Have you ever met someone that turned your world upside down? Who tried to destroy every good thing in your life? Who was manipulative and good at it? We often blame ourselves when we meet these types of people. We tell ourselves that it is our fault we let our walls down and that we trusted these people, however when you encounter a sociopath or a psychopath, they often hide their true character in order to gain your trust. Once they have gained your trust, before you know it, your world is shaken apart. 

The terms psychopath and sociopath are often used interchangeably within our society. Movie characters and television stars such as Dexter, and The Joker in the Batman series are often portrayed as violent villains and are deemed both psychopaths and sociopaths. Contrary to popular belief, there are differences among these two character traits and although the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists both psychopathy and sociopathy under antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), these two character traits do have differentiating factors as well as common similarities.

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)

Antisocial personality disorder is under the cluster B personality disorder group that is characterized by dramatic and emotional behavior. Antisocial personality behavior does not mean the person lacks social skills but rather refers to going against the rules of society. Individuals with this personality disorder must demonstrate behaviors that disregard the violation and rights or others and society. Signs and symptoms must be present before 15 years of age although this diagnosis cannot be made unless the individual is at least 18 years of age. The following are signs and symptoms of antisocial personality disorder:

  • Failure to obey laws and norms by engaging in behavior which results in a criminal arrest, or would warrant criminal arrest
  • Lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Blatantly disregards the safety of self and others,
  • A pattern of irresponsibility
  • Lack of remorse for actions

Conduct disorder can be diagnosed in individuals with these characteristics if they are younger than 18 years of age.

Traits of a sociopath

Sociopaths are characterized by volatile unattached behavioral patterns. These individuals often demonstrate emotional outbursts and a lack of self-control. They appear to be very disturbed, agitated and nervous. In general, sociopaths are uneducated and float by in society. They are unable to hold down a job or stay in one place for a long period of time. Sociopaths can form attachments to other individuals and in general, enjoy being around other people although they have no regard for rules put in place by society. Their erratic and unpredictable behavior often results in unpredictable crimes. It is believed that sociopathy results due to a lack of nurture and specific environmental factors such as a troubled childhood, traumatic interpersonal relationships or a history of abuse.

Traits of a psychopath

Studies and evidence have shown that psychopath characteristics result from genetics causes rather than environmental factors. Psychopaths are generally well educated and can hold steady jobs. They are extremely manipulative and can easily gain other’s trust however they have a hard time forming attachments to others. Individuals with psychopathic traits lack empathy and therefore feel no remorse when causing harm to another individual. Their actions are often preplanned and the crimes they commit are often highly organized and meticulous. Psychopaths are usually deemed more dangerous than sociopaths because they show no remorse for their actions due to their lack of empathy. Both of these character types are portrayed in individuals who meet the criteria for antisocial personality disorder.

Warnings signs for developing sociopath or psychopath characteristics

Oftentimes children and teenagers may exhibit warming signs of certain behaviors leading to the development of psychopath and sociopath tendencies.

  • Aggression towards people or animals
  • Violent outbursts
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of empathy
  • Destruction of property
  • Lying
  • Theft
  • Serious violation of rules or laws

Like many other personality disorders and maladaptive tendencies, long term psychotherapy is the mainstay treatment for these maladaptive behavioral problems. Since these are usually deeply ingrained in an individual, treatment may not be successful in some individuals. 


  • Dr. Kristen Fuller

    Mental Health Professional M.D.

    Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a mental health content writer for a number of treatment centers and enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine. She is a physician and an author, who also teaches and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies in educating the public on preventable diseases including mental health disorders and the stigma associated with them. She is a regular contributor for Psychology Today and is also an outdoor activist and dog enthusiast and is the founder of an outdoor women's blog titled, GoldenStateofMinds.