What’s the difference between a
Sociopath and Psychopath?

Here are the most important differences.

PSYCHOPATH –  Tendency to participate in schemes and take calculated risks to minimize evidence or exposure.

PSYCHOPATH – Tendency for premeditated crimes with controllable risks, criminal opportunism, fraud, calculated or opportunistic violence.  They will not often leave clues to their crime.

PSYCHOPATH – Values relationships that benefit themselves. May hurt family and people who trust them without feeling guilty.  They have no remorse for their crimes.  They do not have the ability to empathize for other human beings.

PSYCHOPATH –  Propensity for violence is high.  Behavior is very often controlled.

SOCIOPATH – often act on impulse, excessive risk taking, impulsive or opportunistic violence.  Behavior is often erratic. Will usually leave clues to their crime.


    Many forensic psychologists and criminologists use the terms sociopathy and psychopathy interchangeably. Leading experts disagree on whether there are meaningful differences between the two conditions. I contend that there are significant distinctions between them.

    The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), released by the AmericanPsychiatric Association in 2013, lists both sociopathy and psychopathy under the heading of Antisocial Personality Disorders (ASPD). These disorders share many common behavioral traits which lead to the confusion between them. Key traits that sociopaths and psychopaths share include:

    • A disregard for laws and social mores
    • A disregard for the rights of others
    • A failure to feel remorse or guilt
    • A tendency to display violent behavior

    In addition to their commonalities, sociopaths and psychopaths also have their own unique behavioral characteristics as well.

    Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. They are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long. It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others.

    Many sociopaths are able to form an attachment to a particular individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general or its rules. In the eyes of others, sociopaths will appear to be very disturbed. Any crimes committed by a sociopath, including murder, will tend to be haphazard and spontaneous rather than planned.

    Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities.

    Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs.

    Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature. When committing crimes, psychopaths carefully plan out every detail in advance and often have contingency plans in place. Unlike their sociopathic counterparts, psychopathic criminals are cool, calm, and meticulous.

    The cause of psychopathy is different than the cause of sociopathy (1). It is believed that psychopathy is the result of “nature” (genetics) while sociopathy is the result of “nurture” (environment). Psychopathy is related to a physiological defect that results in the underdevelopment of the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and emotions.

    Sociopathy, on the other hand, is more likely the product of childhood trauma and physical/emotional abuse. Because sociopathy appears to be learned rather than innate, sociopaths are capable of empathy in certain limited circumstances but not in others, and with a few individuals but not others.

    Psychopathy is the most dangerous of all antisocial personality disorders because of the way psychopaths dissociate emotionally from their actions, regardless of how terible they may be. Many prolific and notorious serial killers, including the late Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, and Dennis Rader (“Bind, Torture, Kill” or BTK) are unremorseful psychopaths. Psychopathic killers view their innocent victims as inhuman objects to be abused for their amusement.

Both sociopaths and psychopaths commit crime because they are motivated by greed or revenge. But psychopaths feel no remorse after their crimes because they lack the ability to empathize.

Sociopaths and Psychopaths are not insane.  They know the difference between right and wrong – they just don’t care.  That’s why they are often convicted in our court system.   The below information was provided from experienced therapists with expert knowledge on the subject.

Sociopaths often spend a good deal of time creating reputations for themselves that allows them to continue manipulating and abusing people. When they are exposed they may simply disappear to look for other victims.

If they have a lot invested in where they are, they will fight to maintain their power. And they will be nasty about it. They will lie, cheat, blackmail, threaten legal actions and even use the courts to protect their reputation.

And often they will make themselves out to be the victims!

A common occurrence is to blame the people exposing them of doing the very thing that they themselves are doing. For example, the sociopaths will say that they are not manipulating others, their accusers are manipulating the evidence.

And they will typically attack the person/s accusing them, rather than deal with what the accusers are saying.

If you are in a relationship with a sociopath or a psychopath, you risk losing your money, your possessions, your job, your self-esteem, your confidence, your independence and in the occasional case, your life! And the worst thing about it is; you may not realize that this is happening until it’s too late.

They often use SEX as a bonding tool.  Sex and intimacy often bonds YOU to them.  However, they will not bond to you!  Sociopaths, or psychopaths, can be extremely charming, smooth talkers, witty and very friendly, and often a touch narcissistic. They like to quickly build an intimate relationship with their victims.

Sociopaths and psychopaths are about Power, SEX and Money.  They will use any of these tactics to lure their victims for whatever reason they want.  A sociopath is a parasite on society – their entire existence is to take and to harm.   They live off of the efforts and assets of others.

1. Look for glib and “FAKE” superficial charm. A psychopath will also put on what professionals refer to as a “mask” of sanity that is likeable and pleasant. For example, the psychopath may do good deeds to gain his or her victims trust.

2. Look for a grandiose self perception. Psychopaths will often believe they are smarter or more powerful than they actually are.

3. Watch for a constant need for stimulation. Stillness, quiet and reflection are not things embraced by psychopaths. They need constant entertainment and activity.

4. A psychopath will tell all sorts of lies; little white lies as well as huge stories intended to mislead.

5. All psychopaths are identified as cunning and able to get people to do things they might not normally do. They can use guilt, force and other methods to manipulate.

6. An absence of any guilt or remorse is a sign of psychopathy. They lack empathy for others.

7. Psychopaths demonstrate shallow emotional reactions to deaths, injuries, trauma or other events that would otherwise cause a deeper response.

8. Psychopaths are callous and have no way of relating to non-psychopaths.  They have utter contempt for “good” people.

9. Psychopaths are usually parasitic, meaning they live off other the cash, assets and efforts of other people.

10. The Hare Checklist includes three behavior indicators; poor behavior control, sexual promiscuity and early behavior problems.

11. Psychopaths have unrealistic goals for the long term. Either there are no worthy long term goals at all, or they are unattainable and based on the exaggerated sense of one’s own accomplishments and abilities.

12. Psychopaths can be impulsive or irresponsible. Both those characteristics are evidence of psychopathy.

13. A psychopath will never admit to being wrong or owning up to mistakes and errors in judgment.

14. Psychopaths usually have extra marital relationships. If there have been many short term marriages, the chances the person is a psychopath increase.

15. Many psychopaths exhibit delinquent behaviors in their youth.

16. Criminal versitility. Psychopaths are able to get away with a lot, and while they might sometimes get caught, the ability to be flexible when committing crimes is an indicator.

17. Psychopaths are experts at manipulating our emotions and insecurities into causing us to view them as “poor injusticed fellows”, thus lowering our sentimental guard and rendering us vulnerables for future exploitation. If this psychologic resource is continually combined with unacceptable and evil actions, this equals to a powerful alert sign about this person’s real nature.

18. Psychopaths are generally prone to belittle, humiliate, mistreat, mock and even attack physically (or kill, in extreme cases) people who normally would bring no benefits to him/her in any way, such as subordinates, physically frail or lower-ranking people, children, elderly people.

  • Absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking
  • Superficial and fake personality.
  • Absence of nervousness or neurotic manifestations
  • Unreliability
  • Untruthfulness and insincerity
  • Lack of remorse and shame
  • Inadequately motivated antisocial behavior
  • Poor judgment and failure to learn by experience
  • Incapable of love
  • Specific loss of insight
  • Unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations
  • Fantastic and uninviting behavior with alcohol and sometimes without
  • Suicide threats rarely carried out
  • Sex life impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated
  • Failure to follow any life plan
  • Liars and highly deceptive
  • Often get bored easily
  • Can easily murder without remorse
  • Contemptuous of those who seek to understand them
  • Does not perceive that anything is wrong with them
  • Authoritarian
  • Secretive
  • Paranoid
  • Only rarely in difficulty with the law, but seeks out situations where their tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired
  • Conventional appearance
  • Goal of enslavement of their victim(s)
  • Exercises despotic control over every aspect of the victim’s life
  • Has an emotional need to justify their crimes and therefore needs their victim’s affirmation (respect, gratitude and love)
  • Ultimate goal is the creation of a willing victim
  • Incapable of real human attachment to another
  • Unable to feel remorse or guilt
  • Extreme narcissism
  • No humility
  • May state readily that their goal is to rule the world

The Hare PCL-R contains two parts, a semi-structured interview and a review of the subject’s file records and history. During the evaluation, the clinician scores 20 items that measure central elements of the psychopathic character.

The items cover the nature of the subject’s interpersonal relationships; his or her affective or emotional involvement; responses to other people and to situations; evidence of social deviance; and lifestyle. The material thus covers two key aspects that help define the psychopath: selfish and unfeeling victimization of other people, and an unstable and antisocial lifestyle.

The twenty traits assessed by the PCL-R score are:

  • glib and superficial charm
  • grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  • need for stimulation
  • pathological lying
  • cunning and manipulativeness
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  • callousness and lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioral controls
  • sexual promiscuity
  • early behavior problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • juvenile delinquency
  • revocation of conditional release
  • criminal versatility

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