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Psychopathy and Sociopathy

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Thank you for reading my question. I recently had a disagreement with some family members after watching an interesting psychological movie. The following question is not specifically personal to me, but just a general wondering (to settle the argument). Is it possible for a person to be a psychopath and a sociopath, or are those two things mutually exclusive? I have tried researching on my own, but haven’t found a clear answer.

Psychopathy and Sociopathy

Answered by on -


Thank you for your question. Just to be clear about this: there is no actual diagnosis in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM V) that offers a classification for either “psychopath” or “sociopath.” There are many terms like this that are used popularly but do not have an official diagnostic category. Terms like “codependency” are like this as well. They may have common usage, but not used for diagnostic purposes.

Rather than use terms like these, the official diagnostic term is Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) that includes a pattern of symptoms often beginning around age 15 or older that include many of these symptoms:

  • Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
  • Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure
  • Impulsivity or failure to plan ahead
  • Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults
  • Reckless disregard for safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations
  • Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another

Most clinical experts on the subject believe those identified as a psychopath or sociopath share some of the above characteristics. The most profound characteristic is that of a profoundly poor sense of right and wrong with little empathy or remorse for other people’s feelings. In other words, one major difference is the degree to which they have a conscience. A psychopath doesn’t, although there is a good chance he will pretend to. A sociopath has a conscience, but this conscience is not strong enough to stop the behavior. They may know that something is wrong but not be able to hold back from doing the behavior.

What’s important here is that the behavior may look identical, but the degree to which they might feel bad about it would differ. Both will steal your money: the sociopath would know that that was the wrong thing to do. The psychopath wouldn’t know and, if they did, they wouldn’t care. They are also more likely to be charming, intelligent and able to mimic emotions to get over on people. Sociopaths don’t typically have this finesse. They are blunt about being self-serving and are quick to blame others for their behavior. Psychopaths get calm under stress which helps them not fear the consequences of their actions: sociopaths less so.

The balance and tipping point is the degree to which someone with an antisocial personality disorder has empathy. While both lack the usual doses of empathic awareness for others, the psychopath doesn’t have the ability to understand how someone else feels. Other are simply pawns used for personal gains—not individuals with feelings that can be hurt.

About two-thirds of individuals with ASPD are men, and while Hollywood loves to portray them as vicious and violent, the vast majority are not. Manipulative, reckless, and uncaring, but not necessarily violent. Mean, selfish, narcissistic people–it may be tempting to label them as ASPD, yet these inconsiderate traits are not enough to get the diagnosis.

Hope this helps settle the bet!

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Psychopathy and Sociopathy

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2019). Psychopathy and Sociopathy. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jun 2019 (Originally: 18 Jun 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jun 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.