Sociopath and psychopath –
terms for the same character disorder.
Mental health professionals disagree about which term to use—which, unfortunately, only confuses the public.
- Some people consider a psychopath to be an extreme form of sociopath.
- Some people say psychopath describes personality traits and sociopath describes behavior.
- Some people use the terms depending on how a person is diagnosed. If psychiatric standards are used, the person is a sociopath. If Dr. Robert Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist is used, the person is a psychopath.
- Some researchers think of a sociopath as someone who is socialized in an antisocial subculture, such as a gang.
- Some people see this as a nature vs. nurture issue—psychopaths are born, sociopaths develop because of parenting and environmental issues.
In short, naming the disorder is a mess.
Lovefraud has chosen to use the term sociopath to describe this personality disorder. Why? The word psychopath sounds similar to the words psychotic and psycho, which most people associate with someone who is mentally ill. Lovefraud wants you to understand that these people are not crazy.
Plus, when most people think of a psychopath, they think of a serial killer. Although some people with this disorder are killers, the vast majority are not.
Another term, antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), is similar. This is the term used in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). According to DSM-IV as presented by BehaveNet®, a person can be diagnosed as antisocial if since age 15 he or she has shown a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others. The person must have indicated at least three of the following:
- Failure to conform to lawful social norms
- Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
- Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicted by repeated physical fights or assaults
- Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
- Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
- Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent about having hurt, mistreated or stolen from another
Dr. Robert Hare, who prefers to use the term psychopath, says antisocial personality disorder refers to a cluster of criminal and antisocial behaviors, whereas psychopathy encompass both personality traits and socially deviant behaviors. According to his standards, all psychopaths would also be diagnosed as having antisocial personality disorder, but not everyone with antisocial personality disorder is a psychopath.
Estimates of the disorder’s prevalence vary:
- Medical experts estimate that 3% of men and 1% of women have ASPD. In the United States, that would add up 4.5 million men and 1.5 million women.
- Dr. Hare estimates at 1% of the American population are psychopaths, which would be about 3 million people.
- In The Sociopath Next Door, Dr. Martha Stout says 4% of the population are sociopaths, which would be 12 million people.
Regardless of which term you use, what is important is recognizing the symptoms.