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Relationship Between Psychopathy and Personality Disorders

Psychopathy can be known as psychopathic personality disorder in spite of its omission from the DSM. Read about psychopathy and personality disorders.

The relationship between psychopathy and personality disorders is actually a bit of a complicated one. Psychopathy can also be called psychopathic personality disorder, suggesting, of course, that psychopathy is a personality disorder; however, it is not listed as such among all the others in the Diagnostic and StatisticalManual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) created by the American Psychiatry Association. The closest the DSM-5 gets is specifying a person with antisocial personality disorder as also a psychopath, but most researchers agree this isn't adequate. Many would argue that psychopathy needs its own diagnosis as a personality disorder separate from antisocial personality disorder. To make things more complicated, some people call those with antisocial personality disorder alone "psychopaths" but this is not accurate either (they would typically be known as sociopaths. Read Psychopath vs. Sociopath: What’s the Difference?).

What Is a Personality Disorder?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, personality disorders are "associated with ways of thinking and feeling about oneself and others that significantly and adversely affect how an individual functions in many aspects of life." (The Psychopath Brain: Is It Different From A Normal Brain)

Personality disorders tend to develop during childhood and adolescents but aren't typically diagnosed until adulthood (although underage youth can be diagnosed with specific personality disorder traits). In the case of psychopathy, it is considered a personality disorder as psychopathy's biggest characteristics are part of an individual's personality, namely: narcissism (Are narcissists psychopaths?), lack of empathy, lack of deep connections with others, lack of guilt, superficial charm, dishonesty, manipulativeness, reckless risk-taking and antisocial behaviors.

What Is Antisocial Personality Disorder and How Does It Relate to Psychopathy?

Antisocial personality disorder is defined in the DSM-5 as a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others and the rules of society. As stated, this diagnosis cannot be given to non-adults but the following features must be exhibited before age 16 to qualify for the antisocial personality disorder 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


Looking at the diagnostic criteria, it's clear that if one meets the criteria for a psychopath then one also meets the criteria for antisocial personality disorder. In other words, all psychopaths could be said to have antisocial personality disorder but all those with antisocial personality disorder are not necessarily psychopaths. This may be why, in the DSM-5, psychopathy is an optional secondary identifier for those with antisocial personality disorder.

Those who are psychopaths tend to have more symptoms and more severe versions of those psychopathic symptoms than those with antisocial personality disorder alone. For more information on the specific symptoms of psychopathy, please see: Does a Psychopath Test Exist? Diagnosing the Psychopath.


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next: Psychopathic Personality and How It Develops
~ all articles on Personality Disorders
~ all Psychopath Articles

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

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