What is the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath?

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astrocourt eNotes educator| Certified Educator

'Sociopath' and 'psychopath' are labels used by society (rather than psychologists) to describe sufferers of antisocial personality disorder.

In order to be diagnosed with an antisocial personality, a person must possess three of the following five traits:

  1. Breaks, or ignores, the law on a regular basis.
  2. Lies and deceives constantly
  3. Prone to fighting and aggression
  4. Has little regard for the safety of others
  5. Does not feel remorse or guilt

Usually, antisocial personality traits are well established by the age of about fifteen years. 

The two terms (psychopath and sociopath) are not well defined by modern psychology, however there are some differences:

Psychopaths are now thought to be 'born', whereas sociopaths are products of their environment. This is somewhat analogous to the 'nature vs nurture' arguments for IQ. However, this does not negate some psychopaths having faced childhood traumas and/or other environmental triggers.

In terms of relationships with others, psychopaths tend to have trouble forming deep emotional attachments. Despite this, they may be perceived as trustworthy and charming. Sociopaths have trouble forming long term relationships, but this is due to their stereotypical erratic behaviours.

Up to 3% of the population may qualify for a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. However, the rates are higher for males, or those who abuse drugs or alcohol.