Sociopathy vs. Psychopathy: How Do They Differ?

The terms sociopath and psychopath get tossed around, often interchangeably. For example, many people judge someone who appears to lack conscience to be a sociopath.

In most circumstances, sociopathy gets associated with someone cruel or hateworthy. According to people, the same meaning is true for the term “psychopath.” They believe that psychopaths are sociopaths who are just more dangerous, such as a mass murderer. However, this is not entirely true. In this guide, we will explore the actual meaning and key differences between sociopathy vs. psychopathy.

Key Points

  • What Is Sociopathy?
  • What Is Psychopathy?
  • Early Signs of Sociopathy and Psychopathy in Childhood
  • Causes of Sociopathy and Psychopathy
  • Diagnosing Sociopathy and Psychopathy
  • Treatment for Sociopathy and Psychopathy
  • Our Takeaway

What Is Sociopathy?

Generally, sociopaths tend to act in a way that doesn’t conform to societal norms. They may have limited empathy or sympathy towards others or little remorse for their actions. Sociopaths are often charming and manipulative, and they may be able to convince others to do things they wouldn’t normally do. But this is not the same for everyone. Many sociopaths do their best to lead normal and productive lives.

Statistics show that around 30% of sociopaths are diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder.

What Is Psychopathy?

Psychopathy is often characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse, shallow emotions, egocentricity, and deceptive behavior. People with psychopathy are often described as “charming” or “glib,” but these superficial charms mask callousness and complete disregard for the feelings or well-being of others.

Psychopaths are also often highly intelligent and manipulative, making them experts at strategic decision-making. These traits make psychopaths very dangerous people, as they are often able to get away with criminal behavior or even manipulate their way into positions of power. Fortunately, psychopathy is relatively rare, affecting only about 1% of the US population.

Early Signs of Sociopathy and Psychopathy in Childhood

While sociopathy and psychopathy are often thought of as adult disorders, there are actually some signs that can be seen from the early days of life.

Here are some of the most alarming early traits of a psychopath or sociopath to be aware of.

  • Disregard for rules or authority
  • Lack of empathy or concern for others
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Aggressive, impulsive, or violent behavior
  • Disrespect for other people’s personal property or space
  • Lying or stealing
  • Poor impulse control

Causes of Sociopathy and Psychopathy

The exact causes of sociopathy and psychopathy are still unknown, but several theories have attempted to explain these disorders.

Like in many other personality disorders and some mood disorders, some experts believe that sociopathy and psychopathy are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Others believe that sociopathy is the result of brain damage or a neurochemical imbalance or that sociopathy and psychopathy are learned behaviors, acquired through experience or observation.

Diagnosing Sociopathy and Psychopathy

If you think you or someone you know may have psychopath or sociopath behavior, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. A diagnosis can be made through a psychological evaluation.

Here are some key points therapists keep in mind when diagnosing someone with sociopathy or psychopathy.

Self-Functioning Characteristics

Self-functioning qualities are those that reflect a person’s personality and they perceive actions and ambitions. People with a psychopath and sociopath disorder usually gain self-esteem from power and personal gain. When having a goal in mind, these people have little to no regard for authority or morals.

Interpersonal Characteristics

Sociopaths and psychopaths also differ in their interpersonal relationships. While sociopaths tend to be more likely to have unstable and chaotic relationships, psychopaths are more likely to be manipulative and controlling.

Behavioral Characteristics

When it comes to their behavior, sociopaths and psychopaths also differ. Sociopaths tend to be more likely to act impulsively and recklessly, while psychopaths are more likely to plan their actions carefully.

Additionally, sociopaths tend to be more likely to exhibit erratic and unpredictable behavior, while psychopaths are more likely to be consistent.

Treatment for Sociopathy and Psychopathy

Even though many people think there is no hope for someone with sociopathy or psychopathy, that’s not entirely true. There are treatment options that can help sociopaths and psychopaths learn to manage their disorders.

Treatment typically includes some combination of medication, therapy, and skill-building. When it comes to medication, antipsychotics, like risperidone, and SSRI antidepressants are usually prescribed. People with psychopath and sociopath traits also need psychotherapy sessions, which include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mentalization-based therapy (MBT).

Sociopathy vs. Psychopathy: Our Takeaway

So, what is the verdict? Sociopathy can be seen as a less severe form of psychopathy. People with sociopathy have some empathy and can feel guilt, but they don’t have the same disregard for laws and social norms that are seen in psychopaths. They may also be more likely to seek treatment.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, often don’t recognize that they have a problem and don’t usually seek treatment. If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from either condition, it’s important to get help immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is narcissism a symptom of sociopathy?

Many people believe that narcissism and sociopathy are the same, but they are actually very different from each other. A narcissistic personality disorder is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a need for constant admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. 
While sociopaths have limited empathy towards others, sociopaths often have a disregard for rules and social norms and behave in impulsive ways.

Can sociopaths feel empathy?

It’s a common misconception that sociopaths are incapable of feeling empathy. While it’s true that sociopaths tend to be less emotionally attached to others, they are still capable of experiencing limited empathy. 
This ability to feel empathy, however, is usually reserved for people who are close to them or who they see as valuable in some way. For most sociopaths, emotions are simply a tool used to achieve their goals. As such, they are often able to fake emotions to gain trust or manipulate others.

What is more difficult: psychopath vs. sociopath?

When it comes to sociopathy vs. psychopathy, there is no easy answer. Both of them can be extremely harmful, and it’s often difficult to tell them apart. However, there are some key differences between the two.
For one, psychopaths are typically much more manipulative, charming, and violent than sociopaths. On the other hand, sociopaths are more likely to be reckless and impulsive. 
In the end, both types of personality disorders can be dangerous and destructive. It’s important to be aware of the signs and seek professional help if you or someone you know may be struggling with either disorder.