How to Differentiate Psychopaths and Sociopaths

Three Parts:Identifying a PsychopathRecognizing a SociopathExamining Similarities

Both sociopaths and psychopaths share dangerous and hurtful traits that make them threatening to others. Yet, it can be difficult to tell the two apart. While psychopathy and sociopathy are considered jointly diagnosed as Antisocial Personality Disorder, there are certain traits that help you differentiate one from the other.

Part 1
Identifying a Psychopath

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    Look at biological links. Psychopathy appears more closely tied to genetics than sociopathy.[1] You may look at family history and notice any similarities in siblings, parents, or grandparents.
    • If family appears more or less stable, then the person may be more toward being a sociopath, however, similar family traits may indicate a stronger link with being a psychopath.
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    Identify manipulative behaviors. Psychopaths tend to be more manipulative than sociopaths. Others may see them as charming and endearing. Psychopaths can appear to live normal lives and may minimize their illegal or criminal activities.[2] Sweet or prosocial behaviors can be seen as a means to an end.
    • For example, they may not answer questions directly, point the blame at others, or make up elaborate stories for their behavior of why it’s not their fault.
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    Notice the absence of empathy. Even if a psychopath is charming, it’s unlikely that he or she feels empathy toward others. A psychopath may be unable to form attachments and real relationships with other people. While a psychopath may be in a romantic relationship or have a family, it’s unlikely that he or she expresses true emotions and has learned to mimic emotions.[3]
    • A psychopath may be completely disconnected from the emotional experience. He or she may not understand why people are upset or that others experience a range of emotion.
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    Observe the ability to live a “normal” life. Psychopaths often hold steady jobs and have a good education. They may have families and relationships without anyone suspecting their psychopathic tendencies.[4] In people living “normal” lives, the symptoms associated with psychopathy may be more subtle and only be most evident in interpersonal relationships or around family.
    • Co-workers or acquaintances may not suspect that the person is a psychopath, or just may think that something is a bit “different” about the person.
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    Notice an intense attention to detail. When a psychopath commits a crime, all details of that crime are often meticulously planned out ahead of time. The psychopath may perform the crime in a cool and calm manner. Any crimes committed are often highly organized. For this reason, psychopaths make great con artists due to their calmness, meticulousness, and charismatic charm.[5]
    • For example, a psychopath may plan elaborate schemes to steal cars, money, or other valuable objects in a smooth, calculated, and seamless manner.

Part 2
Recognizing a Sociopath

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    Recognize previous abuse. While psychopaths tend to have a strong genetic link, sociopaths appear to have a more environment-based development. For example, a sociopath may have grown up in an abusive, neglectful, or violent home or community.[6] The sociopath may develop traits as a defense mechanism or response to harsh conditions.
    • Experiencing a traumatic childhood and adapting to the harshness is much more likely for a sociopath than a psychopath.
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    Notice more aggressive behavior. While the psychopath may be gregarious, charming, and calculated, the sociopath may be more aggressive, rageful, and reckless.[7] Sociopaths may be more violent than psychopaths and experience more emotional outbursts.[8]
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    Recognize more erratic tendencies. Sociopaths are much more likely to behave in reckless behavior without regarding potential outcomes or consequences. While psychopaths tend to be meticulous and detail-oriented, sociopaths may be more careless and erratic.[9] A sociopath may not think of potential outcomes or how to anticipate them. Sociopaths tend to have more difficulty holding down a job, are generally found on the fringes of society, and tend to be uneducated. They may move frequently or cycle through jobs quickly.[10]
    • A sociopath may decide to rob a bank one day and go do it without much planning. The psychopath, however, would spend weeks or months planning “the perfect crime.”
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    Examine empathy. Sociopaths tend to experience more empathy and more guilt than psychopaths. A sociopath may be capable of creating social bonds with people or romantic relationships. A sociopath may have no problem hurting a stranger, but may feel remorseful for hurting someone close to him or her.[11]

Part 3
Examining Similarities

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    Understand antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). ASPD clinically characterizes both sociopaths and psychopaths. [12] A diagnosis of ASPD is warranted if a psychologist or therapist determines 3 or more of the following traits:[13]
    • Regularly breaking the law
    • Constantly lying or deceiving others
    • Being violent or aggressive
    • Does not regard the safety or well-being of others
    • Is irresponsible with money, job, or lifestyle
    • Lacks remorse or guilt for destructive or hurtful behavior
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    Recognize prevalence and commonalities. ASPD is more common in males than females. There’s a higher prevalence of people with ASPD in forensic settings like prisons. It’s likely that people with ASPD will also show signs of substance abuse or alcohol problems.[14]
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    Look for clues in childhood. Some people with ASPD shows signs of disturbance during childhood. Some childhood signs include being aggressive to people and animals, lying constantly, destroying property, and getting into legal trouble.[15] A childhood diagnosis of these traits is called conduct disorder.
    • A child with conduct disorder may break rules at home and at school, and generally be difficult to manage.

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Categories: Psychology Studies