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Dr. Helen

What is the Difference Between Sociopathy and Psychopathy?

January 3rd, 2014 - 5:10 am

In the previous post on the possible rise of male sociopathy here, reader Gawains Ghost says he is not sure he knows exactly what sociopathy is. He is in good company. People seem to use a number of psychological terms interchangeably and it often gets a bit confusing.

According to this article, Robert Hare, author of Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us:

“suggests that the difference between sociopathy and psychopathy may primarily reflect how the person using these terms views the factors contributing to the antisocial disorder.” More apt to view antisocial behavior as arising from social conflicts, sociologists typically prefer the term sociopath. Whereas, psychologists use the term psychopathy to describe a psychological disorder that is the product of a combination of psychological, biological, genetic and environmental factors (Hare 1999).

To make it a bit more confusing, psychologists use the term Antisocial Personality Disorder from the DSM-5 to describe some of the traits of the psychopath though it is important to remember that one can have APD without being a sociopath or psychopath.

This article looks decent and might help you understand more about these terms if you wish to confuse yourself even further.

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All Comments   (4)
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I have read that American psychiatrists use the term "sociopath", while those in Britain (including Canada) use the term "psychopath". There's an Oxford Dictionary on psychiatric terms, and it traces the history of the term "psychopath" (it, in part, comes from British law/ court rulings of psychopathy vs psychotics -- one to be held criminally accountable, the other not criminally liable).
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
The way I've always understood and used the terms, a sociopath is indifferent to the feelings of others, and will use them and inflict suffering on them as needed to achieve his ends (which may be anything). For a psychopath, the suffering of others *is* the end.

I have no idea if mental health professionals make the distinction this way.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks for posting this. It did clarify the definitions for me but then I got sidetracked reading about narcissism as part of the personality disorder spectrum and on and on I went...it's all fascinating to me.

46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
As far as my (limited) understanding goes, the whole psychopathy/sociopathy/antisocial personality disorder is no more than the equivalent of global warming/climate change – in other words, identical concepts given different names for (often spurious) 'technical' reasons.

The terms all describe extremes on the continuum of normal behaviour. Boldness, impulsivity, lack of conforming to social norms, lack of remorse, etc. The crucial factor being a 'lack of empathy'.

I wonder at this supposed explosion in this condition (in males) though. Is it a 'lack of empathy' or a lack of 'publicly displaying empathy'? As an English male, and as such acculturated to a lack of demonstrativeness (think taciturn, phlegmatic, stiff-upper-lip) it was always a standing joke that when colleagues were killed in action a wake would consist of us sitting around, a single toast to 'absent friends' and then get on with life because, 'that's enough of that, after all we're not Americans' (or women). The lack of 'emotional displays' is both cultural and gender biased with the assumption that a 'man' does not weep and wail and demand attention for their loss but acts as a rock for others.

As such is it, in fact, like ADHD (and others) the expansion of remit (and potential earnings) for psychologists and psychiatrists, and more importantly, the further pathologising of masculinity. So if you're even vaguely bold, non-conformist, don't burst into tears when you see a kitten (and of course – male) better get ready to be vilified and medicated.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
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