The words psychopath and sociopath are used very commonly nowadays. However, do we know what is the difference between sociopath and psychopath? How do they differ from one another, what are the defining traits of each of these antisocial personality disorders? If you have ever been plagued or intrigued by these two terminologies of antisocial personality disorder, you are at the right place. In this article, I will discuss the difference between sociopath and psychopath.
If you look into the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, you will not find the resolution of these two antisocial personalities. In most cases, psychologists do not diagnose people as being sociopaths or psychopaths. They instead use a term that is referred to as antisocial personality disorder.
Experts say that both of these personality disorders share similar traits. In most cases, people suffering from any of these display a poor sense of what is right and what is wrong. They also do not understand or are empathetic towards the feelings of others. However, certain differences differentiate one from the other.
Difference between sociopath and psychopath
Sociopaths have a higher chance of reacting violently and flying off the handle whenever confronted. On the other hand, psychopaths are able to follow social conventions if it suits their needs. Sociopath and psychopath share many similarities as well as differences. Before I get into the discussion of the difference between sociopath and psychopath, let’s have a look at the similarities between these two.
Similarities between sociopaths and psychopaths
People with either of these traits show a constant and persistent pattern of disregard towards others’ rights and safety. The central feature of both of these personality disorders is manipulation and deceit. These people can use any weapon in their arsenal to get what they want from the other person. Contrary to popular belief, psychopaths and sociopaths are not always violent.
The diagnosis of psychopathy and sociopathy
Both of these disorders fall under the category of antisocial personality disorder. Antisocial personality disorder is defined by the DSM 5 manual as someone who displays three or over three of the following antisocial traits
- Tends to constantly break the law
- Lying and deceiving comes very easy to them
- Very impulsive and does not like to plan ahead
- Drawn to aggressiveness and fighting
- Little to no regard towards the safety of fellow people
- Extremely irresponsible
- Finds hard to meet financial obligations
- Does not feel any kind of remorse or guilt after harming others.
In case of most people with antisocial personality disorder, the symptoms of psychopathy and sociopathy start to display before the person hits the age of 15 years. By the time the person becomes a full-grown adult, they can be diagnosed as a sociopath or psychopath.
Difference between psychopath and sociopath: General characteristics
Most often, the psychopath comes off as a person who is very trustworthy and charming. They most often have steady jobs and behave in regular manner. Some psychopaths may even have seemingly loving families with kids. They may also come off as very well educated to others. Even if psychopath engages in criminal activity of any sort, they will hide their tracks well so that the law does not suspect them of any wrongdoing.
Sociopaths being the aggressive ones are more easily spotted coz they find it hard to cover up their trades. Sociopaths want everything and everyone to be about them If things don’t go their way, they are not afraid of throwing a tantrum.
Difference between psychopath and sociopath: Spotting
Spotting a sociopath in a crowd can be very easy because of their attitude. Sociopaths tend to be very aggressive with regard to what they want. If their needs are not met, they will not be afraid to throw an instant tantrum. They display violent tendencies and do not care if they are at home or outside. They make sure that their feelings are known by any and everyone around them.
Psychopaths tend to be very good at concealing their true nature. They can mix in with society reasonably well. Therefore, spotting a psychopath in a group of individuals can be very hard. They can also mimic human behavior and show emotions of sympathy if it suits them. Therefore, they may pretend to be incredibly charming, likable, and not try to hog the attention, but from inside, they don’t feel anything for anyone.
Difference between psychopath and sociopath: Attachments
Sociopaths tend to display much more impulsive and erratic behavior than their psychopathic counterparts. They have severe difficulties in forming attachments to other human beings. However, some of the sociopaths can form attachments to other like-minded people or groups. They find it hard to hold their jobs for the long term. Such people may skip from one job to the other very soon. They also find it hard to lead an everyday family life, even for the sake of showing it to the outside world.
Difference between psychopath and sociopath: Emotion mimicry (cold hearted vs hot headed)
Psychopaths can be viewed as highly skilled actors whose professional job is to manipulate others for their own gain. Psychopaths can silently study human behavior and behave exactly how an average person is supposed to in various circumstances.
On the contrary, sociopaths are not able to mimic human emotions that well. They easily expose their ultimate motive, that they are not interested in anyone except themselves. They have a habit of constantly blaming others for their misdeeds and providing excuses for their behavior. The impulsiveness of the sociopath is what has got them the name hotheaded. They tend to act without even thinking of the consequences and how their behavior or actions may affect the life of others.
Psychopaths most often lie on the cold-hearted side of the spectrum. They are very calculating and only think of their gain. However, they will spend a lot of time planning their moves and use every chance to manipulate others and get what they want. For example, if a psychopath works in a company and wants to rise up in ranks, they may carefully plot their moves and use their competitors as pawns to win the game.
Difference between psychopath and sociopath: approach to violence
When you try to understand the difference between psychopath and sociopath, one of the crucial things that you have to focus on is violence. Sociopaths are inherently violent. in case a sociopath decides to engage in any kind of criminal behavior, they will do so in a very impulsive manner. There’s a high chance that they will not think before they execute their plan. Since they have minimal regard for the consequences or the risk that they are taking, it makes them easier to be identified as the ones who broke the law. They also tend to become angry or agitated very quickly. This can lead to violent outbursts. Due to such factors, it is easier to apprehend a sociopath.
If you notice your family members or coworker displaying violent tendencies, you may think you are living with either a psychopath or a sociopath. However, that is not true. Being mean and selfish does not diagnose a person as having an antisocial personality disorder
Development and origins
You must have heard of the phrase, “sociopaths are made while psychopaths are born”. It is true to a certain degree. In the case of psychopaths, it has been observed that they have an underdeveloped brain. More precisely, the parts responsible for regulating emotions and impulsiveness of the person are underdeveloped. However, other factors are responsible for this disorder as well. Along with underdevelopment of the brain, psychopaths may have suffered at the hands of parents who have constantly indulged in substance abuse and failed to provide the right kind of attention or guidance.
Psychological studies have shown that sociopaths most often have a history of dysfunctional and unstable family life, violence and family, being raised in poor households, and other environmental factors that contribute to the development of this personality disorder. Brain anatomy and chemistry are the same among sociopaths and normal people. However, it is the environment that has a crucial role to play in case of the development of a sociopath.
In case of psychopaths, the toxic environment in childhood increases their chances of having failed and unstable relationships during adulthood. They constantly feel that they are not being given enough opportunities or have been robbed of the advantages that everyone else seems to enjoy. Psychopathy is also associated with sexual abuse, harmful experiences during the person’s childhood, parental instability and physical violence.
This difference indicates that besides biological factors, environmental factors also have a very big role to play in the development of psychopaths and sociopaths. If the proper environment is available, there is less chance that a person will become a sociopath when they grow up. However, this factor is not applied to psychopathy.
Differences in the brain
As I mentioned before, scientific studies have shown that the brain of a psychopath differs from that of an average person. They have underdeveloped brains. In the brain of a psychopath, the regions that control emotions and impulsiveness are underdeveloped. This is one of the causes behind their lack of empathy towards others and their impulsive behavior.
This also changes the way they react to certain impulses. For example, a normal person on seeing blood and violence would have a higher heart rate, shallow breaths and may display signs of anxiety. However, if a psychopath comes across a violent and horrific scene, their heart rate calms down and they may not feel heightened emotions. This is why psychopaths tend to engage in fearless and risky behavior more than their sociopathic counterparts.
On the other hand, as has been mentioned before sociopaths have a normal brain structure. Their problem arises from an abusive or traumatic childhood. Their experiences are responsible for the dysfunctional behavior that they display. If they want, they can care for others. They also feel a certain level of sympathy (much lower than what an average person would feel). However, their experiences have taught them that they need to put themselves first. Thus, that is what they do.
Sociopaths do have a conscience. In their case, the conscience is mostly fragile. They can feel empathy towards others and understand other’s suffering. However, they choose not to act on it. If they do something wrong, they know that as well, but they will try to justify and pretend that the mistake is someone else’s and not their own. However, on the other hand, psychopaths do not have a bone of empathy in them. They don’t care about others. This is because of the underdeveloped brain sections. They feel that their actions are entirely justified and suffer from no guilt for any harm that they have caused others.
Sociopaths and psychopaths are both disorders belonging to the spectrum of antisocial personality disorder. If a mental health counselor makes a diagnosis, they will not diagnose the person as either a psychopath or a sociopath. They will diagnose the person as having an antisocial personality disorder.
Sociopaths do feel empathy, but the level is very less. On the other hand, psychopaths do not feel empathy at all. In the case of sociopaths, their environmental conditions contribute to their personality disorder. In the case of psychopaths, it is both environmental conditions and lack of brain development. Sociopaths also have a higher inclination towards violence and angry outbursts. Psychopaths on the other hand, prefer to plan out their approach and then take revenge.
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