Sociopath vs Psychopath
- Are The Differences Important?

Long-standing sociopath psychopath debate

It seems there has been debate about the difference between sociopath vs psychopath from the time the terms were coined. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists psychopathy and sociology under antisocial personality. Indeed, they share more similarities than there are differences.

Even lots of professionals use the terms psychopath, sociopath and antisocial personality disorder interchangeably.

But what about the differences? Some professionals believe there is no difference, and even among those who do except there is a difference, there is debate over what those differences are!

A quick scan of the Internet can be confusing because one page that has the characteristics of a sociopath is contradicted by another page that claims that those characteristics are actually those of a psychopath!

Basically the differences between sociopath vs psychopath fall into three categories, differences in characteristics, nurture versus nature and personal preference.


Sociopath vs psychopath: different characteristics

The lists of the characteristics of a psychopath and the psychopath symptoms apply to both groups and the differences are said to be as follows:

  • The sociopath is said to be more disorganized in his life. It's more difficult for them to maintain relationships, finish their academic studies or keep a steady job. They are said to live on the fringes of society and rarely have regular income.
  • While sociopaths may lack empathy and won't feel guilty about breaking the law and taking advantage of strangers, they may actually form bonds with those they have close relationships with. It is said that they can make decisions not to direct their crimes against those people that they care about, unlike psychopaths who will make decisions to abuse their families just as quickly as strangers.
  • The sociopath is said to have less emotional control than psychopaths, and may be very quick to express agitation or rage. The psychopath may display little emotion even under extreme threat.
  • The crimes of a sociopath are spontaneous and therefore quite disorganized. Those of a psychopath can be carefully thought out.
  • When many people think of sociopath vs psychopath, they tend to believe that psychopaths have the skills to hide themselves in society, to blend in. Even their families may not recognize a psychopath. Sociopaths on the other hand, are seen as wild, a bit dangerous, somewhat disturbed and/or frequently in trouble with the law.

Adding to the difficulty of distinguishing is that a particular psychopath may have one or more characteristics of the sociopath, and vice versa!


Sociopath vs psychopath: nurture versus nature

The difference here is that basically some people think that psychopaths are born and sociopaths are the result of poor social conditions in childhood. Such things as parental neglect, delinquent peers, childhood trauma or abuse may cause difficulties in relating to others but does allow the sociopath to have some empathy with those close to him.

Psychopaths, who are completely incapable of empathy, are believed to be born with a defect in the brain in the part that controls impulses and emotions.

Sociologists and criminologists, for example, who believe in the nurture aspect will use the term sociopath, while other clinicians prefer psychopath.

Do sociopaths know right from wrong?


Sociopath vs psychopath: personal preference

Some people prefer one term to another for a variety of reasons.

  • Some people fear that 'psychopath' will be confused with 'psychotic' and prefer to use the term sociopath. (Psychopaths and sociopaths are not considered mentally ill in legal terms and are held responsible for their actions.)
  • Some talk about psychopathic personality and sociopathic behavior
  • The word sociopath may be used to describe someone socialized in an antisocial subculture such as a gang.
  • Some people think a psychopath is an extreme sociopath
  • Some people think a sociopath is an extreme psychopath


Sociopath vs psychopath: a psychopaths view

Robert Hare gives this amusing example in his book "Without Conscience".

A psychologist (P) is interviewing an offender (O) who is a psychopath:

P: "Did you get any feedback from the prison psychiatrist who assessed you?"

O: "She told me I was a… not a sociopath… a psychopath. This was comical. She said not to worry about it because you can have a doctor or lawyer who is a psychopath. I said, 'Yeah, I understand that. If you were sitting on a plane that was hijacked would you rather be sitting next to me or some sociopath or neurotic who shits his pants and gets us all killed?' She just about fell off her chair. If someone wants to diagnose me I'd rather be a psychopath than a sociopath."

P: "Aren't they the same thing?"

O: "No, they're not. You see, a sociopath misbehaves because he's been brought up wrong. Maybe he's got a beef with society. I'm not harboring hostility. It's just the way I am. Yeah, I guess I'd be a psychopath."


Sociopath Psychopath: What's important?

So one professional can diagnose a person as a sociopath and another may diagnose him as a psychopath.

Regardless of whether you think your friend or wife or controlling mother is a sociopath vs psychopath, these parasites cause a huge amount of damage in society and the most important thing is to be aware that they exist and to begin to recognize the characteristics and to learn how they create relationships and use mind control, so you don't fall victim to these social predators, or, if it's too late, that you can get yourself out of their clutches...

More about how the symptoms show up in real life, emotional abuse, life after dating a psychopath, and recovery after a psychopathic relationship.

Like this page?


Would you like to talk to someone about your situation?

If you think you are or have been in a cult or a destructive relationship, or a friend or family member might be in a cult and you want to talk to someone, send me a message on the Contact page and we can arrange to talk. All communication will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Available now!

54 tips image
54 Practical Tips For Dealing With Psychopaths and Narcissists

You have the theory but how do you actually apply it? This book spells it out...

Find out more

Mind Control Manual

mind control manual s

Vital concepts about mind control, cults
and psychopaths

Do you think that you might be in an abusive relationship? Are you realizing that the group you are in may be a cult?

This manual will give you a different perspective!

What Is Narcissism?

what is narcissism small

A practical guide to protecting yourself

Do you think you are being taken advantage of emotionally, physically, sexually or financially in your relationship? Do you want to leave but you can't seem to get away?

Learn how to break free, and why you need to!

Tips for dealing with psychopaths and narcissists

Fortnightly newsletter with practical tips and ideas
Learn more...
'7 Vital Do's and Don'ts of Decision Making' when you subscribe!