Psychopathy, Sociopathy, and Antisocial Personality Disorder: Quick Facts

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What percentage of people are psychopaths?

Approximately 15% of male prisoners, 7% of female prisoners, and 1% of the non-incarcerated population meet the diagnostic criteria for psychopathic personality disorder (Ogloff, 2006).

Is there a difference between psychopaths and sociopaths?

Some experts say that there is no meaningful difference as both manifest as the same constellation of personality traits and behaviours. Essentially, experts who prefer the term psychopath focus on the innate brain-based differences between psychopaths and non-psychopaths, whereas those who use the term sociopath are typically more interested in the effects of upbringing and social forces that may contribute to the disorder.

Is there a difference between antisocial personality disorder and psychopathy?

Antisocial personality disorder shares many of the same traits as psychopathic personality disorder. However, the former is thought to arise in response to a combination of stressful environmental conditions (i.e., bad home life) and personality factors, whereas the latter results from innate physiological makeup (brain differences) regardless of upbringing.

Some experts consider psychopathy a more severe form of antisocial personality disorder because psychopaths don’t feel guilt or remorse, whereas those with antisocial personality disorder are capable of experiencing these emotions.

What are the traits of psychopathic personality disorder?

Psychopathic traits include:

    • Glibness
    • Superficial charm
    • Narcissism
    • Manipulativeness
    • Deceptiveness
    • Grandiosity
    • Egocentricity
    • Shallow, short-lived emotions
    • Lack of guilt, remorse, shame, or empathy
    • Refusal to accept responsibility
    • Impulsivity
    • Unreliability
    • Lack of self-control
    • Parasitic lifestyle (using others, scamming social services and other organizations, etc.)
    • Low boredom threshold
    • Excessive risk taking
    • Promiscuity
    • Cruelty to animals
    • Substance abuse

Many people have some of these traits without meeting the diagnostic criteria for psychopathic personality disorder. Of these traits, deliberate cruelty to animals is the strongest indicator of psychopathy, given the large number of studies linking cruelty to animals with a tendency to commit violent acts against people.

Are psychopaths insane?

Psychopaths are sane and rational. Although their views of the world may be cold and cynical, they aren’t crazy in the sense of having diverged from the collective reality, and psychopaths don’t typically suffer hallucinations, delusions, or any of the other symptoms of a psychotic break from reality.

What causes psychopathy?

Research indicates that psychopaths have certain brain-based differences that cause them to be less fearful and less responsive to punishment than other people, which makes them more likely to behave impractically, take self-destructive risks, and commit crimes. They also process emotional stimuli differently than normal people, which limits their ability to care about the feelings of others or feel anything deeply. In addition, they are more prone to boredom and frustration, which can lead to impulsive angry outbursts and chronic dissatisfaction.

Abuse or deprivation in childhood may exacerbate existing psychopathic traits, but they probably don’t cause psychopathy, given that many psychopaths have been raised in loving, stable homes, and many childhood victims of abuse don’t grow up to be psychopathic.

Are all psychopaths violent?

No. Although most psychopaths are scammers, con artists, or users, they aren’t necessarily violent. Many don’t even commit crimes. However, the majority of extremely violent criminals are psychopaths.

How is psychopathic personality disorder diagnosed?

The Hare Psychopathy Checklist, developed by Robert Hare in 1980, is a commonly used diagnostic instrument that has been found to have a high predictive value for future psychopathic behaviour.

Is there a cure for psychopathic personality disorder?

Overall, research indicates that the psychopath’s fundamental make-up can’t be changed (at least not with the therapies and medications currently available). However, their destructiveness both toward themselves and others can be reduced in some cases.

Cognitive-behavioural therapies designed to target certain symptoms of the disorder such as substance abuse, chronic drunk driving, and aggressive outbursts have shown some promise in reducing criminal recidivism.

Is my husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/roommate/mother/father/child/neighbour/ coworker/friend/boss/etc. a psychopath?

Having a few traits that are listed among the psychopathic criteria doesn’t mean that a person is psychopathic. A large number of these traits are required to meet the diagnostic threshold, and these characteristics and behaviours must be stable over time. Non-psychopathic individuals may temporarily behave psychopathically when under extreme stress or the influence of drugs or alcohol.

For more psychology articles, see the main Psychology page.

References:

    • Dryden-Edwards, R., MD (Writer), & Conrad Stoppler, M., MD (Editor). (27 May 2010). “Antisocial Personality Disorder.” Medicine.net.
    • Freedman, L., & Verdun-Jones, S. (2010). “Blaming the Parts Instead of the Person: Understanding and Applying Neurobiological Factors Associated with Psychopathy.” Canadian Journal of Criminology & Criminal Justice, 52, 1, pp. 29-53.
    • Hare, R.D. (1999). Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. The Guilford Press.
    • Ogloff, J.P. (2006). “Psychopathy/Antisocial Personality Disorder Conundrum.” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40, 6/7, pp. 519-528.
    • Stout, M., PhD. (2005). The Sociopath Next Door. Crown Archetype.

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