Are sociopath and psychopath the same?


Sujan Shrestha

Are sociopath and psychopath the same?

There’s a famous British telly series , Sherlock, in which Benedict Cumberbatch plays the leading role of Sherlock Holmes. Because of his eccentric behaviour and his passion for crime (solving them) he is labelled as a ‘psychopath’ by some of his haters to which he refutes the accusation and says instead he is ‘a high functioning sociopath’.

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Even being a psychology student I thought psychopath and sociopath to be the same untill I got the opportunity to learn that they are not. In normal life, we hear people use both the terms interchangeably. It’s confusing to discern the differences between them because both of them share some common characteristics. Even among professionals there are contradictory claims but recent DSM-V has clearly distinguished between them which has relatively put an end to the confusion.

Both psychopathy and sociopathy fall under Antisocial Personality Disorder as per DSM-V. They share common behavioural characteristics which mislead people to think that they are the same. Some determining common characteristics of psychopathy and sociopathy are as follows:

  • Failure to conform to societal norms, laws and rules
  • A disregard for the rights of others
  • Impulsive and deviant lifestyle
  • Irresponsibility and deceitfulness
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • A tendency to display violent behaviou

But not to be confused psychopaths and sociopaths have distinctive characteristics which distinctively distinguish them. Talking about sociopaths, they appear to be more nervous and disturbed. They develop antisocial behaviour because of their unfavourable environment like abusive childhood. It is difficult for them to be form relationship but not impossible but in general principle they give damn to the people around them. They are aggressive and prone to emotional outbursts. They are unable to hold steady jobs. And if they happen to commit crimes they don’t do them with a plan but rather they are the product of their spontaneous outbursts.


Now coming to psychopaths, they are completely callous, lack of empathy and feeling, grandiose feeling of self-worth. Psychopaths have very charming and charismatic personalities. It’s like of those serial killers in the movie who lure their victims with their deft of attracting others. They are very manipulative in the characters. They have a very cool and calm attitude and are meticulous. They are often very highly educated and hold steady jobs. The non-criminal psychopaths are said to be successful psychopaths as well because they lead a successful career. Psychopaths are unable to form emotional attachments. They are good in faking or mimicking emotions so well that people actually believe in them. When committing crimes, they carefully plan out every detail before committing crime and often have contingency plans in place. Their crimes will be highly organized and hardly leave any traces of their doings. It is notable that many serial killers confirm to this personality pattern which makes it very dangerous.

The cause of psychopathy is said to be genetic whereas sociopathy to be environmental. Psychopathy is related to physiological defect that results in the underdevelopment of the brain responsible for impulse control and emotions. Sociopathy, on the other hand offshoots from abusive childhood and childhood trauma.

Whether Sherlock Holmes is a ‘high functioning sociopath’ or not, it might be a matter of discussion (In my opinion he is not) but he is spot on the distinction of psychopath and sociopath. Next time if you label somebody psychopath be careful because you might be doing unfair to the person because he/she might be a sociopath.

( The writer is a great fan of the “high functioning sociopath” which many a times he has unsucessfully tried to emulate 😀 )

One Response

  1. I like this article. It’s refreshing to read something a little more objective on the topic…more clinical. I agree with your distinction of the two terms, mostly, and as a general rule this is how I also see the matter. When you delve deeper, it’s not really that simple, but it’s a good way to begin to categorize certain reference points on that particular behavioral spectrum.

    Sherlock can be an enjoyable show. Cumberlands portrayal reminds me of a dark Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.

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