Two Roads Diverged in a Wood: Psychopathy vs. Sociopathy

There are definitely two separate roads when dealing with psychopathy verses sociopathy, but not enough people know this-

Generally, the terms “psychopath” and “sociopath” are used synonymously. This incorrect usage of the terms is causing their meanings to be virtually indistinguishable in conversation. While at the core they have a similar meaning, studies in brain science have shown their large differences. The term “psychopathy” was first defined in great detail by mental health expert Hervey Cleckley in 1941. In laymen’s terms, psychopathy can be defined as a person who displays a very artificial charm, is very aloof with their sex life, and exhibits no remorse for their actions, however severe those actions may be.

The next notable discovery came from psychologist Robert Hare. He developed the “Psychopathy Checklist” (or PCL-R). While the PCL-R has been questioned, it has a lot to offer. It has the ability to distinguish the neurological differences displayed in true psychopaths. Some of these include, but are not limited to reduced gray matter in the frontal lobes, abnormal asymmetry in the hippocampus, and deformations within the amygdala. The studies from this tool have contributed significantly to knowledge regarding psychopathy. Due to this in depth understanding we have of psychopathy, it is crucial that we understand and apply a separate term correctly. In a sense, the two terms can be simply described with “Nature versus Nurture.” While people with psychopathy have no morals and the inability to distinguish between right and wrong, sociopaths have a well developed conscience and strong morality, but the idea of right and wrong is not present in their culture. Essentially, sociopathy can be learned, or acquired from lesions, physical or emotional trauma, as well as dementia. Sociopaths posses a sense of understanding what is right, but they don’t connect with that understanding.

The apprehension and study of these two terms are very beneficial. They assist with the comprehension of individuals who participate in senseless murders and mass killings.



I’ve Never Met Anyone Quite as Charming as You

Karpman (1948) was likely the first person to put the term “psychopath” into sub-categories; primary psychopathy and secondary psychopathy. The two sub- categories are similar in that they both involve elevated levels of antisocial and criminal behavior. Primary psychopathy and secondary psychopathy differ in their underlying causes. Superficial sexual relations, manipulative behavior, complete lack of remorse, and negative affect to fear and anxiety are characteristics of a primary psychopath, while, secondary psychopaths begin life with the ability to have a normal capacity for appropriate emotions, but as a result of influences in their environment (e.g. trauma, abuse by primary caregivers) they become prone to poorly regulated negative affect that is characterized by high levels of hostility, aggression, and impulsive behavior.

The violence inhibition mechanism (Blair, 1995) proposes that psychopaths fail to experience the sadness and fear of others as something negative. The VIM suggests a dysfunction in the amygdala, which is apart of our neurological system that is responsible for processing our emotions. A study by Montage et. al (2005) found that participants scoring highly on psychopathic characteristics were significantly less accurate at recognizing the fear facial expression compared to controls.

A study conducted by Predo et. al. (2015) investigated the relationship between psychopathic traits, self- control and facial affect processing. The findings of this study were that primary psychopathy was highly positively correlated with a deficit in recognizing the fear expression, and the ‘happy’ expression posed the least decoding difficulty. Secondary psychopathic traits demonstrated difficulty in identifying the disgust and shame facial displays only. Additionally, secondary psychopathic traits were more significantly associated with reduced self control. With the presented studies suggesting sub- categories of psychopathy, neurologically based affect deficits and defects in self control, rehabilitation programs and may be of better help to individuals.