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.