The Difference Between a Sociopath and a Psychopath

When people hear the words ‘sociopath’ and ‘psychopath,’ they usually conjure up images of a deranged killer. Thankfully, the recent discoveries in psychiatry have helped delineate the differences between these two anti-social personality disorders.

If you remain confused about the different of sociopaths and psychopaths, then read on to learn more about how you can distinguish one from the other.


Psychopaths are individuals who demonstrate risky behavior, as well as the inability to follow social norms. They exhibit extreme temperaments, ranging from fearlessness to impulsivity. Apart from suffering from anti-social personality disorder, psychopaths are known to be delusional. Conscience and empathy are some of the common traits they lack.

Nature (genetics) is said to be one of the strongest predisposing factors of psychopathy. According to David Lykken, a behavioral geneticist, psychopaths feature brains with physiological defects. Based on his studies, the part responsible for emotion and impulse control is underdeveloped in psychopaths.

On the other hand, additional research also shows that psychopaths demonstrate low-state autonomic nervous systems. As such, they are unable to show emotion, and they are incapable of feeling what other individuals feel.

There are four types of psychopaths. They are:

  • Primary Psychopaths

These are individuals who are immune to disapproval, punishment, stress or apprehension. Incapable of experiencing any emotion, primary psychopaths do not have a clear plan in life.

  • Secondary Psychopaths

Known to be risk-takers, secondary psychopaths do react to stress. They often worry and waddle in guilt. Despite this, they thrive in living a life of temptation and adventure.

  • Distempered Psychopaths

These individuals often burst into a fit more easily than other psychopaths. They have strong sexual urges, apparent in their habits of pedophilia, illegal indulgence and drug addiction, among many others. They love the ‘high’ associated with risky activities.

  • Charismatic Psychopaths

True to its name, these psychopaths are very appealing and attractive. Somehow gifted, they use their talents to manipulate other individuals. Viewed as irresistible, charismatic psychopaths often take the form of dangerous cult leaders.


Sociopaths, on the other hand, feature relatively normal temperaments. They are easily agitated, and oftentimes nervous. While such individuals can be attached to an individual or a collective, they disregard the concept of society as a whole.

The symptoms of sociopaths arise from sociological aspects that have affected them negatively when they were young. These factors include poverty, aberrant peers, parental neglect, to name a few. To wit, nurture or environment contributes to a person’s sociopathic behavior.

High intelligence is often seen in sociopaths, although those with low IQs can be sociopathic as well.

Sociopaths are pathological liars who have no problems telling false claims. In fact, most sociopaths can pass their way out of a lie detector test. To wit, it is impossible to get the truth out of a sociopath.

Sociopaths have dominant personalities, meaning that they do not like to lose in any competition – big or small. They hate losing in an argument, and they will lie their way through even if their claims make no sense at all. And when it is proven that they are wrong, they will never apologize.

They are charming speakers who can deliver seemingly-hypnotic speeches. They can deliver masterful stories that will leave the audience in awe.

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Mechanisms and Symptoms

Generally, both disorders exhibit the following signs:

  • Emotional outbursts
  • Violent behaviors
  • Disregard for laws and rules
  • Disregard for the rights of other individuals

Almost 5% of the population demonstrates psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies. While other symptoms for both disorders differ, the similarity between psychopathy and sociopathy is that they manifest during adolescence, approximately at age 15. In most cases, the violent rage continues until a certain age, 50 at average, before it diminishes.

First symptoms usually include cruelty to animals, and a lack of remorse after offending or hurting a fellow individual. While some individuals understand that what they did is wrong, they do not show appropriate responses even after being reprimanded by others.

Social Relationships

Psychopaths and sociopaths approach social relationships differently as well. Sociopaths find it difficult to maintain normal relationships, given their disorganized natures. And when they do foster bonds, they only maintain relationships that can benefit to them. More often than not, sociopaths tend to be ‘social predators,’ forming parasitic relationships off their companions

As for Psychopaths, they have the ability to maintain normal relationships, since they appear charming to most of their families and friends. The harmony of the relationships, however, is oftentimes superficial.


[wp_ad_camp_3] Psychopaths, most of the time, enjoy prosperous careers. They fully understand the mechanics of human emotion, although they are not able to feel them on their own. Talented in manipulating humans, sociopaths work hard in order for their co-workers to like them.

A famous example of a psychopath assassin is Dennis Rader, known to many as the BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) killer. He worked for the US Air Force, as well as a home security company. Truly charismatic, he went on to become the president of the Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita.

Although many high-paying careers attract and bring out the best in sociopaths (politicians, lawyers, CEOs, etc),  many are unable to last in a job or a home because of their inability to function normally in a social and occupational environment.

Criminal Tendencies

With regards to criminal activities, psychopaths and sociopaths tend to operate in different ways.

Sociopaths, since they act on impulse, largely leave clues when they commit crimes. Because of their lack of relationships, dominance and control are said to be some of the main reasons why they get violent.

With their fondness in risk-taking, sociopaths are predisposed to commit opportunistic and impulsive criminal behavior. As a result, grandiose-thinking sociopaths often lean towards sadism. They carry out crimes as if they are entitled to, resulting to a lust for blood.

Psychopaths, the other hand, often participate in schemes. Usually driven by revenge or greed, they often commit premeditated crimes with manageable risk. They usually calculate the risks in order to avoid exposure and incriminating evidence. Sociopaths often commit opportunistic crimes, calculated yet violent offenses, as well as fraud.

While both are pressing mental conditions, there are several facets that set psychopaths apart from sociopaths. By knowing these signs and symptoms, you can be able to diagnose yourself – as well as others.

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