You may have heard the words “sociopath” and “psychopath” used to describe a person living with antisocial personality disorder. Here’s what they really mean.

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Society has sensationalized words like “sociopath” and “psychopath.” Many folks wrongly conjure up images of irritational, temperamental individuals or coldhearted people with no emotion. Thanks to portrayals in books and movies, many folks have skewed views about what the difference actually is and what it means to live with such a mental health condition.

There are nuanced differences between the two terms, and in learning them, you might get a clearer understanding of what antisocial personality disorder — the actual clinical condition — actually is.

The difference between a psychopath and sociopath is often unclear, since both are more pop culture terms for antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) than actual clinical terms.

In general, psychopathic behaviors often otherwise appear typical except the person might use charm and charisma to manipulate others. On the other hand, a person with sociopathic behaviors may be more erratic and more likely to get angry, which can cause them to have disruptions to their daily lives.

When people sayStereotypes they’re typically presuming
Sociopathhot-tempered, lack of empathy, devoid of guilt or shame, ambivalent to consequences, manipulative
Psychopathcold-blooded, violent, devoid of morals, incapable of love, calculating

It can be hard to tell the difference between sociopathic behavior and psychopathic behavior. If you’re concerned that you or a loved one may be showing signs of it but you aren’t sure, you can try this quiz to see if you or your loved one shows signs of psychopathic behavior. says antisocial personality disorder is a mental health condition where a person shows a pattern of manipulating or violating other people’s rights. A person living with antisocial personality disorder may or may not have a history of criminal behavior.

Symptoms may include:

  • breaking the law repeatedly
  • leveraging the ability to act witty and charming
  • manipulating other people’s emotions and using flattery
  • problems with substance misuse, relationships, or work
  • no regard for the safety of self and others
  • frequent arrogance or anger
  • often stealing, lying, and fighting — with justifications for their actions
  • not showing remorse or guilt for their actions

Brain differences

Growing evidence suggests that certain differences in the structure of a person’s brain may be reliable landmarks for antisocial personality disorder.

In a 2017 study, researchers found notable differences in the structures of white matter in the brains of people with antisocial personality disorder.

White matter is brain tissue made of nerve fibers that connect nerve cells and help brain regions communicate. People with ASPD were shown to have differences in white matter connected to regions that impact consequential and impulsive behaviors.

In 2020, researchers published a report in The Lancet Psychiatry detailing how people living with antisocial personality disorder have noted differences in their conduct over decades and showing MRI evidence of brain structure commonalities.

The findings could potentially help with further understanding of the disorder as well as more aptly diagnosing the condition.

You may have heard a lot of different theories about how antisocial personality disorder works and presents in others. You might find some of these myths and facts about antisocial personality disorder surprising.

Myth: Are they always violent?

Fact: People living with antisocial personality disorder are not always violent. They also may not break the law.

Unfortunately, some common symptoms of the disorder can cause a person to have trouble keeping a job or maintaining long-term relationships.

Myth: Do they have a conscience?

Fact: The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines conscience as:

  • sensitive regard for fairness or justice
  • conformity to what one considers to be correct, right, or morally good
  • the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good

It would be a blanket assertion to say people with antisocial personality disorder “don’t have a conscience.” No two people present any mental disorder in the exact way or with all of the accepted symptoms. Experiences and manifestations are across a spectrum of severity, frequency, and opportunity.

What we do know is that an older study from 2006 noted up to 51% of people living with the disorder feel no remorse for their actions. More recent information states that the disorder is classified as acting in a socially irresponsible way with no remorse.

Not everyone who’s dealing with antisocial personality disorder will consciously go out of their way to cause harm to others. In fact, people living with the condition can often develop coping skills and learn more about empathy when working with a compassionate therapist.

Myth: Can you tell from childhood who might grow up to be a sociopath or psychopath?

Fact: No one knows precisely who will develop antisocial personality disorder, though there are some clues scientists are looking into.

Researchers haven’t identified the exact reasons why some people develop antisocial personality disorder. However, they do suspect that both environmental and genetic factors may play a role.

Also of interest, children diagnosed with conduct disorder have a high likelihood of developing antisocial personality disorder as an adult. Research shows that children living with conduct disorder who have “limited prosocial emotions” particularly have a higher chance for developing antisocial personality disorder as an adult.

Myth: If avoiding blame and grandeur are part of antisocial personality disorder, nobody would ever agree they need help, right?

Fact: People living with antisocial personality disorder often have difficulty when it comes to relationships. This can affect their ability to maintain employment, have a happy romantic relationship, or strong familial relationships.

If you or a person you’re close to are living with antisocial personality disorder, you or they may not recognize the contributing factors worsening their lived experience. American Addiction Centers notes that people living with a personality disorder often blame others for their issues but will most often seek help for related issues, such as:

  • substance misuse
  • legal issues
  • relationship struggles
  • problems at work

Chris Ulmer is a former special needs instructor whose passion project interviewing kids with disabilities and neurodiverse people blossomed into a YouTube platform with more than 2 billion views. Here’s his conversation with a young man who manages antisocial personality disorder.

Pop culture often uses the terms sociopath and psychopath interchangeably to describe someone who actually has antisocial personal disorder. There are many myths about people with antisocial personality disorder.

If you or someone you’re close to is living with antisocial personality disorder, a compassionate therapist can help you or them develop coping skills and empathy.