Sociopath vs Psychopath

Authored by Hugh Soames

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por

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Sociopath vs Psychopath


Movies and popular culture has seemingly ingrained the terms psychopath and sociopath into our collective culture. However, the words sociopath and psychopath are actually pop psychology descriptions for what a psychiatrist would diagnose as antisocial personality disorder.


These two terms psychopath, and sociopath, are often used interchangeably. They’re used to describe a person who is for lack of a better word, crazy. It’s not exactly nice to call someone a psychopath or a sociopath, even if they did something that hurts your feelings or someone else’s feelings, and it might also not be accurate, either.


There is actually lots of confusion about what is a psychopath? And what are the traits of a sociopath?

Similarities and Differences


Both anti personality disorder types share some common traits. Firstly, sociopaths and psychopaths have an absolute disregard for the safety, wellness, emotional security and rights of others. Both psychopaths and sociopaths have deceit and manipulative tendencies and unlike popular belief, or the movies, a psychopath or sociopath is not necessarily violent.


The DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders and has been used by health care professionals in the United states and Worldwide to diagnose Sociopathic and Psychopathic personality disorders.


While psychopaths and sociopaths have a lot of common traits, there are subtle differences between these two terms. The American Psychiatric Association defines both of these terms and what separates a psychopath or sociopath, from the rest of the normal population.


According to DSM 5,  sociopaths and psychopaths will have three or more of the following characteristics:


  • Regular law breaking personality
  • live a life of constant lies
  • extremely deceitful to others
  • super impulsive
  • lack of forward planning
  • displays anger and aggressiveness
  • seems to always pick fights
  • has no empathy for others
  • has no regard for the safety of others
  • irresponsibility
  • financial insecurity
  • lack of remorse
  • lack of shame
  • lack of guilt


The DSM 5 manual is in its fifth edition and has been used by professionals to diagnose patients since 2003, but DSM five, the current edition doesn’t have a specific diagnosis for psychopathy, or sociopathy, instead, both of these terms fall under a disorder called the antisocial personality disorder, or a ASPD.


Antisocial Personality Disorder


Before we look at the subtle differences between psychopathy and sociopathy, let’s look at what it means to have antisocial personality disorder and the overall official name for a psychopath or sociopath. So number one, they usually have an inaccurate sense of self. By the age of three a child develops their sense of self.


They see themselves as separate from other people, and as the child grows they learn more about the world, they also learn more about themselves and the personality traits that make them unique that make them who they are11.T. Flitch, The etiology of antisocial personality disorder: The differential roles of adverse childhood experiences and childhood psychopathology – ScienceDirect, The etiology of antisocial personality disorder: The differential roles of adverse childhood experiences and childhood psychopathology – ScienceDirect.; Retrieved October 9, 2022, from


As this learning takes place their sense of self, grows in it may change their sense of self influences and the way a person may interact with others, and who they choose to be friends with. As the child grows this sense of self may influence the career person chooses, or how they decide to spend their free time and having a strong sense of self, they are able to put achievements, failures and other events into the correct perspective.

ASPD Lack of Empathy


People with antisocial personality disorder do not have a strong developed sense of self, or rather their sense of self is overinflated something’s lacking. They might not recognize their personality traits or how they fit into a larger society and this distorted sense of self plays into their usual lack of empathy and their ambitions. Some people with ASPD may seek wealth or fortune to feel satisfied. Others have a hard time being consistent with their friends, family, or colleagues.


Now of course this isn’t the only sign of a sociopath or a psychopath. Number two is lack of empathy. Most people recognize sociopaths, or psychopaths, as just lacking empathy, they don’t care for others, they’re not able to tap into the feelings of other people. Does that mean they’re incapable of caring or feeling love, not always, but it does mean they’re more likely to display hurtful behaviors. Without empathy, it’s hard to step back and say, this isn’t right, or maybe I should get permission before doing something.


Pathological Personality Traits


Pathological personality traits that might point to a psychopath or a sociopath include having no moral compass, being very attention seeking, and displaying generalized unusual behavior. It’s not uncommon to have a distorted sense of self, lack empathy or display attention seeking behaviors, children often have these traits, because they’re still developing, but once a child reaches adulthood, they should be able to have a healthy sense of self and understand empathy.


They should also know how to behave in a way that doesn’t hurt themselves or the people around them. If a person can go around minding their business without harming anyone, they’re not likely to be a psychopath or sociopath, but if that behavior is unusual alarming, or harmful, then it might be time to go see a professional.

Sociopath Definition


If someone is a sociopath, current research and medical opinion2 believes this personality disorder to be the result of environmental factors such as:


  • childhood emotional neglect
  • negative household environments
  • physical abuse
  • teenage drug and alcohol abuse
  • emotional abuse


Sociopaths tend to be slightly more impulsive or erratic in their actions and behaviors than psychopaths. Sociopaths also have attachment issues, and have difficulty in forming secure real attachments to others. Although some sociopaths may be able to form some kind of attachment to a like minded group, or indeed, another sociopath, many sociopaths are not able to hold down long term jobs or present any form of normal family life.


Sociopaths do engage in criminal behavior and when they do so, it is in a very impulsive and unplanned manner. They don’t have any foresight and seemingly little regard for any risks and indeed consequences of their actions. A sociopath will become agitated and easily angered, so when it comes to criminality, these impulsive, aggressive and violent outbursts increase the sociopath’s chances of being imprisoned.

Psychopath vs Sociopath


What are the traits of a Psychopath vs the traits of a Sociopath?


Whether someone is a psychopath or a sociopath they are both likely to exhibit unusual behavior and a lack of empathy, but there are some minor differences between a psychopath, and a sociopath, that are important to note.


The first is that psychopaths have a much harder time forming bonds with people, a sociopath usually isn’t a loner and sometimes even very good with people. Sociopaths can form emotional connections with friends and family, even if they’re not entirely empathetic.


A psychopath on the other hand, does not have the same capabilities to form those close bonds, even if they’re able to charm and manipulate the people that they do meet, they’re just not able to form those bonds.


Another difference between psychopaths and sociopaths, is that psychopaths tend to display much more aggressive behavior. Serial killers are generally regarded as psychopaths, not sociopaths. A sociopath may be impulsive. But again, they are not as likely to become a serial killer as the impulsive actions mean they are likely to still feel some emotions.


Psychopaths don’t feel as much emotions, and so the aggressive behavior doesn’t seem as crazy to them, it seems more like they’re just manipulating a tool, just like manipulating a person, people to them or just an ends to a means to get what they want. When a sociopath displays impulsive or harmful behavior they usually recognize it, and explain their behavior away. However, a psychopath is usually unlikely to recognize that they’re doing anything remotely wrong. They will think out their manipulative and hurtful behavior and at no point do they think they’re in the wrong or that they could cause harm.


It’s unlikely that a psychopath will go to a mental health professional for help, because they simply do not think that they need it. Now of course if they went to a mental health professional, they wouldn’t be told that they were a psychopath, the therapist would likely diagnose them, and they would diagnose a sociopath with antisocial personality disorder.


Sociopath Vs Psychopath : Nurture vs Nature?


While sociopath’s are generally accepted as being the result of environmental factors such as childhood trauma, researchers are of the opinion that psychopaths are born. They believe that to be a psychopath is a genetic predisposition, related to physiological chemical brain imbalances.


Research has shown that those individuals who are classed as psychopaths generally have underdeveloped components of the brain that are responsible for the regulation of emotions and impulse control31.N. E. Anderson and K. A. Kiehl, Psychopathy: Developmental Perspectives and their Implications for Treatment – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 10, 2022, from When it comes to attachments, psychopaths find it very difficult to form authentic, emotional attachments with others. Usually, they will form shallow, artificial relationships that are in some way designed to be manipulated for the benefit of the psychopath and the detriment of the psychopaths partner.


Psychopaths do not feel any guilt regarding any of their actions, no matter the level of hurt or pain they inflict on others. However, psychopaths are often seen by others, as charming, trustworthy, eloquent, articulate, and confident.


Psychopaths hold great jobs. Often they have roles in the community. They’re trusted by families, friends, and it seems to everybody on the outside that they have a loving relationship with their partners.  They tend to be well educated, and they may well have studied a lot on their own.


A psychopath is evil and cunning. They will do all they can to protect themselves and get what they want, at the expense of others. Psychopaths are drawn towards criminal behavior. And when they do, they do it in a way that minimizes the risks to themselves.  All psychopathic criminal activity is carefully planned to ensure they don’t get caught. And they will try to have contingency plans in place to cover every eventuality


Sociopath vs Psychopath which is worse


Both sociopaths and psychopaths are a great risk to other individuals and society as a whole. This is because they will usually live what appears to be a normal life.


In terms of which is worse, this can be down to personal experiences and boundaries although it is generally held that when looking at Sociopath vs Psychopath the Psychopath is generally considered the more ‘dangerous’ of the two disorders because of psychopath experiences much less guilt connected to their actions.


The true danger is the silent psychopath who acts like a predator. stalking, hunting, manipulating to get exactly what they want at the expense of everything else. Psychopaths tend to dissociate from their actions and display zero emotional involvement. They do not care about any physical or emotional pain that others are suffering. This is why most serial killers can be classed as psychopaths. Even though the sociopath or the psychopath need not necessarily be violent, violence is always present in their personality, and in their planning.

Sociopath vs Psychopath vs Narcissist


Narcissists are the most malicious and destructive and can look like sociopaths and psychopaths. Loving a narcissist is painful and you may well be wondering if they person you love is a sociopath, psychopath or narcissist.


Shared traits between sociopath, psychopath and narcissist


The sociopath, psychopath or narcissist can all be be charismatic, intelligent, charming, and successful, as well as unreliable, controlling, selfish, disingenuous, and dishonest.


They share exaggerated positive self-images and a sense of entitlement. For example, when they’re abusive, they believe they’re justified and deny responsibility for their behavior. They lack insight. Although they might feign appropriate emotional reactions, this is usually insincere, as they lack empathy and emotional responsiveness.


While sociopaths and psychopaths qualify as narcissists, not all narcissists are sociopaths or psychopaths. What drives them differs. But the main distinction is that sociopaths and psychopaths are more cunning and manipulative, because their ego isn’t always at stake, as it is with the narcissist.  In fact, sociopaths and psychopaths don’t have any real personality. They’re the ultimate shape shifting con artists and assume any persona that suits them in the moment.


A sociopath is more calculating than a narcissist and might premeditate aggression in advance. A narcissist is more likely to react sooner with lies and intimidation. Narcissists often work hard to achieve success, fame, and perfection, but may exploit others along the way. In contrast, sociopaths and psychopaths try to swindle, steal, or exploit others financially. Narcissists are more interested in what you think of them. They need others’ admiration. This makes them dependent and codependent on others and actually capable of being manipulated. They’re less likely to divorce their spouse than a sociopath or indeed a psychopath, who might simply vanish if they’re exposed or don’t get what they want.

 Identifying Sociopath vs Psychopath in Childhood


Can children be sociopath or psychopath?


Not many healthcare professionals would be willing to diagnose a child as either a sociopath or a psychopath. Because they are developmentally immature, and their brains, body and hormones are yet to develop it would be both unfair and unwise to label the child as a sociopath or a psychopath. However, many of the signs and symptoms of being a sociopath, or psychopath are nearly always present before a child reaches the age of 15. And by the time the person is an adult, if they have the traits, they will be well on their way to becoming a sociopath or a psychopath or both.


While it’s difficult to class the child as a sociopath or a psychopath there are certain behaviors and tendencies in childhood that that indicate someone is more likely, or predisposed, to either so sociopathy or psychopathy. Child psychologists call the behaviors, ‘conduct disorder’.


Conduct disorders in children involve four categories of identifiable behavior


  1. aggression toward people and animals
  2. destruction of property
  3. deceitfulness or theft
  4. serious violations of rules or laws


If you recognize any of these symptoms in your child or young adult, they may well be at greater risk of antisocial personality disorder and turning into psychopath or sociopath adult.

Sociopaths vs Psychopaths: Key Points




  • do not care how others feels
  • hot-headed and impulsive
  • fits of anger and rage
  • rationalize their behavior
  • cannot maintain a regular work and family life
  • can form emotional attachments, but it is difficult




  • pretend to care
  • cold-hearted behavior
  • fail to recognize distress
  • relationships that are shallow and fake
  • maintains a normal life as a cover for criminal activity
  • unable to form genuine attachments
  • love people in their own way


Previous: Are They a Psychopath

Next: Codependent Relationships

  • 1
    1.T. Flitch, The etiology of antisocial personality disorder: The differential roles of adverse childhood experiences and childhood psychopathology – ScienceDirect, The etiology of antisocial personality disorder: The differential roles of adverse childhood experiences and childhood psychopathology – ScienceDirect.; Retrieved October 9, 2022, from
  • 2
  • 3
    1.N. E. Anderson and K. A. Kiehl, Psychopathy: Developmental Perspectives and their Implications for Treatment – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved October 10, 2022, from
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