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Psychopath or Sociopath?: Similarities and Differences

Updated on May 13, 2016

Stems: Defined

Greek origin

Psyche - mind/personality

Pathos - suffering


Genetics: With psychopathy it is believed that genetics are the biggest contributor to the mental illness. There was a study done in a prison by Sheilagh Hodges, did scans of a group of prisoners. The group contained psychopaths and non-psychopath criminals. The brain scans showed a lack of activity in the part of the organ that controls emotions for the psychopathic criminals, particularly when it came to negative punishments. This lack of activity is because their brains are thought to be wired weirdly and lacking some gray matter, which would be a genetic problem.

Environment: As with nearly all mental illnesses and disorders, there is an environmental factor. A convicted parent or neglect as a child are common situations that can affect any psychopathic tendencies a person may have. Also, any ostracization or exclusion from social activities can be a factor, seeing as psychopathy is an antisocial personality disorder of sorts when looking at the DSM-V.

Brain Injury: It is known that the prefrontal cortex and the temporal poles are important for the emotions of empathy, guilt, and embarrassment. These three emotions are obviously missing in a psychopath if you look at the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R).


According to the PCL-R there are a few symptoms, or behavioral and personality traits, that psychopaths show.

  • superficial
  • egocentric
  • lack of remorse
  • manipulative
  • shallow emotions
  • impulsive
  • need for excitement
  • lack of responsibility
  • early behavior issues
  • antisocial behavior (particularly as an adult)
  • charming

Psychopaths tend to be manipulative and have a fairly high intelligence. Also, it is believed that most psychopaths are not very impulsive in a self-endangering way. Because they tend to be of high intelligence and highly functioning in society, they are harder to spot and leave little evidence behind of their damage to others. But their narcissism tends to make them believe they won't ever be caught, which can lead to mistakes.

Stems: Defined

Latin Origin

Socius - companion

Greek Origin

Pathos - suffering


Genetics: As with psychopathy, genetics would lead to differences in the brain for sociopaths than non-sociopaths. For instance, it is thought that there is a different wiring structure and it is believed the development of this organ is much slower for sociopaths.

Environment: Childhood experiences also have a big effect on a person. But, in this instance, the environment plays a much bigger role in the mental illness than it does for psychopaths. This is because, sociopaths can still feel and connect with others emotionally, but it's just more difficult for them. Usually, this is due to abuse and neglect and an environment that trains the brain to dismiss emotions and to be antisocial.


Psychology Today determines sociopathy - or antisocial personality disorder - by the following signs:

  • No care for laws
  • Violates the rights of others
  • Unstable life or job
  • No remorse
  • Superficial
  • Impulsive
  • Diagnosed with conduct disorder as a child

Sociopaths are very impulsive and tend to have difficulty forming connections with groups or people. They also appear to be disturbed and show obvious signs of anxiety. Sociopaths also tend to have a lower IQ and live outside of society, with very impulsive actions and behavior.


Psychopaths and sociopaths are different, not just by their symptoms, but also through their demeanors and the causes of the mental illness.

Psychopaths have a stronger genetic factor than sociopaths, where environment plays a bigger role.

Sociopaths are more nervous and impulsive than most psychopaths, who are manipulative and calculating.

Both don't show empathy, but with sociopaths it is possible while psychopaths are unable to make any emotional connections with others due to genetics.


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