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Helen Smith


January 8, 2014 - 8:00 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.


cross-posted from Dr. Helen

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.

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All Comments   (6)
All Comments   (6)
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Mandatory HR screening for sociopaths should prevent many of them from rising to positions where they damage society.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Pelosi/Reid and Obama.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think a key point about both sociopathy and psychopathy is that the individual can control behavior well, indeed usually does so for personal advantage, and the harmful behavior comes out when the individual chooses.
Psychotic people, as I have understood the term, have a serious loss of reality -- they respond to hallucinations and delusions. This is why I've always felt the verdict in John Hinckley's case was valid: he acted on a delusion.
It' judgmental to say, but perhaps psychopathy and sociopathy are really just the technical terms for evil.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Evil is a bit too complex to be limited to the psychopaths and sociopaths. The difference between them and us is not that they're evil; everyone's got evil desires, you know. The difference between sociopaths and us is that they lack empathy for others, which is an important part of having a conscience. When you're tempted to do something wrong, empathy guides your decision either way. ("If I steal my dad's snacks, all that money he spent on them will be wasted. Poor Dad!" "On the other hand, he's fat and he really isn't supposed to be buying all these snacks anyway. Besides, if I just filch a cookie now and again, he'll never miss it...") Feeling no empathy, a sociopath's decision will not be based on any compassion or lack thereof toward the victim, but on practical concerns. ("Can I get away with it? Sure: nobody's likely to miss one cookie, and even if they do, they won't suspect I took it.")

As for the difference between the sociopath and psychopath? I'm thinking it would be one of activity and passivity. The sociopath simply lacks concern for victims of his evil deeds, whereas the psychopath not only has no empathy for his victims, but actively hates them and sets out to hurt them. The sociopath is more a selfish opportunist, whereas the psychopath's hatred for others may even overwhelm his self-interest. ("As long as it costs the lives of a thousand Jews, strapping on bombs and blowing myself up is well worth it!")
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's been fifty years since I studied psychology, but I'm pretty sure that 'sociopath' is simply the trendier replacement for 'psychopath', which is the only term I remember being used back then. Especially in fields without much substance, terminology gets churned a lot.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Half the voices in my head say you are wrong.

The other half are still plotting.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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