Sociopath Causes: the Making of a Sociopath
It's common to wonder what causes someone to be a sociopath as we watch in disbelief as the sociopath lies, manipulates, harms, and feels no empathy for anyone (Do Sociopaths Cry or Even Have Feelings?).
As you may know, sociopaths are anti-social; they exist outside the norms of society and care nothing for its rules or its people. Why is he like this? How did she get this way? Although the answers are incomplete, researchers are beginning to discover sociopath causes.
Causes of Sociopath, Both Nature and Nurture
Call it by any of its names - antisocial personality disorder, psychopathy, or sociopathy - the disorder affects all aspects of someone's life. A sociopath is antisocial, manipulative, deceitful, rule-breaking, and superficially charming so he can have his way. Where does something this severe come from?
Like all personality disorders, antisocial personality disorder is so intricately a part of every facet of a person's inner and outer worlds that it's logical that there are many things that cause someone to be a sociopath or a high-functioning sociopath. It makes sense that, like sociopathy itself, the causes come from both within a person and from their external world.
The sociopath causes are biological as well as environmental. Aspects of nature (the person's biology and genetic make-up) influence the development of sociopathy. Also, events in the nurturing of the person impact sociopathic behaviors. While it's still unknown exactly how much of the sociopath causes come from nature and how much come from nurture, researchers do know that both play an important role in the development of sociopathy (Sociopathic Children: How Do They Become That Way?).
The Biological Causes of Sociopathy
What is it in someone's nature that causes him to be a sociopath? Scientists have some theories. One is that the brain of a sociopath matures at a slower rate than the brain of a non-sociopath. Further, early brain damage could lead to the development of this disorder. Damage isn't the only thing that can cause the brain to develop abnormally. Researchers are also studying biological dysfunction, or faulty wiring, as a sociopath cause.
Sociopath tests that illustrate brain functioning, such as fMRIs and EEGs, show without a doubt that there are brain-based causes of sociopathy. Biology, nature, unquestionably contributes to antisocial personality disorder. This is only part of the picture, however. The genetics or the organic brain itself must exist, but something has to trigger them.
The Environmental Causes of Sociopathy
With the right biological conditions in place, a person's background can further add to the development of sociopathy. Early life experiences or trauma, such as extreme poverty, abuse, rejection, and other adverse conditions can, if the biological nature allows, be part of the causes of sociopathy (Sociopathic Parents and Their Effects on Children).
Interestingly, when exploring what causes someone to be a sociopath, some researchers have noticed that sociopaths coming from unstable backgrounds commit more violent crimes than sociopaths from stable backgrounds (Hare, 1999). Sociopaths do indeed come from all socioeconomic backgrounds. There is some evidence that many factors influence the severity of sociopathy.
Are Sociopath Causes Seen Later in Life?
A child is born with the capacity to become a sociopath. Environmental causes of sociopathy trigger the biological disposition. In addition, there are behaviors that exist in childhood that are clues that he will be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder as an adult (My Child Is A Sociopath! Is There Anything I Can Do?). This means that someone can't just suddenly become a sociopath later in life.
There is one rare exception. Traumatic brain injury specifically to the paralimbic system can (but doesn't always) cause someone to develop a sociopathic personality.
It appears that someone is born a sociopath. It takes triggers from the environment in childhood for the full-blown symptoms of a sociopath to develop, but the brain is primed for it from birth. It's the dance between nature and nurture that are the sociopath causes underlying the making of a sociopath.
Last Updated: 21 July 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD