What Is the Difference Between a Sociopath and a Psychopath?

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Some psychologists don't consider sociopathy or psychopathy to be actual disorders and believe they are both just manifestations of Antisocial Personality Disorder. Others consider them disorders but don't differentiate between sociopaths and psychopaths, and use the terms interchangeably. A third group of experts believe there are distinct differences, such as particular personality traits, behaviors and causes of the disorders.

The group that believes there is a difference between sociopaths and psychopaths sees one of the main differences as being the cause of the disorder: nature versus nurture. They posit that sociopathy is caused by environmental factors (nurture), whereas psychopathy is caused by biological factors (nature). They also believe that sociopaths and psychopaths play different roles in society. Psychopaths are more intelligent, cunning, manipulative and meticulous, and they plan ahead when they commit antisocial behaviors. Sociopaths are more impulsive, unintelligent, poor and unaccomplished. Robert Hare, an expert on psychopathy believes that psychopaths can, and often do, hold high positions in society, such as chief executive officers, law enforcement officers, journalists and politicians. He believes that they often dominate leadership positions due to their ability to be charming, charismatic, manipulative and domineering. Other psychopaths may take different paths and become con men, thieves or even serial killers. Many of the most notorious serial killers are diagnosed psychopaths or sociopaths, such as the BTK killer, John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy.