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The Difference Between Sociopaths & Psychopaths - Mind, Psychiatry & Psychology

Updated on June 19, 2013
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Marc Hubs is a writer/researcher on mind, science, and conspiracy. He is the author of "Know Your Enemy: Reflections of NPD."

The faceless mask of the narcissist/sociopath/psychopath
The faceless mask of the narcissist/sociopath/psychopath | Source

Lately there has been a lot of speculation over the use of the terms "sociopath" and "psychopath" and the fact that these terms are now being used interchangeably.

This is due to recent changes in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). For this reason some people are now starting to believe that the information they have been reading about these disorders must be false or inaccurate. However, this isn't necessarily the case - it's just that the official medical diagnostic criteria is being upgraded so that personality disorders can be diagnosed and treated more accurately and more effectively.

Up until now there has always been a subtle difference between a "sociopath" and a "psychopath". A "sociopath" was considered to be someone with no shame or guilt whereas a "psychopath" was considered to be someone with no conscience or remorse - which isn't really much difference and it's not unusual for these symptoms to overlap with each other, hence the need for wider diagnostic criteria in this area.

In the DSM-IV-TR, diagnosis of psychopathy and sociopathy now comes under the label of Anti-Social Personality Disorder (APD) and so, a psychopath and a sociopath are now, essentially, considered to be the same thing according to the official medical criteria. This means that the new label of "Anti-Social Personality Disorder" can be applied to both psychopaths and sociopaths regardless of their differences. However, the label can also be misleading, as in the UK ASBO's (Anti-Social Behavioural Orders) are being handed out by the justice system to those who continuously carry out anti-social behaviour in public - but this does not mean in any way, shape or form that the people who carry out such anti-social behaviour are sociopaths or psychopaths. They are mostly just bored youths who have nothing better to do with their time than to go out causing trouble in public and so it's easy for people to associate Anti-Social Personality Disorder with Anti-Social Behavioural Orders, when this is actually an incorrect assumption.

Gary McKinnon who hacked into computer systems owned and operated by US Army, Air Force, DoD and NASA.
Gary McKinnon who hacked into computer systems owned and operated by US Army, Air Force, DoD and NASA. | Source

More Changes To DSM-5

Even more remarkably and perhaps even worrying for some, the diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome is to be dropped from the DSM-5 medical manual. Instead, an "umbrella" diagnosis of "autism spectrum disorder" has been introduced in order to cater for all forms of autism. The diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome actually helped greatly in NASA hacker Gary McKinnon's legal battle against the US government who were trying to have him extradited to serve up to 60 years in a federal prison.

The US fought a ten-year long controversial battle against McKinnon who defended himself by claiming that after being sucked in by the Disclosure Project he became compulsively obsessive about finding out the real truth behind the project's claims. It was also claimed that McKinnon had been using cannabis at the time and was not in "straight" state of mind and that if he was to be extradited, due to his Asperger's Syndrome, he would be at high risk of suicide. It was eventually announced by UK Home Secretary Theresa May in 2012 that McKinnon would not be extradited to US. Gary was then to face charges in the UK where he could have been made to serve up to ten years in a UK prison. However, soon after it was announced that Gary would not be facing charges in the UK either and Gary McKinnon, after battling for an entire decade, is now a free man.

See Gary McKinnon: Hacking The Pentagon

Anti-Social Personality Disorder

We are now in the days where the terms "psychopath" and "sociopath" are being used more universally. However, the two words do still have their differences in meaning and therefore the universal term we should now be using when referring to both psychopaths and sociopaths as one unified entity is "anti-social personality".

Many of us sometimes use words like "psycho" or "psychotic" when referring to someone's behaviour yet most of the time we are not using these words in the correct context. For example, if we hear about someone we know who has had a violent outburst we may say "wow, what a psycho" when usually psychopaths are masters of invisibility and can disguise themselves unnoticed within society for several decades and not openly display their psychopathic traits. Additionally, the word "psychotic" does not relate to psychopathy in itself but actually to psychosis.

The word "psychopath" is actually nothing more than a compound word made up from the two words "psychological" and "pathology" therefore, technically, the word "psychopath" could be used to describe any kind of psycho-pathological disorder.

Official Diagnosis

The DSM IV-TR defines antisocial personality disorder (Axis II, Cluster B) as:

A) There is a pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three or more of the following:

  1. failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest;
  2. deception, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure;
  3. impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead;
  4. irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults;
  5. reckless disregard for safety of self or others;
  6. consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations;
  7. lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another;

B) The individual is at least age 18 years.C) There is evidence of conduct disorder with onset before age 15 years.D) The occurrence of antisocial behavior is not exclusively during the course of schizophrenia or a manic episode.

The individual must be at least 18 years of age to be diagnosed with APD or ASPD (Criterion B), but those diagnosed with ASPD as adults are commonly diagnosed with having "conduct disorder" as children. The prevalence of this disorder is 3% in males and 1% in females, as stated in the DSM IV-TR.

By Sparkster

New eBook by this author out now!

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