Both a psychopath and a sociopath are types of antisocial personality. We hear these terms in today’s media more often than ever. In fact, they are quite often used to define the same person since few people know that there is a difference between a psychopath and a sociopath.
This is hardly surprising when you consider that they share many similar qualities. Both a psychopath and a sociopath can be:
There is, however, a subtle and distinct difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. It is these differences that we are going to explore.
What Are the Characteristics of a Psychopath?
Psychopaths are predators who use charm, deceit, manipulation and violence in order to take advantage of others.
Psychologists believe that psychopaths are born, not shaped by their environment. There is evidence to suggest that psychopaths’ brains have real physiological differences in the way they process empathy and guilt. This is one of the basic ways psychopaths are different from sociopaths.
Psychopaths tend to be lone characters who are not able to form close attachments with others. They can appear charming, but only in order to gain people’s trust. This is so that these people can then be manipulated into doing their bidding. They feel no emotions but can mimic them easily so that they blend into society.
Psychopaths are typically very intelligent and as such, are able to work in high management roles. Having said that, many prefer to live off others and manipulate people into parting with their savings and assets. Psychopaths tend to work alone, or in a lone role, much detached from society and its boundaries.
Some psychopaths can hold onto relationships for long periods of time, without their partners knowing their true personality. Others will flit from marriage to marriage in order to amass wealth.
One of the key differences between a psychopath and a sociopath is that people with the first type are meticulous planners and do not act spontaneously.
They are able to disassociate from their actions and view people as mere pawns to be used in their goals.
Notorious psychopaths include Ted Bundy, the American serial killer who employed tactics such as faking a broken arm to lure potential victims into helping him. Also Ed Gein, the serial killer who murdered women so that he could use their skin to make clothing and who provided the inspiration for The Silence of the Lambs and many other films.
If a psychopath has been caught out in a lie or a crime, they will try and manipulate their way out of it, or attempt to put the blame on the person accusing them. They will fabricate even more lies to cover up the original one.
They may have a childhood which shows behaviour predictive of psychopathy in late life. This relates to the Macdonald Triad, in which characteristics of bed-wetting, animal cruelty and fire-starting are present.
What Are the Characteristics of a Sociopath?
Sociopaths are antisocial individuals that can appear charming and charismatic. In this sense, they are no different from psychopaths. However, they are also volatile, act with spontaneity and disregard social boundaries.
They are said to be shaped by their environment, in that they are likely to be the product of an abused childhood or physical/emotional trauma. This is one of the key ways a sociopath differs from a psychopath.
Sociopaths ignore social restrictions that the rest of us abide by. Although they may be able to form attachments to a specific group or individual, they have no regard for society’s rules.
Just like psychopaths, sociopaths do not feel empathy, guilt or remorse.
They are not capable of loving someone or have feelings of kindness or altruism. However, because sociopaths are shaped by their upbringing, it is possible for them to feel some kind of emotion on a very basic level.
It is difficult for a sociopath to hold down a job for a long while, as they are constantly getting into trouble with senior management. They are disorganised, haphazard in nature, and prone to telling outrageous lies to make themselves look grandiose.
Sociopaths are quite well rehearsed in making these lies sound plausible, however, and people tend to believe them as they are told with confidence and assuredness. Just like psychopaths, they can be extremely charismatic and have magnetic personalities. They also have large sexual appetites.
People such as Jim Jones, the American cult leader who persuaded his followers to commit suicide, and Charles Manson, the serial killer who lead a group to murder innocent people, were notorious sociopaths.
Sociopaths feel that their beliefs trump all others and that they have absolute authority. They even appear God-like to their followers, taking on a religious demeanour.
Unlike psychopaths, most sociopaths are extroverts and as such, do not hold back when they feel anger, irritation or frustration.
If a sociopath is caught lying or during a criminal act, they will either try to blame others or fly off the handle and act with the utmost aggression.
Although sociopaths are not bound by society’s boundaries, they are more likely to have followers or, at least, one confidante that is utterly enthralled by them. This is another key point of difference between a sociopath and a psychopath.
Knowing the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath, which is worse?
Considering the above-explained difference between psychopaths and sociopaths, the first type is probably the most dangerous.
This is because it is generally accepted that psychopaths are ‘born that way’ and as such, there is nothing that can be done to change their behaviour.
Sociopaths, on the other hand, are shaped by their surroundings, and could, therefore, be helped to change with psychotherapy.
- https://www.psychologytoday.com (differences)
- http://www.npr.org (Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy)
- http://www.biography.com (Ed Gein)
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