Psychopath vs. sociopath

While there is some debate in the world of psychology, clinically the terms psychopath (or its abbreviation psycho) and sociopath are relatively interchangeable. Both refer to a clinical diagnosis of someone without guilt, who also has violent tendencies and disregard for others and laws.

The slang term psycho is used as an insult meaning something or someone is generally crazy.


Psychopath-sociopaths are neither wise nor conscientious, because they lack a capacity for empathy and possess no emotional depth. They may be cognitively lucid, say experts who study this pathology, but they are morally insane. [The Globe and Mail]

Gardai have identified a new psychopathic killer on Ireland’s gangland scene who riddled a criminal victim with bullets from a machine gun after breaking his teeth in with a hammer in a grotesque torture session. [Irish Independent]

A sociopath is not the same thing as a jerk. In fact, the person you know who strikes you as a jerk is probably not a sociopath because it’s not in the best interests of sociopaths to let you know what kind of people they are and sociopaths are usually pretty good about acting in their own best interests. [WNPR]

Thirty-two-year-old, Belfast-born Jamie Dornan has been busy. Over the last year he’s played Abe Goffe, the young rogue determined to make England a republic in Channel 4’s 17th century drama New Worlds, earned a Bafta nomination for his role as psycho killer Paul Spector in the BBC hit series The Fall, and filmed Fifty Shades of Grey, assuming the role of bondage-crazed business magnate Christian Grey. [GQ]

4 thoughts on “Psychopath vs. sociopath”

  1. In the interests of taking pedantry all the way, I think it’s worth pointing out that the section “without guilt, violent tendency, disregard for others and laws” makes it sound like they are in fact without violent tendencies and without disregard.

  2. “It is believed that psychopaths are born and sociopaths are made.” I’ve never heard this explanation and I believe it’s completely false. Can you offer a citation?

    It’s my understanding that the term “psychopath” came first. It was replaced by “sociopath” because “psychopath” was sometime being misinterpreted as being related to “pyschotic” and “psychosis”.

    • my interpretation of the saying “psychopaths are born and sociopaths are made” actually refers to the cause of these two antisocial personality disorders whereby psychopaths are caused by genetic factors (nature) while sociopath are caused by environmental factors(nurture).

      Psychopaths: physiological defects/abnormality/underdevelopment/malfunctions in brain or neurons functioning that makes them less inhibited/lack of impulse and emotion control.

      Sociopaths:history of childhood trauma/physical abuse/emotional abuse, causing them to shut their emotional attachment.

      Walsh, A., & Wu, H.H. (2008). Differentiating antisocial personality disorder,psychopathy, and sociopathy: evolutionary, genetic, neurological, and sociological considerations Criminal and Justice Studies:A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society, 21(2) 135-152 DOI:10.1080/14786010802159814
      Abstract from this paper

      “Sociopaths are more the products of adverse environmental experiences that affect autonomic nervous system and neurological development that may lead to physiological responses similar to those of psychopaths.”

  3. A sociopath does not necessarily have violent tendencies. A sociopath is one who narcissisticly has no regard for others, lacks empathy, has no guilt, and no concept of right versus wrong. Whatever they want is what is right and fulfilling their own needs is not wrong regardless who else is mowed down to achieve their goal.

    There are world leaders, including members of the American Congressional body and CEOs of international corporations who are sociopaths, as well as their corporate hatchet men.


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