Lots of psychologists, law enforcement professionals and laypeople use the term psychopath and sociopath interchangeably with no idea what the differences are. So in this personality psychology podcast episode, you’ll learn the differences between these two types of people and more fascinating things you never ever considered before.
This episode has been sponsored by Personality Psychology and Individual Difference. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
What Are Psychopaths and Sociopaths?
Before we go into depth about the differences, I want to mention the similarities before. Since there are clear reasons why people mix them up and use them interchangeably. For example, both types of people according to the DSM-5 are categorised as Antisocial Personality Disorders (ASPD).
These types of personality disorders share a lot of common behavioural traits. Hence the confusion and the key traits that psychopaths and sociopaths have include:
· A failure to feel guilt or remorse
· A disregard for the rights of others
· A disregard for social norms and laws.
· A tendency to display violent or aggressive behaviour.
However, there are a lot of differences between these two types of personality disorders and that is the real focus of this episode.
What Are Sociopaths?
Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated, as well as they are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts. This includes fits of rage, which is what people normally think of.
However, the first major difference between psychopaths and sociopaths is sociopaths are a lot less likely to become educated and they tend to live on the fringes of society. As well as many sociopaths are unable to hold down jobs or stay in one place for a very long time. It is often very difficult, but not technically impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others.
Whereas psychopaths are pretty much the opposite on most of those points, but they’ll look at them in a moment.
Interestingly, there are many sociopaths that are able to form attachments to certain people or groups. Despite sociopaths having no regard for society or its many rules in general.
Therefore, these attachments will be very few to the sociopath and limited in scope. As a result, they tend to struggle with relationships.
On the other hand, to other people sociopaths generally appear to be erratic or disturbed people. With any crime they commit, including murder, tend to be spontaneous or haphazard rather than planned.
Personally, and I do mean talk as a not-sociopath expert here, I think that makes them even more scary. Since if I knew a sociopath my concern would be I’ll just be talking to them normally then they would be erratic and be outraged by something for no reason. And my mind cannot simply skip over the spontaneous murder part.
Finally, because sociopaths are more erratic and arguably more expressive in their abnormal behaviour, it is easier for professionals and laypeople to spot them than psychopaths.
Leading us onto the arguably darker, scarier of the two types.
What Are Psychopaths?
Psychopaths are very different to sociopaths because psychopaths cannot form any emotional attachments. As well as they tend to be aggressive and predatory in nature and they view other people as objects for their amusement.
I’m sorry but that is just terrifying. That really has to be one of the most chilling sentences I have ever written on the podcast.
Anyway, to make this all even worse, just because they lack empathy doesn’t mean that cannot function in the real world. In fact, they have often very disarming or even charming personalities. Making it easy or easier for them to manipulate others and gain their trust.
Also psychopaths learn to mimic emotions and despite them being unable to feel them in the slightest, they still appear normal to unsuspecting people.
Leading them to be able to hold down good jobs and become very well-educated.
To only add to this rather alarming type of personality is some psychopaths are so good in their manipulations and mimicry. They are able to have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting they were psychotic.
Personally, I think what is fascinating, scary and intimidating about psychopaths is their ability to appear normal. Due to unlike sociopaths, you cannot tell just by looking at them, so you can just be talking to a so-called normal person and they could be easily trying to manipulate you without you even realising.
As I’ve mentioned on previous episodes, I really hope I never get to meet one.
Psychopaths and Forensic Psychology
You all know I can never exist forensic psychology when I have the chance.
Therefore, in terms of psychopaths and criminal psychology, they carefully plan every detail of the crime in advance and very often they have contingency plans in place. As well as they seem unflappable in a crisis.
Now if that was the only major difference between “normal” people and psychopaths. Then I would have no problem with them, after all I do like organised people. But the other things are just too concerning.
In addition, psychopathic criminals are calm, cool and meticulous. As well as from a law enforcement perspective, the “cold-blooded” nature of psychopaths makes them very effective criminals. As a result, they are a lot harder to identify compared to sociopaths.
And to make things worse, it can be hard to know when a psychopathic predator has targeted you.
However, to start wrapping up this episode, it should be noted that thankfully psychopaths are rarer than sociopaths. And psychopaths are still considered the most dangerous antisocial personality disorder, as well as it is hardly surprising that nearly 50% of serial killers are psychopaths.
This really has been a wide ranging podcast episode touching on topics from personality psychology to forensic psychology and more. But I really hope you’ve enjoyed it, psychopathy is a “fun” topic to explore because it is scary and something I hope we never have to experience.
I’ll definitely be exploring it in future podcast episodes.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Personality Psychology and Individual Difference. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local
library, if you request it.
Personality Psychology and Forensic Psychology Reference
Bouchard, T.J., Jr., Lykken, D.T., McGue, M., Segal, N.L. and Tellegen, A. 1990. "Sources of human psychological differences: The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart." Science 250 (4978), pp. 223–228.
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