Sociopath vs. Psychopath

The terms ‘psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ are often used interchangeably. Professionals do not ever diagnose people as either sociopaths or psychopaths. Instead, the patient is simply said to have an antisocial personality disorder.

What many professionals agree on, however, is that psychopaths and sociopaths share similar characteristics. Both groups are made up of people who seem to have a very poor idea of what is morally right or wrong. Sociopaths and psychopaths also have a very low sense of empathy.

Sociopath vs. Psychopath: What Is the Difference?

Although psychopaths and sociopaths show a similar type of behavior, they are far from being in the same boat. A close examination of the two personality types will reveal subtle though core differences.

The development of psychopathic behavior is usually a result of a combination of genetic factors and environmental factors. However, for a psychopath, the personality disorder is centered on heredity while for a sociopath, the basis of the problem is environmental. This could be brain damage during growth, poor parenting, religion and beliefs or influence.

The following table will illustrate the differences of sociopath vs. psychopath.



Has no empathy or conscience. Does not experience feelings of guilt.

Can experience empathy and has a conscience.

Is based on the genetic make of a person.

Is believed to originate from social causes such as poor upbringing.

Professionals agree that the part of the brain that is designed to experience emotions is underdeveloped in a psychopath.

The part of the brain responsible for emotions is completely normal in sociopaths.

May or may not be inclined to violent behavior.

Is highly violent or is inclined to violent behavior.

Mostly has low impulsivity.

Is highly impulsive. Sociopaths are highly volatile and can take reckless actions when they feel insulted or ignored.

Usually has controlled behavior.

Usually unruly. They are also likely to be very nervous.

Is likely to participate in crime but in an organized and well planned manner. Psychopaths are more likely to plan their schemes and cover their tracks. The criminal operations of a psychopath will always have a contingency plan in place in case things do not go their way.

Is likely to participate in crime but in a sloppy manner. Sociopaths are impulsively criminal in nature and are poor at covering up the evidence of the crime.

Is incapable of developing feelings for those close to them. However, they usually mimic human emotions and use them to take advantage of others. An outsider can hardly ever notice the emotional dysfunctionality that a psychopath has. To many people, the psychopath is seen as a charismatic person.

Is able to develop emotional attachment with close friends and family. However, sociopath still has a hard time forming relationships. To many people, the sociopath is clearly disturbed.

Exhibits a normal kind of life. To an outside observer, the psychopath could be completely normal and trustworthy. This is enhanced by the psychopath's natural ability to manipulate human beings and hold a stable job and keep a family.

Usually incapable of leading a normal life, even just for the show. Sociopath is rarely capable of holding normal long term jobs. Sociopaths are also more likely to be uneducated and unable to participate in normal activities of society.

Sociopath vs. Psychopath: What Is in Common?

Psychopaths and sociopaths are both groups of people who suffer from a psychological anti social personality disorder. The disorder will usually begin to show in the teen years, usually by the age of 15.

A child with this kind of personality disorder will demonstrate violent behavior towards animals and other people. The child could also be dishonest, inclined to theft and show disregard for the law and authorities. Both conditions can be treated medically through therapy and by the use of medical drugs.

Although the patient will frequently have knowledge and understanding of normal human emotions and morals, he/she will rarely experience remorse for taking part in immoral activities. He or she also never experiences remorse against the wrong actions of others.

Both psychopaths and sociopaths will also demonstrate an inability to form real human friendships. Psychopaths are even usually incapable of forming loving relations with family members and close friends. Psychopaths and sociopaths are also deceitful and will frequently use the superficial relationships they have to get the most for themselves with no regard for the well being or rights of anyone else. In general, the patient will only engage in manipulative relationships. Any feeling of being neglected on the end of the psychopath or sociopath will result in extreme behavior from the patient.

In addition, both psychopaths and sociopaths are predisposed to break or flaunt the law. Psychopaths and sociopaths alike will never care about the rights of others.

Related reading: 

How to Spot a Sociopath

How to Deal with a Sociopath

Sociopath vs. Psychopath: Who Is More Dangerous?

Psychopaths and sociopaths are both dangerous to the rest of the community. This is not necessarily because of their common violent nature. In fact, many psychopaths and sociopaths cannot be described as being violent. The real risk of these kinds of people lies in their inability to experience normal human emotions. They can simply engage in whatever behavior that promotes their short term well being with little or no regard of the consequences of their actions on the rest of society.

The debate between sociopath vs. psychopath on who is more dangerous is easy to settle. A psychopath, being completely incapable of experiencing human emotions, is definitely much more dangerous compared to a sociopath. This is as opposed to a sociopath who can experience guilt depending on the environment, and is therefore not as capable to create space between their actions and their emotional state.

Historically, many serial killers have been discovered to be psychopaths. Infamous psychopaths in history who were also serial killers include Ted Bundy, Gary Heidnik and Jeffrey Dahmer. Ted Bundy is one of the best examples of psychopaths. In his lifetime, he murdered more than 30 women, many of whom he attracted by his charismatic nature.

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