Psychopath and sociopath are pop psychology terms for what psychiatry calls antisocial personality disorder. People with this disorder tend to disregard and violate the rights of others around them and lack empathy. In her book The Sociopath Next Door Dr. Martha Stout of Harvard Medical School claims that about 1 in 25 people are sociopaths. The following are the symptoms of antisocial personality disorder:
- Disregard for society’s laws
- Violation of the physical or emotional rights of others
- Lack of stability in job and home life
- Irritability and aggressiveness
- Lack of remorse
- Consistent irresponsibility
- Recklessness, impulsivity
- A childhood diagnosis of conduct disorder
- Note that people with antisocial personality disorder are not necessarily violent.
Even though sociopath and psychopath share a diagnosis, there are some differences between them in common usage:
- Psychopathy is generally an inherited condition whereas sociopathy arises due to environmental causes such as being brought up in a dysfunctional household or experiencing a traumatic event as a youth.
- Sociopaths tend to be more erratic and impulsive with their behavior.
- Psychopaths tend to be more dangerous because they generally experience less guilt and are usually more disassociated from their actions than sociopaths.
- Psychopaths tend to be more manipulative, can be seen by others as more charming, lead a semblance of a normal life, and minimize risk in criminal activities. Sociopaths tend to be more erratic, rage-prone, and unable to lead as much of a normal life. When sociopaths engage in criminal activity, they tend to do so in a reckless manner without regard to consequences.
Two related notes: One, sociopaths and psychopaths rarely experience a contagious yawn. Contagious yawning requires empathy.
Second, two recent books each suggest that being a psychopath may be a relatively common trait of surgeons. And that might not be a bad thing. More on the surgeon psychopath point: https://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/two-new-books-explore-how-surgeons-must-be-resolute-and-merciless?mc_cid=0cb73c29b6&mc_eid=d82b02a7be