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For years, many of us have heard the terms sociopath and psychopath being used, sometimes interchangeably. However, there are very distinct differences between sociopaths and psychopaths as well as similarities. The common features of a psychopath and sociopath lie in their shared diagnosis — antisocial personality disorder.

The DSM-5 defines antisocial personality disorder as those that have 3 or more of the following traits:

  • Regularly breaks or deviates from the law
  • Manipulative and deceptive behavior with others.
  • Reckless and or impulsive behaviors.
  • Prone to violent or aggressive behaviors.
  • Little or no regard for the well-being or feelings of others.
  • Behaves irresponsibly with finances or feels he or she should not have to pay back a debt.
  • Failure to feel empathy, remorse, or guilt.

In addition to their many shared characteristics, sociopaths and psychopaths also have their own unique behavioral characteristics, as well. For example, sociopaths tend to be more anxious, nervous, and easily agitated. Their affect is irritable than that of a psychopath. They are also more prone to aggressive behaviors and tendencies, exhibiting both negative emotional and physical outbursts.

Interestingly enough, they are also more likely to be uneducated, living on the outskirts of society. Sociopaths are also unlikely to establish and maintain friendships, maintain a steady job, or stay in one place for very long. It is extremely difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. However, many sociopathic people are able to form significant attachments to a particular individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general or its rules. Most people will view sociopaths as internally preoccupied, disorganized and spontaneous rather than planned.

Contrary to sociopaths, psychopaths are unable to form emotional attachments or feel genuine empathy for anyone but themselves. Unlike sociopaths, psychopaths often come across as charming, engaging, and appealing, however, this charm and appeal is quite superficial. Psychopaths are usually very intelligent, which allows them to be perceived as genuine, honest, and charming. Superficial charm allows the psychopath to mask their true nature which is manipulative, deceptive, and cunning. Masking their true feelings and intentions allow psychopaths to easily and almost effortlessly gain the trust of others.

Psychopaths are very keen learners, learning how to effectively mimic the emotions and acceptable responses from watching others. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature.

When committing crimes, psychopaths carefully plan out every detail in advance and often have contingency plans in place. Unlike their sociopathic counterparts, psychopathic criminals are cool, calm, and meticulous. Their crimes, whether violent or non-violent, will be highly organized and generally offer few clues for authorities to pursue. Intelligent psychopaths make excellent white-collar criminals and “con artists” due to their calm and charismatic natures.

The cause of psychopathy is different than the cause of sociopathy. It is believed that psychopathy is the largely the result of “nature” (genetics) while sociopathy is more likely the result of “nurture” (environment). Psychopathy is related to a physiological defect that results in the underdevelopment of the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and emotions. Sociopathy, on the other hand, is more likely the product of childhood trauma and physical/emotional abuse. Because sociopathy appears to be learned rather than innate, sociopaths are capable of empathy in certain limited circumstances but not in others, and with a few individuals but not others.

12 Characteristics of Sociopaths:

  • Extremely charming
  • Colorful liars, i.e., will often buy into their own lies
  • Lack of emotive feelings like empathy, shame, guilt, remorse, etc.
  • Domineering personality
  • Self-serving or self-motivated
  • Prone to aggressive tendencies
  • Live on the outskirts of society
  • More anxious, easily agitated
  • Difficulty establishing or maintaining relationships
  • More likely to be uneducated
  • Difficulty maintaining a job
  • May appear disturbed or internally preoccupied

12 Characteristics of Psychopaths:

  • Difficulty expressing emotions or feelings
  • Violence prone, more likely against others
  • Superficially charming
  • Narcissistic personality
  • Disregard for the law, violation of rules
  • Chronic manipulative and deceptive words and behaviors
  • Shallow affect
  • Lack of concern or empathy for the well-being of others
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Promiscuity
  • Parasitic Lifestyle
  • Intelligent