by the ideology of profit. This is a dream and at the same time a fear of ordinary normal neurotics, which include the majority. The world of a sociopath is a world in which everything is possible. But at some point, he will blow up this world as well, as the sept of Baelor was blown up.

A sociopath is able to look beyond the usual meanings, actions and goals for an ordinary person, look beyond the horizon, while people continue to sit in caves, where there is a hearth, children, old people, pink silk curtains and standard IKEA furniture. A sociopath is scary and attractive at the same time, he is both a Dragon and a Hero who defeated the Dragon. There is no place for him in the middle of the norm register, he is always on the edge, at the exit or behind the “101 kilometers”.

He has no morality, and when there are no moral laws, "Their Sparrows" always appear with their sermons. As in ancient times: a shaman is an obligatory character with a leader. It is the self-proclaimed Shaman who will take the trouble to explain to the people the shadow side of the feat and will speak with the voices of the gods, legitimizing the new right.

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On the cover: Anthony Perkins as the maniac Norman Bates from A. Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960)

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Similar Article 9000 2 Batman - The Joker, John Kramer known as "Saw" and Norman Bates from "Psycho" - someone calls all these people psychopaths.

Others use the term "sociopath". But what is the difference? Many people do not understand the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath. Now we will dot the i's.

Vitaly Marshak

Universal Pictures

Is Hannibal Lecter a psychopath or a sociopath? And the Joker?


A psychopath is a person suffering from a personality disorder. Psychopathy is extremely difficult to detect, as patients do not have obvious symptoms. The patient may exhibit manipulative self-serving behavior, lack concern for the safety or well-being of others, be extremely fickle, and lack empathy or conscience.


A sociopath is a person suffering from a sociopathy. Due to the large similarities in behavior, sociopaths are not always easy to distinguish from psychopaths. As a rule, sociopaths have an inflated sense of self-worth, act solely in their own interests, demonstrate superficial emotions and extremely impulsive behavior.

The nature of the disorder

Psychologists conduct numerous studies to distinguish between a sociopath and a psychopath. Some psychologists argue that psychopaths are born with a disorder, while sociopaths are made by the environment. Medical research shows that psychopaths tend to have brains that are structurally different from those of normal people. A study published in the journal Neuron found that psychopaths have impaired information processing in brain regions that are responsible for rewards. They also have a weakened connection between the part of the brain responsible for controlling actions and the part responsible for evaluating subjective value.

Sociopathy is usually associated not with changes in the structure of the brain, but with traumatic childhood experiences, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, or problems in the family. This is why sociopaths are often nervous and easily aroused. They are fickle and prone to emotional outbursts, including bouts of anger.


How to distinguish a sociopath from a psychopath? Conscience is an important component of human decision-making, especially “wrong” ones. According to Verywellmind, sociopaths have a conscience (albeit a weak one). They often make excuses for doing things they think are wrong. On the contrary, psychopaths believe that their actions are justified and feel no remorse for the harm done.

Social interactions

The difference between a psychopath and a sociopath is that psychopaths can control their emotions and know how to manipulate others. However, they are often unable to form emotional attachments. People for them are objects for entertainment or to achieve certain goals.

On the other hand, sociopaths are capable of becoming attached to a particular person or group, although they do not respect society or its rules in general.

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