Psychopathy and sociopathy are anti-social personality disorders. While both these disorders are the result of an interaction between genetic predispositions and environmental factors, psychopathy is used when the underlying cause leans towards the hereditary. Sociopath is the term used when the antisocial behavior is a result of a brain injury or negative sociological factors like parental neglect, delinquent peers, belief system and upbringing. In recent years, the term psychopath has acquired a specific meaning and the condition is now more widely understood.

Psychopaths are incapable of empathy and forming loving relationships. However, they can pretend to be charming and loving, so those around them can't always detect their lack of empathy. Psychopaths also have no conscience or moral compass, so they do not feel guilt. Sociopaths, on the other hand, are capable of empathy and guilt. While sociopaths are impulsive, hot-tempered and erratic, they may form attachments to some people or groups.

Anti-social personality disorder may result in violent behavior but that is not inevitable. Highly intelligent psychopaths may channel their tendencies to white-collar crime or simply being ruthless in business. A psychopath may be a successful CEO with a family, but sociopaths tend to live on the fringes of society.

Though psychiatrists often consider and treat sociopaths and psychopaths as the same, criminologists treat them as different because of the difference in their outward behavior.

Comparison chart

Psychopath versus Sociopath comparison chart
Suffers from Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD); lack of empathy; no conscience Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). High impulsivity.
Origin of illness Psychologists generally use the term psychopathy to imply an innate condition of the individual. It's derived from the nature part of the nature vs. nurture debate. The term sociopathy generally implies that environmental factors, such as upbringing, have played a role in the development of the ASPD.
Predisposition to Violence Varied High
Impulsivity Varies; generally low High
Behavior Controlled Erratic
Criminal behavior Tendency to participate in schemes and take calculated risks to minimize evidence or exposure. Tendency to leave clues and act on impulse.
Criminal Predispositions Tendency for premeditated crimes with controllable risks, criminal opportunism, fraud, calculated or opportunistic violence. Tendency for impulsive or opportunistic criminal behavior, excessive risk taking, impulsive or opportunistic violence.
Social relationships May appear superficially normal in social relationships, but has no attachments, empathy or conscience. Often social predators. May hurt family and friends without feeling guilt. Values relationships that benefit themselves. Can empathize with close friends or family; will feel guilty if they hurt people close to them.

Differences in Outward Behavior of a Psychopath and a Sociopath

Social Relationships

Both sociopaths and psychopaths are capable of forming relationships. The neurology of psychopaths makes it hard for them to feel empathy. They value relationships that benefit them but do not feel guilty about taking advantage of close friends and family. Psychopaths can be extremely charming but they are only pretending and do not actually feel an emotional bond.

Sociopaths are generally capable of empathy and guilt, although it is too weak to resist being overpowered by their impulsivity and erratic behavior. However, their relationships — at least with people they end up getting close to — can be "normal".

Psychopaths can be very manipulative and pernicious in their abuse of the people around them. Unlike sociopaths, they can be almost obsessively organized and give the appearance of normal in their social relationships, often forming symbiotic or parasitic relations.


Psychopaths often have successful careers and try to make others like and trust them. This is because they understand human social emotions quite well and are able to mimic these emotions, even if they are unable to experience them. This allows them to be master manipulators of human emotions.

Sociopaths often find it hard to maintain a steady job and home. Sociopaths are often found at the fringes of society.

Violent tendencies

Even though antisocial personality disorder is characterized by impulsiveness, psychopaths are usually very meticulous in planning their crimes. Their crimes can go undetected for a long time. Violent crimes are rare; most psychopaths either take advantage of those around them without doing anything illegal, or engage in white collar crime such as fraud.

A sociopath's outbreaks of violence tend to be erratic and unplanned. They also tend to leave more clues.

Both sociopaths and psychopaths commit crime because they are motivated by greed or revenge. But psychopaths feel no remorse after their crimes because they lack the ability to empathize. Many prolific serial killers are psychopaths.

Similarities between Psychopaths and Sociopaths

Sociopaths and psychopaths both suffer from antisocial personality disorder, which can be treated or alleviated if properly diagnosed. Treatment involves psychotherapy and may also require medication. In fact, psychiatrists often don't distinguish between the two based on behavior; instead, they label a person with ASPD a sociopath if their mental condition is a result of mainly social conditions like abuse during childhood and a psychopath if the condition is mainly congenital.

The symptoms in both cases begin to establish and surface at approximately fifteen years of age. The initial symptom can be excessive cruelty to animals followed by lack of conscience, remorse or guilt for hurtful actions to others at a later stage. There may be an intellectual understanding of appropriate social behavior but no emotional response to the actions of others. Psychopaths may also face an inability to form genuine relationships, and may show inappropriate or out of proportion reaction to perceived negligence.

The clinical guidelines in DSM-5 to diagnose antisocial personality disorder are as follows:

  1. Significant impairments in personal functioning manifest by
    1. Impairments in self-functioning: (a) Identity (ego-centrism; self-esteem derived from personal gain, power or pleasure), or (b) Self-direction (goal-setting based on personal gratification; absence of prosocial internal standards)
    2. Impairments in interpersonal functioning: (a) Empathy (lack of concern for feelings, needs, or suffering of others; lack of remorse after hurting or mistreating another), or (b) Intimacy (incapacity of mutually intimate relationships; use of dominance or intimidation to control others)
  2. Pathological personality traits in the following domains:
    1. Antagonism, characterized by: (a) Manipulativeness, (b) Deceitfulness, (c) Callousness, (d) Hostility
    2. Disinhibition, characterized by (a) Irresponsibility, (b) Impulsivity, (c) Risk taking
  3. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual's personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual‟s developmental stage or sociocultural environment.
  4. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual's personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., severe head trauma).
  5. The individual is at least age 18 years.

Treatment and Support

Antisocial Personality Disorder is a mental illness that can be managed with drugs and therapy.

The Mayo Clinic also has information on the illness and resources for support.

Psychopath vs Psychotic

It should be noted that psychopaths are not "insane" or mentally disabled. A psychotic person suffers a break from reality, characterized by delusions and hallucinations. This usually renders the individual unable to function normally. But psychopaths are not mentally disabled and do not lose contact with reality.


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