It was written by Robert Siciliano, a speaker on personal security and identity theft, and a corporate media consultant. He’s also the author of four books, including 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen.
I hope Siciliano knows more about identity theft than he knows about psychopaths and sociopaths. Because he knows nothing about these personality disorders. What he has written does more to spread misinformation than educate people.
What’s wrong with the story? Let me count the errors:
1. “Sociopathy and psychopathy share a propensity for violence”
This is one of the first statements Siciliano made, and it’s wrong. Yes, some of these individuals are violent. But many, many of them are not, so it is not appropriate to list violence as a defining characteristic. Just ask all the people who are emotionally, psychologically and financially abused by these individuals, but not physically assaulted.
2. Description of sociopathic personality disorder
Here are Siciliano’s bullet points:
Sociopathic Personality Disorder
Prone to nervousness, distress and temper meltdowns, not easily calm and suave like the psychopath.
Usually not well-educated, often non-gainfully employed, the drifter type, the one whom everyone sees as “troubled” or “disturbed.”
Their crimes typically are sloppy rather than meticulously premeditated and planned.
Capable of emotional bonds with others, but this is difficult to achieve.
Despite the capability of emotional attachments, they disregard social mores as a whole.
3. Description of the psychopath
Here’s what Siciliano wrote about psychopaths:
The sociopath can be thought of as the rudimentary or undeveloped psychopath. The psychopath simply cannot form emotional bonds with humans. They lack empathy. But they can sure trick people into thinking completely the opposite with their charm and superior intelligence. They’re skilled at behaving the way they should, but inside they’re empty.
Due to their brains and skill at manipulating people, they usually have college degrees and often hold down good jobs. They frequently have spouses and kids — with nobody suspecting a thing. And, as mentioned, crimes by psychopaths are well-planned, making capture difficult.
Maybe Siciliano is watching too much TV. I’ve never seen any researchers describe a sociopath as a “rudimentary or undeveloped psychopath.” Although the rest of the paragraph is accurate for psychopaths who would score high on the PCL-R, it is incorrect to characterize psychopath as an advanced sociopath.
And the statements about college degrees, wife and kids, well-planned crimes well, yes, they are true in some cases. But these behaviors do not define a psychopath.
4. Nature vs. nurture
Then he wrote this:
While it’s believed that psychopathy is the result of faulty brain “wiring,” the consensus among experts is that sociopathy is the result of “bad upbringing,” including abuse (not surprisingly, considering the nature of sociopaths). Since “genetics” isn’t responsible for sociopathy, these individuals do possess the ability to empathize and love, but with limited capacity.
This is incorrect. Whether the disorder is called sociopathy, psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder, experts now agree that people are born with a genetic predisposition to the disorder, and the parenting they receive and the environment they grow up in may influence whether the disorder actually develops.
5. No agreement on terminology
The differences Siciliano cites between sociopaths and psychopaths are simply an indication of the public’s general confusion about these disorders.
The root cause of the confusion is the fact that mental health professionals do not agree on what people who live their lives by exploiting others should be called, and how their disorder should be defined. I’ve addressed this confusion on the following page:
Huffington Post should retract this article and remove it. All it does is spread misinformation.