What’s the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath?

Though treated similarly in the media, the psychology behind psychopaths and sociopaths has some key differences.

14th November 2015
What’s the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath? (iStock)

Asked by: Mike Dawes, Liverpool

The two conditions are often treated as the same, but psychiatrists identify important differences. Both disregard laws, customs and the rights of others and feel no guilt or remorse for their behaviour. Both can be violent, although not all are. Sociopaths, however, are also disorganised, impulsive and volatile and can rarely hold down a job. They appear very disturbed and their crimes are usually spontaneous.

By contrast, many psychopaths lead relatively normal lives, manipulating people and mimicking emotions they cannot feel themselves. Their crimes are usually meticulously planned. There is some evidence that psychopathy is inherited while sociopathy is due to childhood trauma or neglect.

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