The difference between psychopathy and sociopathy

Hyperaxion Oct 14, 2020

If you want to know the differences and similarities between psychopathy and sociopathy, this article will definitely help you. Keep reading until the end, and find out everything you need to know about these disorders.

Psychopaths and sociopaths suffer from Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD or APD) and the main difference between the two is in the way they developed the disease.

Psychopathy is considered an innate condition, that is, the person is born a psychopath. On the other hand, sociopathy is developed during life, through education, social relationships, or trauma.

Introduction – The double life of a murderer

Gary Ridgway has always been a present family man and a loving husband. Married three times, his last wife, Judith, said that when they were still married, Gary was loving and the kind of husband that any woman would dream of.

But during 16 years of marriage, she never imagined that her husband was actually one of the most infamous serial killers in the history of the United States.

Gary Ridgway, popularly known as the Green River Killer, was sentenced to life in prison for 48 confessed murders.

The victims were, for the most part, prostitutes or women with unconventional lifestyles, such as girls who ran away from their parents’ homes.

He earned the nickname “Green River Killer” because, after committing the murders, he disposed of the victims’ bodies in the Green River, in the state of Washington, United States.

But how is it possible for someone to commit such atrocities? Was Gary a psychopath? What is the difference between psychopathy and sociopathy?

Many psychologists, psychiatrists, and criminologists use both terms interchangeably, but experts say there is a difference between psychopathy and sociopathy.

We will delve deeper into these differences below.

What is a psychopath?

Charming, manipulative, and true masters of deception. Psychopathy is the most dangerous type of antisocial personality disorder and they make up about 1% of the world’s population.

Although it seems a small number, 1% actually means millions of individuals who walk around, pretending and deceiving. For every 100 people you have ever met in your life, one of them is probably a psychopath.

According to criminologist Dr. Scott Bonn, psychopaths are unable to bond emotionally and empathize with others, so when they commit crimes like murder, they feel no remorse for their actions.

Psychopaths and sociopaths have a high tendency towards criminal behavior.
Psychopaths and sociopaths have a high tendency towards criminal behavior. (Credit: TheDigitalWay / Pixabay).

They are incredibly calculating and plan their actions very carefully to avoid getting caught. Because they are very manipulative, they usually get what they want and how they want it. Their manipulative nature makes no one suspicious of their true intentions.

In most cases, they are also very smart, well-educated individuals, and have stable jobs. They are also extremely calm, patient, and charismatic people. So, it’s hard to imagine that such a nice person could actually be able to commit gruesome acts of cruelty, right?

Characteristics of the psychopath

  • Articulated;
  • Calm;
  • Cautious;
  • Charismatic;
  • Charming;
  • Indifferent;
  • Manipulative;
  • Meticulous;
  • Organized;
  • Pathological liar;
  • Patient;
  • Pretend to be who they are not;
  • Pretend to have nonexistent feelings;
  • Selfish;
  • Unable to bond with anyone;
  • Unable to feel remorse.

What is a sociopath?

Like the psychopath, sociopaths are deceitful and manipulative, but unlike the psychopath, they tend to get nervous and agitated easily. They make up about 4% of the world’s population.

They are unable to keep a steady job and settle in one place for a long period of time. They have great difficulty in establishing social bonds.

Sociopaths and psychopaths are pathological liars.
Sociopaths and psychopaths are pathological liars. (Credit: tswedensky / Pixabay).

Sociopaths can also exhibit hostile, antisocial, and impulsive behaviors. They are overly self-centered and disregard the feelings and opinions of others. They also show no regard for moral values.

Furthermore, sociopaths are unable to control their negativity towards others and maintain stable relationships. Sociopathy has no cure, which is unfortunate. However, it can be alleviated with psychotherapy and medication.

Characteristics of the sociopath

  • Aggressive;
  • Appears disturbed;
  • Charismatic;
  • Manipulative;
  • No regard for moral values;
  • Pathological liar;
  • Prone to emotional outbursts;
  • Selfish;
  • Spontaneous;
  • Unable to apologize;
  • Unable to feel remorse;
  • Unorganized;
  • Unstable relationships.

Differences between psychopathy and sociopathy

Regarding the origin of the disorder

Sociopaths: It is developed during a person’s life and is associated with education, social life, and trauma.

Psychopaths: It is usually innate and some studies indicate it is hereditary. However, some branches of psychology consider that the disorder can be acquired through trauma, especially in childhood.

Regarding criminal behavior

Sociopaths: Their crimes are spontaneous and end up leaving evidence.

Psychopaths: They take calculated risks, such as fraud schemes and other premeditated crimes. They tend to minimize the evidence.

Regarding social relations

Sociopaths: Because sociopathy is acquired during life, sociopaths can bond with other individuals, and even feel guilty about hurting people close to them.

However, they tend to be violent and have outbursts of anger, so their relationship with people is more complicated. Sociopaths can hardly keep a job.

Psychopaths: Psychopaths tend to be superficially normal in social relationships. They are usually polite, have a good career and good relationships with other people.

However, this is a dissimulation, as psychopaths are unable to bond, even with family members. They do not feel empathy, attachment, or guilt, which is why they are often social predators and highly manipulative.

Sociopaths are prone to outbursts of anger.
Sociopaths are prone to outbursts of anger. (Credit: Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay).

Regarding impulsivity

Sociopaths: They are very impulsive.

Psychopaths: They have controlled and calculated behaviors.

Regarding feelings of empathy and guilt

Sociopaths: They can be empathetic to people close to them and can feel guilty for hurting these people.

Psychopaths: They don’t feel empathy or guilt. For this reason, psychopaths don’t mind hurting or taking advantage of others.

Scope of the disorder

Sociopaths: 4% of the general population.

Psychopaths: 1% of the general population.

Furthermore, we can see that psychopathy is a more serious form of sociopathy. So, we can say that every psychopath is a sociopath, but not every sociopath is a psychopath.

Similarities between psychopaths and sociopaths

Psychopaths and sociopaths share several characteristics in common. The most important are:

  • Both suffer from Antisocial Personality Disorder;
  • Feel no remorse or guilt;
  • Manipulative;
  • Pathological liars;
  • Show no regard for social norms and standard behavior;
  • They lack empathy.

The DSM-5, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, listed both sociopathy and psychopathy as antisocial personality disorders.

According to DSM-5, both have the following characteristics in common:

  • Inability to feel remorse and guilt;
  • Show no regard for rules, laws, and morality;
  • Show no regard for the rights of others;
  • A tendency to have violent behaviors.

Origin of psychopathy

Psychopathy is believed to be an innate condition. It would stem from a genetic flaw that impairs the development of parts of the brain related to emotions, impulse control, empathy, and morality.

This hypothesis is based on several brain scans conducted in different regions of the world. In addition, a study conducted in Minnesota looking at separately raised twins found that psychopathy is 60% hereditary.

However, some psychologists believe that psychopathy can be acquired through trauma, especially during childhood.

Origin of sociopathy

Sociopathy is related to the environment and education, an indication that external factors do play a role in the development of Antisocial Personality Disorder. Unlike psychopathy, sociopathy is acquired during life.


We hope this article has helped you to understand a little more about psychopathy and sociopathy. It is important to know the meaning of these disorders and the difference between them.

Finally, if you think you have several of the characteristics of sociopathy or psychopathy, we recommend that you seek professional help. Likewise, if someone close to you has several of the characteristics mentioned above, you should refer that person to a mental health professional.

If you know someone who fits the profile of a psychopath or sociopath and that person is not a close relative, stay away.

Related topics:

Psychopathy Sociopathy


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