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Mind of a sociopath

Updated on October 19, 2015

A sociopath suffers from a personality disorder, resulting in a behavior that is antisocial and often criminal. Such a person lacks a sense of social responsibility or social conscience. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), they fall into the category of antisocial personality disorders. World Health Organization also puts them into a similar category called dissocial personality disorder (DPD).

People suffering from this chronic mental disorder typically have no regard for right and wrong and often disregard the rights, wishes and feelings of others.

Though psychopaths and sociopaths both fall under the category of antisocial personality disorder, but still there are distinct differences between them. Psychopaths are born with the temperament, characterized by impulsiveness and fearlessness that lead to risk seeking behavior. They are unable to follow social norms, though they are well aware of them. On the contrary, sociopaths have relatively normal temperaments. Their personality disorder is the outcome of negative sociological factors such as parental neglect, delinquent peers, poverty, and extremely low or extremely high intelligence.

High function sociopaths – When people with high intelligence quotient have sociopathic traits, they are called high function sociopaths. They are likely to be highly successful in the field they endeavor - politics, business, etc., because they plan very meticulously. The presence of sociopathic traits like lack of empathy, lack of remorse, deceptiveness, shallow emotions, etc. makes it very difficult for normal people to compete with them.

Difference between psychopath and sociopath –

They lack empathy and conscience.
They have empathy and conscience.
The disorder is innately present.
Environmental factors play a role in the development of the disorder.
They are highly predisposed to violence.
Their predisposition to violence is variable depending on the situation.
Normally, they have a controlled behavior.
They have an erratic behavior.
They indulge in criminal behavior by taking calculated risks to minimize evidence or exposure.
They have a tendency to leave clues after criminal acts as they act on impulse.
They have tendency for pre-mediated crimes with controlled risks.
They have tendency for impulsiveness.
They have tendency for criminal opportunism and white collar crimes such as fraud.
They have tendency for excessive risk taking.
They are unable to maintain normal relationships. They may hurt family and friends without feeling remorse.
They appear superficially normal in relationships. They can empathize with family and close friends. But they are social predators.

Besides their distinct differences, psychiatrists normally don’t distinguish between the two as based on their behavior. And that is why they have been categorized as antisocial personality disorders. Moreover, sociopaths and psychopaths both may have an intellectual understanding of appropriate social behavior but no emotional response to the actions of others. As a matter of fact, psychopathy is a more severe form sociopathy. Most of psychopaths will meet the diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder. However, vice versa is not true because only one third of the sociopaths will meet the criteria for psychopathy.

Characteristics of sociopaths – Various characteristics of sociopaths are listed below, which will assist us to spot them out. But it should be borne in mind that not all characteristics will be present in all sociopaths.

According to ICD-10 (international classification of diseases), the presence of 3 or more characteristics will qualify for the diagnosis of sociopathy -

  • Callous unconcern for the feelings of others.
  • Gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility and disregard for social norms, and obligations.
  • Very low tolerance to frustration.
  • A low threshold for discharge of aggression, including violence.
  • Incapacity to feel guilt or to profit from punishment.
  • Markedly prone to blame others or to offer plausible rationalization for the behavior that has brought the person into conflict with society.
  • Incapacity to maintain lasting relationships, though having no difficulty in establishing them.

According to DSM IV-TR (The diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders), the presence of 3 or more of the following characteristics define sociopathy occurring time and again in a person since the age of 15 years –

  • Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by acts that are grounds for arrest
  • Deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  • Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated 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
  • Impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead
  • Lack of remorse as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

To establish the diagnosis of sociaopathy one should bear in mind two more diagnostic criteria besides above viz. evidence of above characteristics even before the age of 15 years and the occurrence of antisocial behavior not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or a manic episode.

The bottom line – Different statistical analyses have found variable incidence of sociopathy among people but, on an average, its prevalence rate is about 3% to 4%. It is significant to note that the prevalence rate of sociopathy is steadily rising up among people. With an increasing incidence rate of sociopathy, it is imperative that it should be managed effectively in those, who suffer from it. It is typically managed by psychotherapy, focusing on behavior change and skill-building, because sociopaths lack emotional depth, are unable to create genuine connections with others, and often engage in criminal acts for personal gain. However, medications are not necessary unless there is co-occurrence of additional disorders such as paranoia, anxiety, depression and substance abuse.


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    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image

      Dr Pran Rangan 23 months ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      I totally agree with you. Thanks Minnetonka Twin for your nice comments.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 23 months ago from Minnesota

      Incredible article on Sociopathy. Sociopath's also like to create drama in their lives because of the lack of empathy and emptiness within them. Drama and Conflict are a way for them to feel some type of emotion.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image

      Dr Pran Rangan 2 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks for your encouraging comments.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 2 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      Wow! That quote was pretty powerful. Sociopath's and Psychopaths are both pretty scary. People with no conscious or people who lack empathy seem weird. I especially feel sorry for the ones who use life as an excuse to be evil.

    • Dr Pran Rangan profile image

      Dr Pran Rangan 2 years ago from Kanpur (UP), India

      Thanks Carolyn for liking my hub. It is true that so many politicians belong to the category of high function sociopaths.

      Thanks Martha for your nice comments. True, many high function sociopaths hold important places in politics, business and other fields. And they never think twice before exploiting people and situations for their own good.

    • HealthbyMartha profile image

      Martha Montour 2 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Dr Rangan I have really enjoyed this article and the one before it! I am fascinated by the criminal mind and enjoy reading all of the facts. Ted Bundy was one of the more famous high functioning sociopaths to come along and this article made me think of him. It's a bit scary to realize how many people in power are likely sociopaths! Thank you for your informative article.

    • Carolyn M Fields profile image

      Carolyn Fields 2 years ago from South Dakota, USA

      Makes me wonder how many politicians currently running for office are high function sociopaths . . .