Many people incorrectly use the terms psychopath and sociopath interchangeably. Both psychopaths and sociopaths share many common behavioural traits that may result in confusion. The most common traits that psychopaths and sociopaths share include:
- A tendency to display aggressive or violent behaviour
- A failure to feel guilt or remorse
- A disregard for the rights of other people
- A disregard for social mores and laws
Although they share these behavioural traits, psychopaths and sociopaths have their own unique behavioural origins and characteristics, as well.
The Difference between Psychopaths and Sociopaths
Psychopaths aren’t able to feel empathy for other people or create emotional attachments. They’re predatory and aggressive in nature. They see other people as objects for their amusement. Even though they lack empathy, they usually have charming or disarming personalities. They’re manipulative and are able to easily gain the trust of others. They’re able to mimic emotions. That’s why they usually appear normal to unsuspecting people. They’re usually well educated as well as hold steady jobs.
Some of them are so great manipulators that their families do not even suspect their genuine nature. When it comes to crimes, they carefully plan each detail in advance and usually have contingency plans in place. They’ll seem unflappable in a crisis.
That’s why psychopathic criminals are meticulous, cool, and calm; and they’re generally harder to spot compared to sociopaths.
On the other hand, sociopaths are easily agitated and nervous. They’re volatile and susceptible to emotional outbursts, like fits of rage. They’re often uneducated as well as live on the fringes of society. They’re sometimes not able to stay in one place for too long or hold down a steady job. It’s usually hard for them to create attachments with other people. So, the meaningful attachments of a sociopath will be limited in scope as well as few in number.
Sociopaths often come off as erratic and disturbed. Each crime they commit may be spontaneous and haphazard, instead of planned. Due to their seemingly erratic behavior, they’re easier for both non-professionals and professionals to spot compared to psychopaths.
From a diagnostic standpoint, the cause or etiology of sociopathy is different from that of psychopathy. Sociopathy is the result of environment, whereas psychopathy is the result of genetics. Sociopathy is the product of emotional or physical abuse and childhood trauma. Psychopathy is actually associated with a physiological defect, which contributes to the underdevelopment of the brain area responsible for emotions and impulse control.
Sociopathy affects more people than psychopathy. Psychopathy is believed to be the worst antisocial personality disorder. It comes as no surprise that a number of serial killers, like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and Dennis Rader have been psychopaths. In fact, it’s estimated that approximately 50% of all serial killers are psychopaths.