psychopath vs. sociopath
Posted: 17 February 2007 05:04 PM   [ Ignore ]
Avatar
Rank
Total Posts:  5
Joined  2007-02-17

In the dictionaries I consulted, the definitions are virtually indistinguishable (mostly bland generalities about antisocial behavior).  Does anyone know if there is a clinical distinction between these two terms?  In everyday usage, they seem to be interchangeable, but to my ear “psychopath” sounds a little nastier, “sociopath” a little less emotionally charged.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 February 2007 07:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4607
Joined  2007-01-03

Neither term is used in DSM-IV, where the clinical term is antisocial personality disorder. I don’t think there is any real consensus on a clinical definition of either psychopathy or sociopathy. Wikipedia indicates that some psychiatrists are advocating psychopathy be classified as a separate disorder in DSM-V, when that is published sometime in the next decade, so this may change in coming years.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 February 2007 08:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Rank
Total Posts:  4
Joined  2007-02-17

I tend to use, based solely upon my own sense, the word psychopath, as more pertaining to a disorder focused on the patient’s self and immediate relationships, as differentiated in my mind at least, with sociopath, as pertaining to the patient’s confront with society in general.

PSYCHOPATH:

The psychopath murdered his girlfriend in a fit of rage after she looked at the handsome stranger.

SOCIOPATH:

Saddam Hussein murdered tens of thousands in his quest to control a people and rule an empire.

While I’ve not a twit of external evidence for this distinction, it feels to me to fit. Just because the car fits in the garage doesn’t mean it’s the right garage or the right car either. Until I discover something keener, I am using the words in this manner.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 February 2007 12:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1365
Joined  2007-01-29

I’m led to believe by someone in the business that both are personality disorders, and both terms are used by clinicians in the UK, though a distinction may sometimes be based on the degree of creativity of the patient in manipulating situations.

However, this MIND report says otherwise:

Many writers use the terms psychopath and sociopath interchangeably, although, increasingly, psychopath is falling into disuse -possibly to avoid confusion with terms like ‘psychotic’ or ‘psychosis’ i.e. a sufferer from insanity: one who has a mental illness.

That surprises me as I hear “psychopath”, not “sociopath”, bandied around in the real world.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 February 2007 09:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Rank
Total Posts:  4
Joined  2007-02-17

Thanks ElizaD, the Mind report discusses some interesting aspects. Its citation of newspapers using ‘psychopath’ (sane but amoral) and ‘psychotic’ (insane - but often harmless) brings to mind the reports we had from various journalists before the invasion of Iraq that they had met with Saddam Hussein and pronounced that he was ‘not crazy.’ My point being I don’t think popular usage is the most reliable meaning of a word but it is very interesting.  Interesting in that usage bends a word into new meanings. The usage of ‘bad’ by a younger set turned the word on its head to mean ‘good’, for example.

Psyche - mind; and pathos - suffering, then by its roots centers on the suffering mind. Whereas from the Latin socius, Socio - companion or associate; and pathos, centers, it seems to me, on the suffering manifesting in one’s relationships with the community, the society.

I am, it appears, the only one using the words this way. So maybe society will file either personality disorder under sociopath, but I, like you, hear both.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 19 February 2007 12:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  158
Joined  2007-02-14

I’m not sure that it is correct to say that someone is “sane but amoral”.  The legal definition of insanity, at least, has a moral component and has to do with the ability to distinguish right from wrong.  And I suspect that medical definitions of insanity are not limited to patients who are irrational or delusional.

Maybe “rational but amoral” would be a better choice.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 19 February 2007 02:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4607
Joined  2007-01-03

It’s my understanding that insanity is a legal, not a clinical, distinction. While psychiatrists and other mental health professionals do use the term informally, it has no precise clinical definition.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 24 February 2007 02:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1950
Joined  2007-02-19

While psychiatrists and other mental health professionals do use the term informally, it has no precise clinical definition.

From whom exactly do you want precise clinical definitions?

Teacher (to little boy in back row of class):what are you doing, Billy?
Billy: Playing.
T: What are you playing with?
B: Shit.
T: What are you doing with it?
B: Making a teacher.
(Teacher sends for Principal)
Principal: What are you playing with, Willy?
B: Shit.
P: What are you making?
B: A Principal.
(Principal sends for the Regional Psychiatric Consultant to Schools)
Consultant: Hello, ah, Willy! Do you know who I am?
B: Yes.
C. Great! What’s that you’re making there?
B: A Principal.
C: (taken aback) Why aren’t you making a psychiatrist?
B: Not enough shit for a psychiatrist.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 16 April 2007 10:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
RankRank
Total Posts:  79
Joined  2007-04-14

Much of psychology is only taken in terms of psychology, and only later retrofitted onto people. By this I mean that there are other lenses through which to see the nature of a person. Drama is one such lens.

Shakespeare understood people, and he presented Good and Evil on the stage as well as anyone. He would not have called Richard III a psychopath, but that is what Richard III is; his fratricide in the first act is a testament to this.

Aeschylus understood people as well; and Clytemnestra from his Orestia is a woman psychopath. The disease is not specific to men. John Steinbeck wrote her--the archetypal woman psychopath--into his magnum opus East of Eden[/] as Cathy Ames.

In Richard III’s first speech he declares himself “not shaped for sportive tricks (I.i.14)”; when Steinbeck introduces Cathy Ames he declares that if we humans were not terrified of our vulnerability when we fall in love we would be monsters. A psychopath is amoral; “good” and “bad” are unfamiliar ideas: the ends are always personal gain, the means need no justification. I speak with authority on this topic with no other credential than that there exists a psychopath whom I know well.

As said previously, the best indication that someone is a psychopath is that they harm their family for their own benefit.

A sociopath is a lesser evil; he is immoral when able, and guilt-ridden when exhausted. One such personage is Tony Montana. Another is Macbeth. A third is Macbeth’s wife. Remember that Tony Montana always crawls back to his mother, and that Lady Macbeth must wipe the bloody daggers upon the sleeping youths.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 April 2007 05:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4607
Joined  2007-01-03

A sociopath is a lesser evil; he is immoral when able, and guilt-ridden when exhausted.

I’m not sure this is the case. To a psychologist, psychopath and sociopath are synonyms. No distinction is made.

I would hazard a statement that in general usage there is a slight distinction. A sociopath is aware of what he is doing, is capable of premeditation, and carefully plans out his actions. Ted Bundy would fit this definition. A psychopath does not necessarily exhibit these. David Berkowitz is an exemplar of a psychopath. (Note that neither of these necessarily fit the clinical definition of antisocial personality disorder. I’m talking popular use of the term here.)

Literature is probably a pretty poor source for examples that fit particular clinical definitions. It’s not that we can’t get insights into human behavior from literature, but rarely do authors restrict themselves to clinical archetypes. They mold characters to fit the needs of the work, not clinical definitions. And the best of them can be interpreted in ways other than clinical psychology. Richard III, for example, can be seen as a meditation on ambition. And as for MacBeth and Lady MacBeth, I don’t think either come close to the definition of psychopath/sociopath. Both are aware their actions are wrong and exhibit severe guilt. The guilt doesn’t stop them, but they have it. Psychopaths/sociopaths don’t feel guilt; they do not perceive that what they are doing is wrong.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 28 January 2008 11:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Rank
Total Posts:  1
Joined  2008-01-28

I had used “sociopath” as a more extreme form of “psychopathy”.  My concept was that a psychopath would harm people with pleasure and/or indifference within the law, whereas a sociopath would ignore the law in so doing, assuming that laws applied only to lesser mortals.  However, I think that I have been wrong.  I believe that they are synonymous and both words have degrees of behavioral disorder.  Some are Bundys; some are thieves.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 29 January 2008 08:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Avatar
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  155
Joined  2007-02-15

I’m amazed at the variance in opinion expressed, very educational if somewhat confusing.

In my own simple way, I always thought of a sociopath as someone who hated society or being with other people, and a psychopath as a crazy nutter as a result of some self-obsessed psychosis.

The person above who said that the difference between the way non-clinical people regard clinical expressions and the way clinicians do had a good point. Often this difference follows a word becoming overused in the more sensationalist media, which can ultimately affect the later meaning of a term.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 25 February 2008 05:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
Rank
Total Posts:  1
Joined  2008-02-25

As far as I’ve seen, there ius no clinical use or distinction by experts between psychopath and sociopath.  In general use however (well, at least my general use) a psychopath is born and a sociopath is made; they’re both effectively the same thing, but genetics and biochemistry make a psychopath while environment and trauma make a sociopath.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 14 November 2008 07:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4607
Joined  2007-01-03

The New Yorker has an excellent article on psychopaths, which includes a discussion of the term’s history and the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath--John Seabrook, the author, implies that those who use psychopath consider the condition to be physiological, while those that use sociopath consider it to be caused by one’s environment:

Finally, the emphasis in the word “psychopath” on an internal sickness was at odds with liberal mid-century social thought, which tended to look for external causes of social deviancy; “sociopath,” coined in 1930 by the psychologist G. E. Partridge, became the preferred term.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 14 November 2008 08:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2301
Joined  2007-01-30

Very interesting article. And the innovative Eskimo approach to the problem of psychopaths was delightful.

She asked an Eskimo what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, and he replied, “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.”

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 November 2008 03:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
RankRank
Total Posts:  93
Joined  2008-05-07

There are 326 Eskimo words for psychopath, but only 14 for sociopath.

Profile