what is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath

You may have heard people call someone a psychopath or a sociopath, but what exactly do these words mean? Are they the same or are they different? If they are different, what is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath?

The words psychopath and sociopath refer to people who don’t care about right or wrong or cannot sense or share other people’s feelings. The words also describe a person who’s charming or violent or both.

Doctors don’t diagnose people as sociopaths or psychopaths. Instead, they use the term “Antisocial personality disorder” (ASPD).

People with ASPD act in ways that go against socially acceptable norms and tend to break laws as well as feel little or no guilt when they do something wrong.

Table of Contents

So, what exactly is a sociopath?

A sociopath is a word used to describe a person who has antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). People with antisocial personality disorder cannot understand others’ feelings. Sociopaths will often break rules or make impulsive decisions without feeling guilty for the harm they cause.

People with antisocial personality disorder may also use “mind games” to control family members, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.

How is someone diagnosed as a sociopath?

Antisocial personality disorder is part of a category of personality disorders characterized by persistent negative behaviours.

According to the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it says and I quote “someone with ASPD consistently shows a lack of regard for others’ feelings or violates people’s rights”.

People with ASPD may not even realize that they these behaviors and might live their entire lives without a diagnosis.

You must be older than 18 to receive a diagnosis of ASPD and your behavior must show a pattern of at least three of the following seven traits:

1. Does not respect social norms or laws – People with ASPD consistently break laws or overstep social boundaries.

2. Does not make any long-term plans – People with ASPD often behave without thinking of consequences.

3. Does not consider their own safety or the safety of others

4. Does not follow up on personal or professional responsibilities – This can include not paying pays on time or repeatedly being late to work.

5. Does not feel guilty or remorse for having harmed or mistreated others.

6. Lies, uses false identities, deceives others, and uses others for personal gain.

7. Shows aggressive or aggravated behavior – People with ASPD often get into fights or physically harm others.

Other possible symptoms of ASPD can include:

  • Using humor, intelligence, or charisma to manipulate others
  • Not learning from mistakes
  • Getting into frequent legal trouble or performing criminal acts
  • Being “cold” by not showing emotions in the lives of others
  • Having a sense of superiority and strong, unwavering opinions
  • Taking risks at the expense of themselves or others
  • Attempting to control others by intimidating or threatening them

Other Ways to diagnose ASPD include:

  •  Talking to someone close to the person about their behaviours
  • Evaluating the person’s feelings, thoughts, behavioural patterns, and personal relationships
  •  Evaluating the person’s medical history for other conditions

Antisocial personality disorder can also be diagnosed in someone as young as 15 years old if they show symptoms of a conduct disorder including;

  • Stealing
  • Breaking rules without regard for the consequences
  • Lying or constantly deceiving others
  • Needlessly destroying things belonging to themselves or others
  • Being aggressive toward others or animals

What is a psychopath?

The word psychopath is a psychological term that often confuses people. Psychopath is not an official diagnosis although it is commonly used to describe a person with a mental illness.

According to Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist and the founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence, the real definition of a psychopath in psychiatry is antisocial personality disorder since it describes a person who shows patterns of manipulation and violation to others.

Common traits of psychopaths

Here are some of the traits common to psychopaths

  • Easily bored
  • Insincere charm
  • Cruel with no empathy
  • Compulsive lying
  • Manipulative
  • Take advantage of others
  • No remorse or guilt
  • Many sexual relationships
  • Behavior problems starts in childhood
  • Don’t accept responsibility
  • Little emotional reaction

How is someone diagnosed as a psychopath?

Because psychopathy is not officially a mental disorder, the condition experts diagnose is antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).

However, to get a proper diagnosis, a mental health professional will conduct a thorough mental evaluation and during this process, the doctor will evaluate a person’s thoughts, feelings, behavior patterns, and relationships, and will identify symptoms and compare them to the ASPD symptoms.

Also, the mental health professional will look at medical history. This evaluation is a critical step because ASPD tends to show comorbidity with other mental health and addictive disorders.

What is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath?

Clinically, there’s no difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. Both terms are used to refer to individuals with antisocial personality disorder and are often used interchangeably. However, some people have attempted to differentiate the two by the severity of their symptoms.

A psychopath maybe someone who is physically violent or puts others in danger while a sociopath maybe someone who only makes minor transgressions that don’t cause serious harm or distress.

Sociopaths may likely know what they are doing is wrong but their moral compass is weak i.e. they have a conscience but it’s not strong enough to stop their bad behavior. But experts don’t think psychopaths have a conscience.

Sociopaths are more likely to be impulsively aggressive i.e. they are hot-headed or don’t have much control over their behavior when they are angry but psychopaths are more cold-headed than hot-headed.

Studies show that psychopaths have low levels of anxiety and they don’t react that much to stress or punishment. Also, psychopaths have good control of their thoughts and tend to plan out their aggressive acts.

What Causes Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)?

It is unclear why some people get ASPD. It is likely that various things play a part such as:

  • The Brain: According to research, there may be a problem with the brain circuitry that controls behaviour in people with ASPD. Studies also shows that certain parts of the brains of people with psychopathy are smaller such as the areas that control empathy, moral decision-making, guilt, and embarrassment.
  • Genetics: You are more likely to get ASPD if someone in your family such as a parent has it.
  • Sex: ASPD can happen in females but they are much likely to show up in males.
  • Environment: There is some evidence that individuals with ASPD don’t learn the difference between right and wrong as they are growing up.

Can People with ASPD get better?

ASPD is hard to treat. This is because sociopaths and psychopaths aren’t the types of people who think they need help.

However, certain symptoms like stealing, breaking rules without regard for the consequences, lying or constantly deceiving others, needlessly destroying things belonging to themselves or others, and being aggressive toward others or animals may show up in childhood and when that happens, if parents take action and get help for their child, they may get better.

There is not enough evidence to know if any kind of treatment will actually work, but if someone with ASPD does get help, their doctor may try talk therapy to address anger problems or other mental health issues.   

Also, there is no specific medication for the treatment of ASPD. Medication may help with other mental problems like anxiety, depression, and aggressive behavior.


Sociopath and psychopaths are two terms that often confuse people. People often think that both terms means the same thing while experts said both share similar traits.

Those asking what is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath know that, clinically, there’s no difference between a psychopath and a sociopath because both terms are used to refer to individuals with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD).

About The Author