Differences between a psychopath and a sociopath

Differences between a psychopath and a sociopath

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Psychopath and sociopath they are psychological terms that are used to name a type of Antisocial personality disorder.

According to some experts there is a key difference between a psychopath and a sociopath, but for others there is no difference between the two beyond their nomenclature. Those who support this distinction argue that the difference lies essentially in its origin.


  • 1 Psychopaths vs Sociopaths
  • 2 Traits of a Psychopath
  • 3 Traits of a Sociopath
  • 4 Who is more dangerous?
  • 5 Signs of a psychopath or sociopath in childhood

Psychopaths vs Sociopaths

For some experts psychopaths are "born" and sociopaths "are made". While a psychopathy appears to be a personality disorder with genetic or innate origin, sociopathy is considered an acquired trait resulting from the environment and education received by the individual.

In any case, both types of personality have a general pattern of disregard for the safety and rights of others. Deception and manipulation are central characteristics in both types of personality. And, contrary to popular belief, both a psychopath and a sociopath are not necessarily violent.

The common characteristics between a psychopath and a sociopath, according to the recent version of the DSM-V, define the antisocial personality as someone has 3 or more of the following traits:

  • Regularly transgress the law
  • Constantly tells lies and cheats others
  • He is impulsive and does not plan for the future
  • May be prone to fighting and aggressiveness
  • Has little regard for the safety of others
  • It is irresponsible, does not meet financial obligations
  • Do not feel remorse or guilt

Symptoms usually appear before age 15, so that when these individuals reach adulthood, they are already on their way to becoming psychopaths or sociopaths.

Traits of a Psychopath

As we have said, some researchers believe that psychopaths tend to be born with this characteristic, or what is the same, which is a genetic predisposition, while sociopaths are generated due to their environment. For this reason it is believed that Psychopathy could be related to physiological brain differences. Studies have shown that psychopaths have less active certain areas of the brain, those that are believed to be responsible for emotional regulation and impulse control.

The psychopaths, in general, have difficulty generating real emotional bonds with the rest. On the contrary, their relationships are usually artificial and superficial, designed to be manipulated for their own benefit. They see people as pawns to be used with the intention of achieving their goals. These people rarely feel guilty about their behaviors, no matter how much they hurt others.

Interestingly, psychopaths can often be seen by others as beings lovely and trustworthy, they tend to have a very polite treatment, they are also very stable, work, etc. Some even have apparently normal family and love relationships.

When a psychopath engages in criminal behavior, he tends to do so in a very cerebral way, greatly minimizing the risk to themselves. They know how to carefully plan their actions to make sure they are not caught, and have contingency plans for all possibilities.

We have numerous examples in film and television about "psychopaths": Dexter, Anton Chigurh (in Not a country for old people), Henry Henry (portrait of a serial killer), Patrick Bateman (in American Psycho) and a long etcetera.

Features of a sociopath

By your sidesociopathy is the result of environmental factors, as in the case of a child or adolescent in a very negative home, with dysfunctional education guidelines such as physical abuse, emotional abuse or severe childhood trauma.

SociopathsIn general, they tend to be more impulsive and erratic in their behavior than psychopaths. Although they also have difficulty forming attachments with others, some sociopaths may be able to form strong attachments with a group or a like-minded person. Unlike psychopaths, most sociopaths do not have long-term jobs and perform much of a normal family life in the outside world.

When a sociopath engages in criminal behavior, he usually does so in a tremendously impulsive and largely unplanned manner, with little regard for the risks or consequences of his actions. He can easily become angry and aggressive, often with violent outbursts. This type of behavior increases the chances of a sociopath being caught by the authorities and imprisoned.

Some examples of sociopaths of the small and the big screen are: The Joker of Batman, JD in Heathers, Alex DeLarge in The Orange Mechanic.

Who is more dangerous?

Obviously both psychopaths and sociopaths present risks to society, since they often try to live a normal life while facing their illness. But Psychopathy is probably the most dangerous disease, because they experience much less guilt with their actions.

A psychopath also has a greater ability to dissociate himself from his actions. Without the emotional involvement, any pain that others suffer does not make sense to a psychopath. Many famous serial killers have been psychopaths.

But be careful, not all psychopaths or sociopaths have to be violent. Violence is not a necessary ingredient (nor is it for a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder), although it is often present.

Signs of a psychopath or sociopath in childhood

The first signs of psychopathy and sociopathy are usually present in childhood. Most people who can later be diagnosed as sociopaths or psychopaths have had an initial pattern of antisocial behavior, in which they violate the basic rights of others on a recurring basis. They often break the rules (or even laws) and norms of society, even if they are minors.

These antisocial behavior disorders in childhood and adolescence include four categories of problem behavior:

  • Aggression against people and animals
  • Property Destruction
  • Deception or theft
  • Serious violations of the rules


Psychopathy and sociopathy are different cultural labels applied to the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. Up to 3% of the population is considered to be suffering from an antisocial personality disorder.

This disorder it is more common among males and mostly seen in people with a history of alcohol or drug abuse, and, logically, in settings like prisons.

Psychopaths tend to be more manipulative, so they can be seen by others even as charming people, leading an almost normal life, and they know how to minimize the risks of their criminal activities.

Sociopaths tend to maintain much less calculated and more erratic behaviors, are prone to rage attacks and unable to lead a normal life. When sociopaths engage in criminal activities, they usually do so in a reckless manner without regard to the consequences.

Robert Hare's Psychopathy Test


American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., Text rev.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Hare, R. D. (1980). A research scale for the assessment of psychopathy in criminal populations. Personality and Individual Differences, 1 (2), 111-119.

Hare, R. D. (1991). Manual for the Revised Psychopathy Checklist (1st ed.). Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.

López M., & Núñez M. C. (2009). Psychopathy versus antisocial personality disorder. Spanish Journal of Criminological Research, 7, 1-17.

Patrick, C. J. (2000). Emotions and psychopathy. In A. Raine & J. Sanmartín (Orgs.), Violence and psychopathy (pp. 89-118). Barcelona: Ariel.

Pozueco, J. M. (2010). Integrated psychopaths: Psychological profile and personality. Madrid: EOS Legal Psychology.

Hare, RD (1993).Without conscience: the disturbing world of psychopaths.New York: pocket books.

Stout, M. (2005).Thesociopath next door: the ruthless against the rest of us. New York: Broadway books.

Walsh, A., and Wu, HH (2008). Differentiate antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy and sociopathy: evolutionary, genetic, neurological and sociological considerations. Criminal Justice Studies, 2, 135-152.


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