We hear these terms so often on television that many don’t know if there is a difference between a sociopath and a psychopath. Almost any day of the week, we can watch a crime drama on TV and hear about a sociopath or a psychopath committing a crime or being a suspect in a crime. We hear these terms so often that we tend to think they are one and the same individual. Nothing could be further from the truth. While they may share some qualities, they are actually two different individuals.
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What is a Sociopath?
A sociopath is an individual with an antisocial personality disorder, which can be categorized as an emotional or dramatic form of mental illness. A person can’t be diagnosed as a sociopath before the age of 18. However, in order for the diagnosis of sociopathy to be accurately made, the individual must have exhibited certain characteristics prior to the age of 15. These include:
• Pervasive deception and lying
• Repeatedly violating the law
• Physical aggression
• Lack of remorse
• Consistent irresponsibility in family and work situations
• Reckless disregard for the safety of others or self
Sociopaths are not very organized, especially with their emotions. They’re prone to outbursts of anger or impatience.
What is a Psychopath?
Psychopathy is a more serious form or sociopathy with many more symptoms. More than 90% of psychopaths are in the criminal justice system. It’s believed that while sociopaths may not necessarily be psychopaths, all psychopaths are sociopaths. The Society for the Study of Psychology states that psychopaths generally exhibit the following traits.
• Lack of empathy
• Lack of remorse or guilt
• Reckless taking risks
• Lack of bonding or emotional attachments
• Superficial charm
Psychopaths are also very organized in their thinking, which probably explains why so many are in the criminal justice system. They plan their moves and believe they can fool just about anyone.
The Difference between the Two
As similar as sociopaths are to psychopaths, they also have very different traits and characteristics. It’s not unusual to see a sociopath involved in a deep relationship, while psychopaths are typically not capable of forming deep bonds with others. In fact, a sociopath may not feel remorse about hurting a stranger but would not want to hurt someone in which they had a relationship.
Antisocial behaviors in sociopaths may disappear over time, but this is not the case with psychopaths. In many cases, their behaviors intensify over time. Sociopaths are worried about the consequences of their actions and may do whatever it takes to avoid consequences. Psychopaths, on the other hand, don’t even worry about or consider consequences.
The psychopath can be charming while also being cruel. They often get their victims because they’re able to manipulate them and fool them into believing they care. Psychopaths know what they’re doing and just don’t care. Sociopaths are less organized and can be quite emotional. They’re more likely to act out and be caught than a psychopath.
Psychologists or individuals pursuing a psychology degree often become very familiar with the terms sociopaths and psychopaths. Learning the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath is an important role for a psychologist because it can help them provide the correct treatment and often help law enforcement in their work.