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Psychopath vs. Sociopath: What’s the Difference?

The terms psychopath and sociopath get thrown around a lot but what’s the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath? Learn how each differs.

Sociopaths are often called psychopaths and vice versa but there are differences between a psychopath and a sociopath. Psychopaths, for example, are far more likely to get in trouble with the law while sociopaths are much more likely to blend in with society. And while sociopaths and psychopaths do share some traits, sociopathy (antisocial personality disorder) is generally considered less severe than psychopathy.

What is a Sociopath?

A sociopath is actually a person with antisocial personality disorder. Antisocial personality disorder is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the book which contains the diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses) as a cluster B personality disorder (those that are dramatic or emotional).

While sociopathy can only be diagnosed at the age of 18 or above, the following must be present before the age of 15 for the diagnosis:

  • Repeated violations of the law
  • Pervasive lying and deception
  • Physical aggressiveness
  • Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility in work and family environments
  • Lack of remorse

Psychopath vs. Sociopath

Psychopathy can be thought of as a more severe form of sociopathy with more symptoms. Therefore, all psychopaths are sociopaths but sociopaths are not necessarily psychopaths.

According to the Society for the Study of Psychopathy, psychopath traits include:

  • Lack of guilt/remorse
  • Lack of empathy
  • Lack of deep emotional attachments
  • Narcissism
  • Superficial charm
  • Dishonesty
  • Manipulativeness
  • Reckless risk-taking

Moreover, approximately 93% of psychopaths are in the criminal justice system.

Additional psychopath traits have been identified and more on these can be found in the article, Does a Psychopath Test Exist? Diagnosing the Psychopath.

The Difference Between a Psychopath and Sociopath

While the traits of each may seem similar, it is thought that sociopaths have a less severe form of lack of empathy and lack of guilt. It is thought that sociopaths may be able to form some deep bonds (such as, possibly, with family) while a psychopath cannot (Can Psychopaths Love, Cry and Experience Joy?). Moreover, while a sociopath would feel no guilt about hurting a stranger, they may feel guilt and remorse over hurting someone with which they share a bond. Additionally, it appears that some of the very antisocial behavior in sociopaths lessens over time while this cannot be said of psychopaths (How To Recognize and Identify Psychopathic Behavior). Psychopaths appear to have no concern whatsoever of the consequences, while a sociopath may learn to avoid consequences over time by reducing antisocial behavior.

Finally, the presentation of one with psychopathy or sociopathy differs. According to Kelly McAleer, Psy.D,

"The psychopath is callous, yet charming. He or she will con and manipulate others with charisma and intimidation and can effectively mimic feelings to present as "normal" to society. The psychopath is organized in their criminal thinking and behavior, and can maintain good emotional and physical control, displaying little to no emotional or autonomic arousal, even under situations that most would find threatening or horrifying. The psychopath is keenly aware that what he or she is doing is wrong, but does not care.

"Conversely, the sociopath is less organized in his or her demeanor; he or she might be nervous, easily agitated, and quick to display anger. A sociopath is more likely to spontaneously act out in inappropriate ways without thinking through the consequences. Compared to the psychopath, the sociopath will not be able to move through society committing callous crimes as easily, as they can form attachments and often have 'normal temperaments.' . . ."

Both psychopaths and sociopaths are capable of committing horrific crimes, but a sociopath is less likely to commit them against those with whom there is a bond.


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next: Psychopathic Symptoms: Spotting the Symptoms of a Psychopath
~ all articles on Personality Disorders
~ all Psychopath Articles

Last Updated: 21 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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