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Psychopath, or Sociopath: How to Tell the Difference

Even criminologists and psychologists sometimes use sociopath and psychopath interchangeably in everyday language. Sociopathy and psychopathy share many common characteristics but differ fundamentally in the following.

Similarities between sociopathy and psychopathy:

  • Disregard for legal and social rules
  • Disregard for the rights of their peers
  • Inability to feel remorse and guilt
  • A tendency toward violent behavior and emotional outbursts

Characteristics of a sociopath

Sociopaths tend to be very easily irritated and nervous. They are volatile and often throw tantrums and other intense emotional outbursts. Because they are often unable to hold down a long-term job, they often live on the fringes of society with little income. 

Although it is difficult for a sociopath, they can still form friendships with other people. This usually involves joining a person or group whose opinions are shared and with a complete disregard for social norms. 

A sociopath appears disturbed and disordered to those around them; their crimes are usually random and spontaneous.

Characteristics of a psychopath

Psychopaths, unlike sociopaths, are unable to form relationships with other people. They feel no compassion for their fellow humans, although they often outwardly demonstrate a charming personality. Psychopaths manipulate other people and thus gain their trust. 

They learn to credibly act out feelings they do not feel, which is why they appear "normal." Many psychopaths can get so caught up in their role as ordinary people that they have long-standing families and friendships without these people knowing their true personalities.

They can doggedly follow a goal and usually enjoy a good education and a stable job. 

When a psychopath commits a crime, it seems carefully planned. When they plan, they are cold and pedantic.

How sociopathy and psychopathy develop

The cause of psychopathy is entirely different from that of sociopathy. Psychopaths are the result of their genes, while sociopaths are made so by external circumstances. Psychopathy is a type of brain defect. The part of the brain that controls impulses and feelings is underdeveloped. 

In contrast, a "normal" person develops into a sociopath through childhood trauma or physical or emotional abuse. Because sociopathy is learned, while psychopathy is innate, sociopaths can feel compassion in certain situations.


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