Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Year of Knowledge: Psychopaths vs. Sociopaths

I love science. No matter how much you learn, there is always something new being discovered, re-worked, changed. Love. It. So, for the Year of Knowledge, I decided to make Saturdays to be my Super Science Saturdays! Today, we will look at a topic that caught my attention while watching an episode of Criminal Minds: What is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath?

First, let's start with how they are the same.  They are both diagnosed in the DSM-IV (Also know as the Bible of Psychology) as a subset of the larger psychological disorder: Antisocial Personality Disorder. As such, they are going to have quite a few similar traits. Both sociopaths and psychopaths have a high disregard for others, others' rights, and others' feelings. They have a pathological disregard for rules and laws and feel no remorse for their actions. They are also known to have bouts of anger, rage, and violence.

So if they are so similar, and listed as subset of a larger disorder, are they really different? While some psychologists will use the terms interchangeably, most do agree that the two disorders do have several important differences. Looking at each one individually will help to highlight these differences.

Psychopaths are often charming and personable. They have learned how to mimic "normal" behavior and can adapt to the situation they are in. They are often able to hold jobs, have long-term relationships, and are educated. They are master manipulators. When committing a crime, they are often very detailed and controlled.

Sociopaths, however, appear in behavior as almost the complete opposite of psychopaths. They are very nervous and easily agitated. They are often uneducated and unable to maintain relationships or work. They often exist on the fringes of society. They actually appear to be "crazy" to those around them.

The biggest difference between between psychopaths and sociopaths is etiology, or the cause of the disorder. Psychopaths have an underdeveloped part of the brain that controls emotion and impulses. They are born with this disorder. Sociopaths, however, often have suffered some sort of trauma or abuse that then creates the psychological pathology.

As with most things in psychology, this topic is still debated. However, the next time you are watching some forensic show or movie, you will know with certainty what the difference is between a psychopath and a sociopath.

Thanks to for the information found in this blog!

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