By September 10, 2006 9 Comments Read More →

Survey: psychopath, sociopath or antisocial?

A few weeks ago I posted a blog article entitled Confusion about sociopaths, psychopaths, and antisocials. The article provided background on the evolution of the terms used to describe people who have no heart, no conscience and no remorse. It also acknowledged that Lovefraud uses the definition of this disorder based on the work of Dr. Robert Hare, who uses the term “psychopath.” However, I refer to these people as “sociopaths.”

My reason is that the term “psychopath” carries a lot of cultural baggage. Thanks to movies and media hype, it seems that people tend to associate “psychopath” with deranged individuals or serial killers. I’ve had many victims tell me, “I though a psychopath was someone like Ted Bundy,” They’re right, of course, Bundy was a psychopath. But the vast majority of people with this personality disorder are not serial killers. Victims don’t always realize that the term applies to their spouses or someone else who is turning their lives upside down.

Dr. Robert Hare responds

Dr. Robert Hare sent the following e-mail in response to the article:

The recent posting about psychopathy, sociopathy, and antisocial personality disorder is very misleading. The “experts” are not all over the map. The term psychopathy is used by virtually all those doing research on the topic and in the vast majority of published articles over the past 50 years or so. The major edited books on the topic, and the chapters contained therein, all use the term psychopathy (e.g., Patrick, Handbook of Psychopathy, 2006; Hervé & Yuille, The Psychopath: Theory, Research, and Practice, in press; Millon, Simonsen, Birket-Smith, & Davis, Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal, and Violent Behaviors, 1998; Gacono, The Clinical and Forensic Assessment of Psychopathy, 2000, to name but a few).The name of the new society for its study is the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy (SSSP). The instruments for its assessment contain the term psychopathy.

Some segments of the public may think of psychopaths only as serial killers but those involved in research and clinical practice clearly do not. We should not help to perpetuate the myopic equation of psychopathy with serial killers by substituting another term, one that has its own uncertain meaning. With respect to antisocial personality disorder (APD), as described in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, (DSM-IV), there is rather large literature on its similarities to, and differences from, psychopathy, most of it available at www.hare.org. I might add that the confusion in this field is compounded by the use of prevalence figures for APD to estimate the prevalence of sociopathy (thus equating APD with sociopathy), followed by discussions of sociopathy that are based on the literature on psychopathy!

I’ve been in this game for a very long time, know most of the major players, and can tell you that the term psychopathy is the norm. Psychopathy refers to a widely understood and intensely studied clinical construct. Some may prefer to use a different label (an English psychiatrist suggested “bastard’), but why add to the confusion?

What’s your view?

It is not my intention to argue with the experts. Also, I am very aware that my use of “sociopath” may be adding to the confusion, and that troubles me. However, I’m trying to reach a general audience, and I am afraid that many people may be unwilling to accept that the person who is mistreating them is actually a psychopath.

I do admit, however, that my view is based on journalistic instinct and not empirical data. So here is an unscientific attempt to gather some information. What do you think about the terminology? Please take the Terminology Survey (only three questions), and feel free to post any other comments


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9 Comments on "Survey: psychopath, sociopath or antisocial?"

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As a psychologist and as a victim, I have difficulty accepting the term “psychopathy” to describe all of these disorders. In fact, when I turned to my inmate patients, they preferred the term “sociopath.” And to give you an idea of the rationale for this difference, one inmate who loved Haldol because it helped him to straighten up his personal presentation so that he would be released early, told me that he felt that because of his social origins, to which he attributed his “personality style,” he didn’t believe that he was a psychopath. It seemed that in his opinion a psychopath was born that way whereas a sociopath was the result of learning and development. And I think that we professionals are even confused by these terms. However, in general I consider a psychopath to be far more disturbed than a sociopath. In particular this is because the sociopath, in my opinion, is much more prevalent and much harder to detect as they blend into society so well. It is the sociopath who is the ultimate predator. They are far more cunning, far more deliberate, and far more dangerous. As a victim of a female sociopath, I am still trying to put my life back together and salvage what remains. As incredulous as it may seem, I as a psychologist was more vulnerable because I got drawn in to the other person’s presentation as it tapped into the ‘rescuer’ within me and played to my deepest dreams and what I value.

I’m reading prof. Hare’s (excellent) book “Snakes In Suits”, whereing he describes the relationship between psychopathy, socipathy and AntiSocial Personality Disorder:

“Psychopathy is a personality disorder…”
“Sociopathy is not a formal psychiatric condition… Sociopaths may have a well developed conscience and a normal capacity for empathy, guilt and loyalty, but their sense of right and wrong is based on the norms of their subculture or group”
“APD … is similar to sociopathy… The difference between psychopathy and APD is that the former includes personality traits such as lack of empathy, grandiosity and shallow emotion, that are not necessary for a diagnosis of APD.”

In view of this, I think your general content is referring to psychopaths rather than any of the others.

I believe that all con men and con women are sociopaths. There is a distinct difference between psychopathic persons, they commit the crimes that they do because they cannot tell right from wrong because of a personality disorder….on the other hand sociopaths CHOOSE to make the choices they have, because they feel that they are beyond the law…They have a delusion that they are better and smarter than anyone they meet, therefore they make up grandious stories to make themselves look more impressive.
I should know, my con man did not tell the truth in 35 years, and he is still telling lies even to a court.
He will never change.

After reading Dr. Hare’s book Without Conscience, I cannot think of these predators and miscreants as anything but psychopaths. Before that, I too would have reacted as the general public did to the term “psychopath” and that would have been to recoil in horror about so casually discussing such a criminal. I have redefined my thinking in light of all the arguments and evidence that Dr. Hare (an absolute expert in this subject area) presents. I believe that a psychopath is someone with a personality disorder (either born that way or learned behavior…jury still out) that has no conscience, no remorse and no feelings for anyone (not even themselves), as they cannot FEEL…not love, not empathy, not remorse, and cannot truly experience the joy that life has to offer. There is another layer of these types and that is the true Narcissist, which some have described their significant others to be when, in fact, by their descriptions I would call them psychopaths also. We should keep our minds open to the developments and by all means our eyes open to potential psychopaths or what I call “hollow people.” I also believe we have an obligation to inform others to help potential victims…even if they don’t want to hear the truth that 1%+ of the population are psychopaths. Lovefraud.com does a great, great service. Thank you Donna and Dr. Hare as well. Sue

The names of psychiatric disorders are decided by committee. A group of experts get together, review the literature and take a vote. Dr. Hare and other researchers may have reached their own political consensus but other “experts” do not yet agree with them.

I spent the last three years reading all the literature regarding the development of antisocial behavior broadly see http://www.parentingtheatriskchild.com. I do not believe the scientific literature supports the idea that psychopath refers to a biologic disorder where as antisocial refers to an environmental disorder. ALL ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOR ARISES AS THE RESULT OF AN INTERACTION BETWEEN AN INDIVIDUAL’S INBORN TEMPERAMENT AND HIS EARLY ENVIRONMENT. Children with antisocial genes are very difficult to parent!

The continuum of severity from antisocial personality to psychopath tells us a great deal about the brain and development. Therefore, I am not in favor of seperating out psychopaths as representing a distinct disorder. Many of the people who visit this web site were victimized by criminals who meet criteria for antisocial personality but not psychopath as devined by Dr. Hare. From the stand point of the victim, both groups have severe conscience deficiency!

After I completed my first entry. I went to the PubMed scientific data base and put psychopath in as a keyword search term. 5000+ articles are there. Many references to antisocial personality disorder came up including this one:

This article clearly demonstrates that antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy are on a continuum. Those with antisocial personality disorder but not psychopathy show many of the same deficits.

Dr. Babiak and Dr. Hare describe the difference between the three disorders in their book “Snakes in Suits” (p. 19). The difference between a psychopath and sociopath in my mind is enormous, because if a sociopath does have a conscience there is hope for recovery through therapy and treatment. Whereas a psychopath lacks a conscience and therefore will for ever be incaple of empathy, remorse, guilt or loyalty. I purposely use the right terminology “psychopath” when describing my wild ride into darkness, but I do have to admit that this terminology is hard to accept for the general public and they rather use the term sociopath. This in part might be due to the fact that many “big name” violent criminals are referred to as psychopaths. Nonetheless I think that we, who have traveled the sinister roads of our psychopath or sociopath companion, should describe them in the correct light and label them accordingly.

My ex commits crimes that people are unaware of ie.. steals drugs from work. To the outside world, he seems like one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, and holds down a respectable job, as a critical care paramedic. When I too, thought he was ‘Mr. Perfect’ until the days after I caught him cheating. ‘Mr. Perfect’ turned into a Mr. Hyde more evil, arrogant & nasty than anyone I’d ever known, then ALL the lies began to reveal themselves, some with a little investigating. It was then that I realized that he was really an evil, pathological liar, who lied to me all along, and was playing me all along. Narcissist? He certainly is one! It was his arrogance that ultimately caused me to expose him via every cheater exposing website I could find. As far as the debate over Psychopath/ Sociopath, I feel they are synonymous. I feel these people are psychopaths, but people do equate ‘psychopaths’ with serial killers, so when I tell people ‘Mr.Perfect’ paramedic is really a psychopath, they think I’m crazy. To call him a sociopath, seems to be better recepted. With that being said, I still make it a point to call him a ‘probable’ psychopath (probable because I don’t want to get sued), I then make a point to enlighted them about socialized/ subcriminal psychopaths. I warn them that these people are all around us, and are NOT the serial killers!! I tell them “only like 1% actually kill people” (the #’s may not be acurate, but it gets the point across) You can actually see it dawn on people, they have no idea so many are out there, undetected. Regardless of what we call them. The main thing is WE HAVE TO ENLIGHTEN PEOPLE!!! So thanks Donna for this website. I would love to see more daytime talk shows open peoples eyes to this reality. Our reality!! Because if I had known the warning signs and if I had known they’re everywhere (and appear normal), I surely would have seen it in him!! I wouldn’t have ended up destroyed by one.


I think the best description is Bastard! Or as I described him The Slug

My head is about to explode!

I’m pretty sure the nut job in my life is a psychopath, but if someone had said that early on I wouldn’t have believed it, because of the way they are portrayed in the media. Calling them sociopaths kind of eases you into the train of thought that you are dealing with someone abnormal. In the early days you are still assuming they have normal human emotions. It takes a bit longer and a lot of reading to come to terms with the horror of what is really going on, and the danger you are/have been in.

I have benefited enormously from the wealth of experience and compassion show by the people who regularly post on this site. It has brought me back a degree of sanity I thought I had lost forever. I’m now at a stage where I can stand back from the situation and see him as a severely sick individual who is trapped on a cycle of making the wrong choices and decisions, and constantly having to juggle his life to deal with the consequences. This doesn’t mean I would trust him or would allow him back into my life, but it does make me realise I can’t change him or expect anything but he same treatment no matter what. With this knowledge I can protect myself from the worst of his behaviour and make sure I keep contact and interaction to a bare minimum – grey rock! 🙂

Thank you, Donna and everyone else on the site, for continuing to support all of us who are left broken hearted, empty pocketed and stressed beyond belief by these monsters.


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