Sociopath and psychopath —
different terms for similar character disorders
What is the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath? It depends who you ask.
- 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 diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder — for short, 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
- 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 was coined in 1930 by psychologist George E. Partridge. He suggested using the word to describe “anything deviated or pathological in social relations.” He wanted sociopathy to describe a pathological condition in which people are maladjusted in their relations with others and society, and motivated towards antisocial behavior.
Lovefraud uses the word sociopathy according to its original definition. On Lovefraud, it is an umbrella term that encompasses the multiple official diagnoses now used by mental health professionals for people who exploit and manipulate others. In the United States, these diagnoses are psychopathy and the four the “Cluster B” personality disorders of the DSM-5 — antisocial, narcissistic, borderline and histrionic personality disorders.
Here’s what these disorders have in common: The people who have them use and abuse the rest of us, and there is no real cure for them.
Regardless of which term you use, what is important is recognizing the symptoms.