5 Ways To Tell Sociopaths and Psychopaths Apart

This is a disclaimer that this article is for informative purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Please reach out to a qualified mental health professional if you are struggling.

You have probably heard the terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” before. Generally, you probably think of both relating to people who commit violent acts with no remorse. While this can be true in some instances, this does not reflect everyone with the conditions. In fact, the two are not the same! To better understand what the differences are, in this article, we’ll be looking at five ways to tell sociopaths and psychopaths apart.

First, How Is a Psychopath or a Sociopath Diagnosed?

While psychologists agree that sociopaths and psychopaths are different from one another, they are actually given the same diagnosis as both exist under the term “antisocial personality disorder” (Bonn 2018). ASPD is a condition characterized as a cluster B personality disorder which relates to a lack of empathy and disregard towards laws and rules (Mayo Clinic 2019). It is important to know that “antisocial” refers to harmful behaviors towards other people, it is not the same as asocial, which is classified by introversion. Generally, people with ASPD will exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Disregard for the feelings of others
  • Disregard to laws and rules
  • No remorse after hurting others
  • Aggression
  • Dangerous behaviors

(Source: Mayo Clinic 2019)

The difference lies in how these symptoms are portrayed. Some psychologists argue that psychopathy is a more severe form of ASPD, while others think that it is something completely different (Bonn 2014). 

Sociopaths Don’t Care About Others While Psychopaths Pretend To

Sociopaths tend to make it clear that they don’t care about the needs of others. Because of this, they may have extremely unstable and abusive relationships (Purse 2020). Psychopaths on the other hand can be much more difficult to spot. They tend to blend in well with the people around them and can fake their emotions to avoid drawing attention. Because of this, psychopaths may appear completely normal, sometimes so much so, that they have long-lasting relationships and families unaware of their condition (Bonn 2014).

Sociopaths Tend To Be Impulsive While Psychopaths are Methodical

Generally, sociopaths may have a difficult time controlling their emotions therefore are able to lash out in explosive outbursts in a short period of time. They may carry out violent acts and crimes quickly and “in the heat of the moment” (WebMD 2020). Psychopaths on the other hand tend to be much more calculated and thoughtful in their approach. They may come up with elaborate plans to commit horrible acts and do so without drawing too much attention (WebMD 2020).

Sociopaths Tend To Be a Product of Their Environment While Psychopaths are Born

Nature versus nurture is used to describe whether or not a person’s behavior is a product of genetics or how they were raised (Bonn 2019). Typically it is believed that sociopaths develop as a result of trauma and neglect throughout childhood (Bonn 2014). Psychopaths on the other hand are believed to develop as a result of genetics and less so from how they grew up (Bonn 2014). Simply, sociopathy is believed to be learned and psychopathy is inherited.

Sociopaths Can Feel Empathy in Certain Situations While Psychopaths Cannot

Some psychologists believe that sociopaths can feel empathy towards others in certain situations due to the “learned” nature of their condition (Bonn 2019). However, this can be pretty inconsistent and may only be present in specific, isolated instances. Some will argue that sociopaths have a sense of right and wrong, just a weak one. Psychopaths on the other hand, may not be able to feel empathy in any context and usually have no concept of right and wrong (Bonn 2019). 

Sociopaths Tend To Be Unstable While Psychopaths Are “Stable

 It can be easier to spot someone who is a sociopath due to the impulsive and aggressive nature that they tend to display (Mayo Clinic 2019). Their behavior may be bold and show itself in their chaotic relationships. As psychopaths are more methodical and calculated, they show less signs of abnormality (Bonn 2019). They can also be extremely manipulative and charming which fools people into thinking that everything is ordinary. While sociopaths tend to live on the “fringe” and avoid education, psychopaths may become highly successful in their fields (Bonn 2019). While psychopaths can develop mood disorders like depression, they tend to have a high level of control over their emotions.

Psychopaths and sociopaths are similar, but are not the same with many of their similarities showing themselves in different ways. It is important to know that anyone with any kind of ASPD is capable of receiving treatment and receiving the proper help can make a difference. Let us know what you thought on this topic in the comments!

References:

  • Bonn, S. (2014, January 22). How to Tell a Sociopath From a Psychopath. PsychologyToday. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/wicked-deeds/201401/how-tell-sociopath-psychopath
  • Bonn, S. (2018, January 9). The Differences Between Psychopaths and Sociopaths. PsychologyToday. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/wicked-deeds/201801/the-differences-between-psychopaths-and-sociopaths
  • Mayo Clinic. (2019, December 10). Antisocial personality disorder – Symptoms and causes. www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/antisocial-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353928
  • Purse, M. (2020, June 15). How Sociopaths Are Different from Psychopaths. Verywell Mind. www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-sociopath-380184
  • WebMD. (2014, March 25). Antisocial Personality Disorder. www.webmd.com/mental-health/antisocial-personality-disorder-overview
  • WebMD. (2020, December 14). What’s the Difference Between a Psychopath and a Sociopath? www.webmd.com/mental-health/psychopath-sociopath-differences

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