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In response to a question about sociopaths.

Updated on October 20, 2009

When people talk about sociopaths they are usually referring to people who have been, or could be, diagnosed with an Antisocial personality disorder. To receive this diagnosis, at least three or more of the following are required (according to the DSM IV-TR):

1. Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.

2. Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.

3. Impulsivity 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.

Many people with antisocial personality are also very charming and personable, but are also very narcissistic, having a very high opinion of themselves. They tend to have frequent problems with authority, rules and directives, which in turn leads to trouble keeping jobs and maintaining relationships. They are frequently impulsive, giving little thought to the consequences of their actions. Combine this with a tendency to become bored easily, and you can see why many people with this diagnosis end up in the criminal justice system. Men are more likely than women to receive the diagnosis.

There is debate in the mental health field whether psychopathy and sociopathy are appropriately paired under the antisocial heading. Because psychopathy is diagnosed primarily by interpersonal relationships and the individuals affect, where as ASPD is diagnosed by observed social and behavioral deviance, some clinicians feel the two should be separated.

What causes it remains unclear, though the amygdala may play a key role. The amygdala is known to influence fear reactions and the "animal instinct" and behavioral control in humans. Damage done to this portion of the brain tends to show as a decrease in impulse control and patients diagnosed with ASPD frequently show damage to the amygdala.


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    • Dark knight rides profile imageAUTHOR

      Dark knight rides 

      8 years ago from Denver

      Kristen, thank you for your comment. I think that the most important thing any of us can do is try and understand ourselves. We need to be able to recognize who we are and why we act the way we do to things. That was we control our actions, rather than allowing our actions to be controlling.

    • KristenLNewsome profile image


      8 years ago from Valley Alabama

      Well what i think here,Is all psychopathy and anti social disorder and so on,Are all linked to one another. Many of these problems that people suffer with can come from a wide range of troubles,From abusive childhoods,Lack attention and compassion and alot of times it is simply the chemicals in the brain being serverly off balance,I say this because i have a very small bit sociopathic personalty. I've had to learn alot on it,to even understand myself.

    • bittybrasize profile image


      9 years ago

      I know the DSM-IV does not recognize the term, but the PCL-R is still used clinically in criminal court and correctional settings. I have administered it to adult prison inmates. I believe the PCL-YV (Youth Version) is still in use as well, although I'm less certain about that.

    • Dark knight rides profile imageAUTHOR

      Dark knight rides 

      9 years ago from Denver


      yes and no. The term "psychopathy" is used by some clinicians, and yes, I've read the work of Dr. Hare, but the DSM-IV, which is the clinical guide, no longer recognizes the term. The American Psychological Association eliminated the use of the term in a clinical setting in 2002.

    • bittybrasize profile image


      9 years ago

      The term "psychopathy" actually is used in clinical diagnosis, separate from antisocial personality disorder. There is a test called the PCL-R, or Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, which was designed by Dr. Robert Hare. More information:

    • profile image

      Dark knight rides 

      9 years ago


      You do make some great points there. From a clinical perspective, there is no such thing as psychopath or sociopath, both terms are instead rolled into the antisocial personality diagnosis. Of course the key is that, again from a clinical perspective, the only way for a person to be diagnosed antisocial is for them to see a mental health professional, and most don't. They don't see their behaviors as abnormal or wrong. It's only when their behavior involves police, typically, that they are brought to the attention of psychologists. Then they are tested and diagnosed. That's what separates the CIA agent from Madoff, if Madoff even fits the diagnosis criteria.

      And you hit the nail right on the head with your last questions. Now that we have a diagnosis for everything, who is actually ill and who just has a different personality? The response to that question from the mental health field is that everything is an illness, and can be treated. And that's the very reason I've chosen to get out of the field. When kids who are very active are diagnosed as ADHD so teachers and parents can get drugs to better control them... when adults are diagnosed with depression because they feel sad and tired... people are sent to treatment because someone else doesn't know what to do with them... It's all gone overboard. The field really needs to rethink a lot of the ideas they have been implementing these last 20 years.

      Thanks for your comment.

    • paul b profile image

      Paul Bail 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      After all these decades, there is still plenty of confusion about the terms psychopath, sociopath, and antisocial personality. Antisocial personality is the broader group. People who repeatedly end up in jail may have antisocial personality. However, if you look at #3 and #7 above -- those are traits which are associated with the "con-artist" type, whereas the other traits can merely be indicative of the "screw up" type (my very fancy diagnostic terms). Lots of people are in jail because they are screw ups, somewhat stupid, and cannot get their act together. The image of the psychopath is usually of the con-artist, very smart, glib, manipulating people with no remorse. This is different from the stupid, impulsive, irresponsible screw-up.

      I met a guy once who worked for the CIA. His job was finding people from other countries and "turning them" into traitors. He believed that there was a way to get to anyone, if you could just find the key (this kind of cynicism, is it "psychopathic" or "realistic"). He would pretend to be whatever he needed to be to get close to his target. If his target was into horses, this CIA guy would pretend he was into horses. It was all for a "worthy cause," however -- defending our country by seducing other people into becoming traitors.

      Was he a psychopath? Or a dedicated professional?

      Is it an illness? Or a socially defined condition? Is the difference between him and Bernie Madoff merely that one did it for personal profit? But isn't the CIA guy also acting for personal profit -- in terms of advancing his career?

      Superficially we can differentiate these various categories, but when we get down to the philosophical bottom -- these people are different, but are they ill? If they are successful, are they ill? Or only if they break laws?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      A good post about a rather misunderstood illness.


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