A few weeks ago I posted a blog article entitled Confusion about sociopaths, psychopaths, and antisocials. The article provided background on the evolution of the terms used to describe people who have no heart, no conscience and no remorse. It also acknowledged that Lovefraud uses the definition of this disorder based on the work of Dr. Robert Hare, who uses the term “psychopath.” However, I refer to these people as “sociopaths.”
My reason is that the term “psychopath” carries a lot of cultural baggage. Thanks to movies and media hype, it seems that people tend to associate “psychopath” with deranged individuals or serial killers. I’ve had many victims tell me, “I though a psychopath was someone like Ted Bundy,” They’re right, of course, Bundy was a psychopath. But the vast majority of people with this personality disorder are not serial killers. Victims don’t always realize that the term applies to their spouses or someone else who is turning their lives upside down.
Dr. Robert Hare responds
Dr. Robert Hare sent the following e-mail in response to the article:
The recent posting about psychopathy, sociopathy, and antisocial personality disorder is very misleading. The “experts” are not all over the map. The term psychopathy is used by virtually all those doing research on the topic and in the vast majority of published articles over the past 50 years or so. The major edited books on the topic, and the chapters contained therein, all use the term psychopathy (e.g., Patrick, Handbook of Psychopathy, 2006; Hervé & Yuille, The Psychopath: Theory, Research, and Practice, in press; Millon, Simonsen, Birket-Smith, & Davis, Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal, and Violent Behaviors, 1998; Gacono, The Clinical and Forensic Assessment of Psychopathy, 2000, to name but a few).The name of the new society for its study is the Society for the Scientific Study of Psychopathy (SSSP). The instruments for its assessment contain the term psychopathy.
Some segments of the public may think of psychopaths only as serial killers but those involved in research and clinical practice clearly do not. We should not help to perpetuate the myopic equation of psychopathy with serial killers by substituting another term, one that has its own uncertain meaning. With respect to antisocial personality disorder (APD), as described in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, (DSM-IV), there is rather large literature on its similarities to, and differences from, psychopathy, most of it available at www.hare.org. I might add that the confusion in this field is compounded by the use of prevalence figures for APD to estimate the prevalence of sociopathy (thus equating APD with sociopathy), followed by discussions of sociopathy that are based on the literature on psychopathy!
I’ve been in this game for a very long time, know most of the major players, and can tell you that the term psychopathy is the norm. Psychopathy refers to a widely understood and intensely studied clinical construct. Some may prefer to use a different label (an English psychiatrist suggested “bastard’), but why add to the confusion?
What’s your view?
It is not my intention to argue with the experts. Also, I am very aware that my use of “sociopath” may be adding to the confusion, and that troubles me. However, I’m trying to reach a general audience, and I am afraid that many people may be unwilling to accept that the person who is mistreating them is actually a psychopath.
I do admit, however, that my view is based on journalistic instinct and not empirical data. So here is an unscientific attempt to gather some information. What do you think about the terminology? Please take the Terminology Survey (only three questions), and feel free to post any other comments