How to Tell the Difference Between a Sociopath & a Psychopath

Psychopathy and sociopathy are both personality disorders that are characterized by a lot of similar traits. There are subtle differences, however, and these 17 features of their characters can help you work out if someone is a sociopath or a psychopath.

Lack of Empathy

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A complete lack of empathy is a trait of a psychopath, and according to Oxford Academic, “they do not appear moved by the things that usually deeply affect others.” Sociopaths, on the other hand, may be able to show some empathy, which allows them to form attachments; they do, however, show a general disregard for social norms and others’ emotions.

Manipulative Behavior

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Common in both sociopaths and psychopaths, manipulation is used to influence or control others to achieve their own objectives. Psychopaths tend to be more calculated and strategic in their manipulation, often being harder to detect than the impulsivity of sociopaths.

Relationship Patterns

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Sociopaths are more capable of forming attachments to others, and these relationships are usually dysfunctional and full of conflict. Psychopaths, on the other hand, tend to view relationships as a tool to be used to their advantage and rarely form genuine emotional bonds.

Superficial Charm

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According to Verywell Mind, “Psychopaths are often likable on the surface. They’re usually good conversationalists and share stories that make them look good.” Sociopaths may also be capable of displaying charm, but their erratic nature makes them more prone to displays of extreme emotion.

Emotional Depth

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Generally, psychopaths show a more profound lack of emotional depth, which allows them to manipulate others without feeling guilty. While sociopaths can’t feel deep emotions, they do usually have a broader range of feelings than psychopaths.

Sense of Morality

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Psychopaths tend to have a complete lack of morality and view these concepts as obstacles to their goals. Sociopaths, however, may have some level of personal code or ethics, but this is usually inconsistent, and they will have an overall skewed sense of morality.

Response to Punishment

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A lack of fear or emotions in psychopaths means they tend to be fairly unresponsive to punishment, and therefore traditional consequences are unlikely to be effective. Sociopaths might show a slightly better response to punishment, and it may deter them from certain behaviors.

Impulsivity vs. Calculation

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Sociopaths often act impulsively, and Better Help says, “They typically live in the moment and do what they believe is needed to reach their immediate goals.” In contrast, psychopaths tend to be more calculated and methodical in their actions.

Capacity for Change

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With the ability to form some emotional attachments and their more reactive emotional state, sociopaths might have a slightly higher capacity for change. Psychopaths are often more resistant to change due to their deep-rooted personality traits and lack of emotional depth.

Fear and Anxiety Responses

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In situations where others would feel threatened or scared, psychopaths generally show a complete lack of anxiety or fear, allowing them to engage in more calculated risks. Sociopaths, on the other hand, may experience some fear and anxiety, which can drive their impulsive actions and decisions.

Violation of Social Norms

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Although both sociopaths and psychopaths generally disregard social norms, according to the Cleveland Clinic, “those with psychopathy are often able to maintain the appearance of stable, normal life.” Sociopaths are more likely to exhibit erratic behaviors and are less capable of forming stable relationships.

Social Interactions

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Despite not being able to feel genuine emotions, psychopaths are adept at mimicking social interactions and emotions in order to fit in with and manipulate others. Sociopaths might struggle more in social settings, as their emotional outbursts or erratic behavior can be off-putting to others.

Long-term Goals

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Psychopaths are more likely to have long-term goals; the goals will be selfish and can sometimes be harmful, and they’ll be calculated in their pursuit of them. The impulsivity of sociopaths often leaves them unable to make long-term plans, instead focusing on short-term, erratic endeavors.

Lack of Remorse or Guilt

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Psych Central notes that while sociopaths have a hard time feeling remorse due to their lack of empathy, they “may be more likely to experience remorse than a psychopath.” Psychopaths rarely feel guilt or remorse because they lack emotional depth and are disconnected from the impacts their actions have on others.

Response to Stress

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While psychopaths remain calm or unaffected by stressful situations, sociopaths may react more visibly, displaying signs of anxiety, frustration, or anger. This can also exacerbate a sociopath’s impulsive behaviors. As psychopaths don’t build emotional connections, they are able to maintain an unusual level of composure under pressure.

Sense of Self

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Big egos play a part in both psychopaths’ and sociopaths’ demeanors. Psychopaths often believe that they are superior to others and deserve special treatment, and while sociopaths have a slightly less inflated self-image, they still put themselves first and show a lack of regard for others.

History of Relationships

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Psychopaths will usually have a history of numerous relationships, but it’s important to remember that these will be superficial, with no real connection, and generally built on manipulation. Sociopaths, however, will have fewer relationships in their past; they will be chaotic and intense, showing their ability to build somewhat deeper emotional connections.

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