Sociopath and psychopath —
different terms for similar character disorders

Socipathic eyesWhat is the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath? It depends who you ask.

Mental health professionals disagree about which term to use and how the terms are defined:
  • Psychiatrists and therapists use the word sociopath as shorthand for someone diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.
  • Research psychologists use the term psychopath in academic papers on the disorder.

The confusion doesn’t end there:

  • Some people consider a psychopath to be an extreme form of sociopath.
  • Some people say psychopath describes personality traits and sociopath describes behavior.
  • Some people use the terms depending on how a person is diagnosed. If psychiatric standards are used, the person is a sociopath. If Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist is used, the person is a psychopath.
  • Some researchers think of a sociopath as someone who is socialized in an antisocial subculture, such as a gang.
  • Some people see this as a nature vs. nurture issue—psychopaths are born, sociopaths develop because of parenting and environmental issues.

In short, naming the disorder is a mess.

Antisocial personality disorder

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is the term used in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). Despite years of deliberation about updating the diagnostic criteria for personality disorders in the new version of the book, when the DSM-5 was released in 2013, nothing was changed.

According to DSM-5, a person can be diagnosed as antisocial if since age 15 he or she has shown a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others. The person must have indicated at least three of the following:

  • Failure to conform to lawful social norms
  • Deceitfulness
  • Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
  • Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicted by repeated physical fights or assaults
  • Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
  • Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent about having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another

Dr. Robert Hare, who prefers to use the term psychopath, says antisocial personality disorder refers to a cluster of criminal and antisocial behaviors, whereas psychopathy encompass both personality traits and socially deviant behaviors. According to his standards, all psychopaths would also be diagnosed as having antisocial personality disorder, but not everyone with antisocial personality disorder is a psychopath.

More problems with psychopath

The word psychopath sounds similar to the words psychotic and psycho, which most people associate with someone who is mentally ill. Lovefraud wants you to understand that these people are not crazy.

Plus, when most people think of a psychopath, they think of a serial killer. Although some people with this disorder are killers, the vast majority are not.

How many are there?

Estimates of the disorder’s prevalence vary:

  • Medical experts estimate that 3% of men and 1% of women have ASPD. In the United States, that would add up 4.5 million men and 1.5 million women.
  • Dr. Hare estimates at 1% of the American population are psychopaths, which would be about 3 million people.
  • In The Sociopath Next Door, Dr. Martha Stout says 4% of the population are sociopaths, which would be 12 million people.

Lovefraud uses sociopath

The word sociopath is no longer recognized as an official diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association, and the term is not used by university researchers. It is a word without a precise meaning.

Lovefraud, therefore, suggests using the word sociopath as a generic umbrella description for anyone who lives their lives by exploiting others. It can include people whom mental health professionals would diagnose as having psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder. It can also include individuals with narcissistic and borderline personality disorders, who also exploit the people around them.

Regardless of which term you use, what is important is recognizing the symptoms.

Next: How sociopaths blend in


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