People often confuse sociopaths with psychopaths, which is not surprising since the two share features of antisocial personality disorder. According to the DSM-5, the main signs of antisocial personality disorder are egocentrism, lack of empathy, manipulativeness, hostility, and impulsivity (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Despite these similarities, however, there are some differences between sociopathy and psychopathy:
1. Psychopaths do not have a conscience
This is arguably the main difference between psychopaths and sociopaths. While sociopaths are capable of feeling remorse and guilt, psychopathic traits include lack of empathy and lack of guilt and remorse.
2. Psychopaths are manipulative and calculating
With their charm and charisma, psychopaths can be extremely manipulative and calculating. They are very good at maintaining emotional and physical control so as to organize their (criminal) behavior. Sociopaths, on the other hand, are less organized and are more likely to spontaneously commit crimes. In this sense, sociopaths are more “normal” compared to psychopaths.
3. Sociopaths are able to form relationships with others
Because sociopaths are capable of feeling remorse, they are also capable of forming deep emotional attachments, such as with friends and family. Psychopaths are unable to do this because of their lack of empathy.
4. A psychopath’s brain is different from other people’s
Interestingly, the brain of a psychopath is different from that of other people (Robinson, 2014). As you can see in the photo of the brain scan, the prefrontal cortex (the front part of the brain), which is responsible for decision making, social behavior, and personality expression, and the amygdala (the small area in the middle), which is responsible for emotions, do not light up in a psychopath’s brain scan, which means there is little to no activity in these regions.
This means that when “normal” people encounter violence, their heart rate increases and their palms start to sweat. A psychopath has the opposite reaction in that he or she gets calmer. This helps psychopaths engage in risky, and sometimes criminal, behavior, as they do not fear consequences. You can read about more symptoms of a psychopath here.
5. Psychopathy is a more severe form of sociopathy
In sum, psychopathy is a much more severe form of sociopathy. Thus, you could say that all psychopaths are sociopaths but sociopaths are not necessarily psychopaths.
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American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Robinson, K. M. (2014, August 24). Sociopath vs. Psychopath: What’s the Difference? WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/sociopath-psychopath-difference#2
Tracy, N. (n.d.). Psychopath vs. Sociopath: What’s the Difference? HealthyPlace.com. Retrieved from http://www.healthyplace.com/personality-disorders/psychopath/psychopath-vs-sociopath-what-s-the-difference/