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.


It’s the ‘Shhh! Silent Problem’

It’s all on the down-low.

Jamie is 8 and has ADHD and Oppositional Defiance Disorder. She comes to school smelling like pot a couple weeks out of each month because her mother sells Jamie’s prescriptions on the street and makes her smoke some marijuana before school to keep her calm enough in class to not get sent home.

It’s often school professionals who first notice neglected kids. They come to school dirty, tired, hungry, and inappropriately clothed. They sometimes become a regular fixture in the nurse’s office, complaining of vague stomachaches and headaches. They often can’t concentrate in school and don’t do well. Some are withdrawn and depressed. Others are very, very angry and rebellious. Sometimes they substitute attitude for confidence. Frequently absent, they have little chance of keeping up with the curriculum. Unable to succeed, they stay away more and more. When the school calls the parents for a meeting, the parents seldom show up. When they do show up, they may be overwhelmed and incapable or defensive and angry.

Jordan’s teacher knows she should be more sympathetic. When he does show up, he is usually dirty and oddly dressed. He smells. The other kids avoid him. Although he is 11, he is still in the fourth grade. Frequent absences mean he probably won’t get promoted this year either. Notes and calls to his parents get no response. Jordan is neglected.

Jenny, on the other hand, always has the latest clothes and the latest technology. Her teachers are very concerned because she is sexually provocative with peers and even with her male teachers. Her guidance counselor was able to have one briefly unguarded conversation with her. Hungry for love and attention, Jenny acknowledged that she goes after sex as a route to some kind of love. The counselor has called Jenny’s mother repeatedly to request a meeting. Mother says she is much too busy. “I put off my own life long enough,” says the mother. “She’s 13 now and she can take care of herself.” Jenny is neglected too.

Neglect is found at all levels of the economic spectrum. While some kids, like Jordan, suffer the dual burden of neglect and poverty, other children, like Jenny, have parents who have plenty of material resources. They are willing and able to provide material things but not enough care and concern.

Neglected children often are undetected both because they are less obviously hurting and because America has a tradition of respecting family privacy. Sadly, the end result is that neglected children are protected neither by their parents or their community.

If you suspect neglect is occurring to a child you know, it’s important to get involved. Report it to your local child protective services. Most will allow you to do so anonymously if you prefer. Generally, a report is followed up with an investigation. Despite the impression created by high-profile cases, it is rare that children are removed from their home. That only occurs in the most severe cases, when the child is at significant risk for harm. Even in those cases, removal is usually temporary, with placement with extended family being preferred to foster care.

Sometimes the best efforts to preserve the family fail and children are placed with foster families to keep them safe and to give them a chance for a better life. Whenever possible, though, the approach in most communities and states is to educate and support the parents and to monitor the children in the hope that their own family can become a safe and healthy one. Once provided with adequate services, many parents do improve.

*All names are fictional.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC

Positive Behavior Intervention Support Tip for April’s Newsletter

This month’s Positive Behavior Support Tip is “Teach Relaxation Techniques.” Why may this be important to your child? Many children strongly desire to be successful, but haven’t yet developed all the skills, which causes frustration and anxiety. Teaching students different relaxation techniques provides them a way to manage their own feelings and emotions. Relaxation is a good coping skill for children (and adults) to utilize. Additionally, relaxation has physiological benefits too, like improved blood flow, oxygen levels, and endorphin levels along with lowered levels of stress hormones. You may be wondering, when and how do I teach relaxation techniques to my child? When you notice your child having a ‘bad day’ and becoming frustrated or confrontational, this may be an indicator that their workload is large. This would be a good opportunity to teach relaxation. Make sure to assure the student that everyone gets stressed, worried, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Help students to recognize when they are becoming stressed and encourage them to ask to take a break. Establish where, when, and how students will initiate and carry out a break to relax (establish where students will take their break, if there will be one or more choices of relaxation techniques to choose from, how they ask to take a relaxation break, how long they are allowed to be relaxing, etc.) Some practical relaxations tips for students are deep breathing, count to ten, write in a journal, draw, color, read, or listen to music. Teaching your child relaxation techniques can help them to identify emotions such as frustration, stress, and being overwhelmed. Learning to manage these emotions will greatly help your student be successful in their present and future.

Jessica L. Arrant
STAR Program/ BAC