Comments on
Sociopathy vs. Psychopathy


My last post drew some comments about the use of the word psychopath when describing Joran van der Sloot, the lead suspect in the Natalie Holloway disappearance, so I wanted to clarify what I am referring to when I use the terms psychopathy or psychopath.

The age old debate of psychopathy versus sociopathy is not one that can be answered easily. This is mainly because the words are often used interchangeably, and even when the terms are clearly defined by one scholar, another may disagree and choose to use the term in an entirely different fashion. Looking up these terms in dictionaries can lead to more confusion as the definition for psychopathy may include the word sociopathy in its description and vice versa!

55 thoughts on “Sociopathy vs. Psychopathy

  • July 6, 2010 at 11:52 am

    I see the distinction you are trying to make however I still disagree. First, I tend to dissect the words themselves…psychopath = pathological psychosis sociopath = pathologically social. The former indicating an uncontrollable psychosis which is a separation of reality from fantasy. Whereas the latter tends to indicated a uncontrollable socialization or rather control in social situations and society.

    The two examples that I like to use in my mind are the differences between Ted Bundy and David Berkowitz. They are both pathological killers the significant difference is Bundy’s charisma and social charm whereas Berkowitz was completely out of control fading in and out of reality.

    But I will keep in mind how you define these conditions. Thanks for the clarification.

    Reply
    • July 10, 2010 at 7:24 pm

      Hi Kenneth,

      Thanks for the feedback. I think we still have a long way to go when it comes to operationally defining these concepts, but I appreciate your view. -KM-

      Reply
  • July 14, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    The challenge with these definitions is the fact we are creating a hierarchy for these groups. Creating a taxonomy for these groups goes against the very categorical nature of the DSM. I suggest the sociopath and the psychopath are the same at apposite ends of the continuum, but not equal to Anti social personality disorder. I Believe ASPD is learned behaviors and Socio-Psycho Paths is psychopathology. If we look at sociopaths as the extreme introvert and psychopaths as the extreme extrovert, then we can paint a realistic picture.

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  • July 19, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Hi Kelly,

    I am searching for blogs that we could feature regarding some of our upcoming forensics programming on Investigation Discovery. Is there an email address that I could reach your directly?

    Thank you
    Paige

    Reply
  • October 9, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I have a student who constantly attacks his classmate who happens to be one of my best students while he gives excessive flattery to one of his friends always. He appears to be someone who is genuinely interested in getting along with others but along the way, he ends up attacking (verbally) my students who are trying to study or to the right thing. Worst he had an episode of acting aggressively as if he owned the classroom. One girl in my class told me that he demanded that everyone should listen only to him. Have I not come across with your article, I would not find out that he is a sociopath.And most of all I didn’t realize until now that I have encountered several of them even before I had my problem student.Thanks for giving this insightful and enlightening information.

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  • June 5, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Thank you for posting an objective and professional explanation of the difference between the two terms. While I tend to dissect words (much like Kenneth), I find it interesting that there is discord within your profession over the use of these terms.

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  • September 27, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    I am trying to understand myself and am very confused about which term to use “sociopath” vs. “Psychopath” to describe myself, but after reading the descriptions of each I completely get it. Thank you.

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    • April 4, 2012 at 6:59 am

      Probably “psychopath” fits you better than “sociopath”, wouldn’t you say?

      Reply
  • October 15, 2011 at 9:50 am

    From both my academic and personal experiences in the fields of psychology, sociology, criminalology, and social work I must posit that sociopathic behaviors are likely learned and more a product of environmental influences. Whereas psychopathy is deteremined by a biological predisposition, as well as, environmental conditioning. During my undergraduate studies in the mid and late 90’s the term sociopath was analogious to anti-social personality disorder and attriduted more to learned behaviors than that of biology. However, one must remember that these terms are abstract concepts and therefore are inherently arbitrary in nature, even with the standardized definitions outlined in the DSM-IV-TR. Further, ASPD generally begins in childhood with a diagnosis of oppositional-defiant disorder then conduct disorder to antisocial personality disorder. I too must admit that I find it somewhat disconcerting that there is so much discord within the field when standardization is so greatly purported.

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  • October 15, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Addendum to previuos post:
    Other manners in which to differentiate the two concepts regard the amount of aggressive behavior associated with an individual. I was taught that a sociopath displays more overt hostile aggressive behaviors than the psychopath, and the sociopath is disorganized whereas the psychopath is organized. This tends to be somewhat congruent with the original posting by Dr. McAleer.

    Reply
  • October 30, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Disclaimer: This is just an opinion.

    I think sociopaths/Antisocial Personality Disorder, are often those who had really, really bad childhoods. They often grew up in a non-caring and dangerous environment. They may have anxiety and anger or impulse control issues as a result of an insecure childhood attachment/parenting.

    Whereas a psychopath is anyone-regardless of social status-who has no empathy. This is often those who are not criminals, but may include white-collar criminals. Keep in mind that using and psychologically abusing people is usually not a crime. (i.e. You can’t press charges on your ex-boyfriend for emotionally abusing you, using you, cheating on you, then throwing you away.) Psychopaths don’t feel anxiety or fear due to their excessive grandiousity.

    -Antisocial Personality Disorder is similar to Borderline Personality Disorder (I noticed that some professionals assert that APD is a degree of NPD)

    -Psychopathy is similar to Narcissistic Personality Disorder where certain types of feelings are disavowed with the creation of the false personality

    One major difference is income level. Those with Antisocial Personality Disorder tend to come from lower-income families and fill the jails. Those with Psychopathy can come from both rich or poor, but do not show up in our institutions such as hospitals and jails. So, there is less data on the latter.

    p.s. visit my blog:

    http://rateapsychforum.wordpress.com/

    Reply
  • October 30, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    For standards the only concept is when it comes to the mind of being a Physcopath/Sociopath is the behavior of which mind content is released. For instances “A child who plays with a friend, the friend brakes there toy they become furiously angered and they tantrum from a large flow of a resisting impact of slowing it down”. In medical hospital how they obtain the following… Mental retardation, crass out from drugs, physcopathicaly dumb, and etc. There mind control is just a state that if they learn the maximum to take control under the physical state in their minds.

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  • October 30, 2011 at 8:31 pm

    What? From what I’ve heard, the sociopaths are the ones who lack emotion for anyone but themselves and seem to have inborn conditions.

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  • November 7, 2011 at 5:34 am

    It seems people are getting psychopathy confused with psychosis. These are two completely different terms. Ted Bundy was a psychopath while David Berkowitz may have been psychotic. Richard Trenton Chase aka The Vampire of Sacramento was definitely psychotic. Psychosis is characterized by losing touch with reality via delusions/hallucinations. It is important to not confuse the two similarly sounding but completely different terms especially while attempting to differentiate between psychopathy and sociopathy.

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    • March 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm

      Right you are!

      Reply
  • November 25, 2011 at 5:14 am

    I’m even more confused. So, what is someone who can form emotional attachment, can be charming, manipulative and often subversively bullying and harassing people, called? Someone who avoids dealing with difficult situations and people, who cannot handle being challenged, who backs down when confronted with aggression, and then engages in passive aggressive retaliation; is in upper management and is liked by the heirachy for constantly meeting KPIs and getting good results. I am working under someone like that now

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  • December 1, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Claire-the person you’re describing sounds like a giant control freak, brown noser, and classic horrible boss.

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  • December 2, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Claire, I’d like to know the same thing. I recently left a two year relationship with someone very similar to your description. More interesting than “what they are called” would be how to co exist with someone like this. I chose to leave and not subject myself to continued emotional manipulation. I’d love to know if there’s a name for this type behavior.

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  • December 17, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    My friend told me she thinks I need to be evaluated. She once said she thinks I have antisocial personality disorder, and that was in the 9th or 10th grade. Now, I’m almost 21 attending college. People claim I’m one of the sweetest girls they know. I’m still the same as I always was, but I don’t think I could have apd, or sociopathy/psychopathy. Maybe something else, but I doubt those. I have a few of the signs of all three, but I still doubt it. However, I do have a family member who my family believes could be a psychopath. He has issues with the law and continues to today at 40 something, though, he has never been diagnosed, and frankly, I don’t think he would ever believe anything is wrong with him if someone were to tell him. I think sometimes too many normal things are too dissected and psychoanalyzed somehow getting twisted and turned into a mental disorder for the sake of societys happy-time with ‘labeling’ people. I think everyone has their quirks about them, and of course if you’re looking to find something in someone, you probably will. Whether its something significant or not people will find a way to turn it however they want to. I’m not down playing what you say, or anyone else for that matter, but I think that most if not all mental and personality disorders are exaggerated a bit.

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    • April 4, 2012 at 7:03 am

      L, you might have Borderline Personality Disorder. Regardless of whether or not you have a “disorde” I wish you all the best. God bless you, and good luck.

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    • April 10, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      I agree with L to an extent. I think ‘normal’ itself is a construction in some ways. Everyone has their quirks and the more interesting question is what is the fine line between classifying someone as having a ‘disorder’ like psychopathy from someone who is just a quirky or eccentric person. I imagine it has something to do with ‘harm towards others’. If someone exhibits psychopathic traits but is not really doing anything harmful enough to warrant arrest or detention of some form, I don’t see the need why that type of person would need to be placed on medication or have to go through a treatment regimen especially if they themselves think that they are normal and are living normal and fine lives. People should be more critical and skeptical of labels that the pharmaceutical and psychiatric industry throw at us. I am not saying that ‘everything goes’ and that all things are ‘subjective,’ but I really believe that we as a society need to scrutinize and constructively critique these industries a lot more than we are currently doing.

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    • September 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm

      I realize this is an old post, but you need to realize that what a “friend” said could be saying more about him/her than about you. I’m touchy about this because I lived with a verbally abusive person for many years before I realized what verbal abuse is. Everyone has times when they behaved badly or committed a faux pas. A psychopath or sociopath or someone with any mental or behavioral disorder shows a PATTERN of that behavior. If you make me angry or irritated and I shout “You are crazy!” or use some more scientific term, that doesn’t mean you really are! People will do that to try to manipulate you, and if you care about the person who does it, you may take it more seriously than you should. Best wishes to you!

      Reply
  • January 6, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I write military thrillers and was looking for a simple no-nonsense answer as to which my characters primarily are- which from their stand point, should be sociopaths.

    Thanks!

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  • January 8, 2012 at 12:31 am

    Hmmn…I always thought of Bundy as more of a sociopath (but I could be wrong). He never knew his father & was sent away to be born because he was illigitimate. He was raised to believe that his mother was his sister & that his grandparents were his parents. But he was able to form ‘attachments’ if you will. Check out the book “Stranger Beside Me” by Ann Rule.

    Claire – there can be corporate psychopaths & sociopaths. The executives of Enron during the scandal seem to be the best example @ the moment. Also, it may look like a sociopath/psychopath has formed an emotional attachment to someone, but as soon as they get what they want, they move on. For example, they might stay in a relationship w/someone for an extended period of time, pretending they truly care about the person etc, but then they will, say, open a joint bank account w/the person & take all the money from it, leaving the other person w/nothing.

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  • January 23, 2012 at 10:27 am

    hmmmm.it’s an interesting distinction however i still agree with those who say, psychopaths, antisocial personality disorder etc- is sociopathy on a continuumdifferent degrees of empathy and the degree to which they use people (and how) etc.i think sociopath is a better blanket term and preferable to psychopath because of the misinterpretation of the label.i also think the level of…cunning or organization – isnt a matter of sociopathy at all but just intelligence.

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  • January 28, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    My word who is the teacher above that is diagnosing his students as “sociopaths”. You know, as I read the comments one thing is clear. We have among us more narcissitic people in the world than we could ever imagine there are sociopaths and psychopaths. The hard cold truth is nobody is perfect, minus some of the special needs people born into world. That said, I find it pathetic to read such hyperintelligent rubbish from sites like this. Don’t forget half the psychiatrists who make this stuff up are totally nuts themselves. As for true sociopaths, they are usually demonically driven, which is why they are so hard to profile. The idea that a teacher above sits in class and pegs students as sociopaths shows just how out of control others can get with these abstract labels. I’d say teach is an obessive compulsive sociopath labeler.

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    • September 27, 2012 at 2:08 pm

      Finally, someone who gets my point. We need to be much more critical of the psychiatric industry and about carelessly throwing labels around.

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  • January 31, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Umm i believe I’m a combination of a sociopath and psychopath but i em only working off a self diagnoses and em not sure where to go from here or what being the two even means… help?

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  • March 10, 2012 at 2:13 am

    Thank you this makes sense for the first time; and timely it is, for now I recognize I’ve been in a relationship with a sociopath…he does care for some people, he terminated it in a way that was clearly intended to lessen the pain he actually enjoys invoking in others…I could not reconcile some of his behaviors with others until I realized it IS possible for him to attach and he clearly did attach to me…which reduces the pain a fraction or two.

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  • March 16, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    I have interacted with and personally studied both and found a significent difference. Both are narcissistic. SOCIOPATHS LACK EMPATHY BUT FEEL FOR THEMSELVES. They are less retarded socially and less obsessive. When their victim stops taking care of their emotional needs, they just move on to another victim, and are less likely to seriously harm another physically. PSYCHOPATHS DON’T JUST LACK EMPATHY, THEY DON’T EMOTIONALLY FEEL ANYTHING. They are far more dependent on others for their emotional and social needs, and more obsessed with the need to control or destroy their victims. They are potentially more homicidal. That’s what I have concluded from my many years of experiences with both.

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  • March 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Thank you for writing this, I found it very insightful. The more I read about sociopathy and psychopathy, the more it seems to me there is great confusion between the two pathologies that needs to be clarified. While I’m merely an interested layman, it’s occurred to me that the many studies focusing on prisoners and known criminals are really examining sociopaths for the most part, whereas the phenomenon of the actual psychopath has largely been missed. Both share the trait of a lack of empathy, but the sociopath is likely to act out of impulsive emotion or rage and have little control of their urges where the psychopath has no ability to really feel anything and can be cool and calculating. Possessing little to no real emotional affect the psychopath can be quite successful in life rising to positions of authority in institutions such as corporations and government. Because of this, they can be difficult to recognize and differentiate from normal people but can do real harm to the lives and well-being of people who come in contact with them. I submit the only real way to detect a psychopath is by MRI scan and not through any clinical checklist as they can be highly intelligent and adept at mimicking emotions as well as manipulating others and lying to clinicians. We now know that the psychopath has recognizable brain anomalies that differ from normal people. Detecting them early to prevent harm to society should be a critical focus of the psychiatric community.

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  • April 4, 2012 at 7:09 am

    I’ve been thinking that the man who has caused me immense suffering over the past few years is a sociopath, but now I realize that he’s actually a psychopath. He has the narcissistic element that psychopaths display. Knowing the truth about him doesn’t make me feel better about all of the pain I’ve endured, but at least realizing the hopelessness of the situation has motivated me to break free from him, once and for all.

    Reply
 

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