Sunday 3 January 2016

Emotional Intelligence: the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths

Twice in the last two weeks I have been involved in discussions about corporate psychopaths.  Each time when I was saying someone was a psychopath I was told I was wrong, the person named was deemed to be a sociopath.  However I was unable to get an answer when I asked what was the difference? 

Now having blogged extensively of the topic corporate psychopaths:
I think I duty bound to attempt to explain the difference.  Sociopaths and psychopaths do share several behaviours including:

·         A disregard for laws and social mores
·         A disregard for the rights of others
·         A failure to feel remorse or guilt

Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage. They are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place for very long. It is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others. Any crimes committed by a sociopath, including murder, will tend to be haphazard, disorganized and spontaneous rather than planned.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature.  When committing crimes, psychopaths carefully plan out every detail in advance and often have contingency plans in place. Unlike their sociopathic counterparts, psychopathic criminals are cool, calm, and meticulous.  Their crimes, whether violent or non-violent, will be highly organized and generally offer few clues for authorities to pursue.  Intelligent psychopaths make excellent white-collar criminals and "con artists" due to their calm and charismatic natures.

Psychopathy is the largely the result of “nature” (genetics) while sociopathy is more likely the result of “nurture” (environment).  Sociopathy is more likely the product of childhood trauma and physical/emotional abuse. Because sociopathy appears to be learned rather than innate, sociopaths are capable of empathy in certain limited circumstances but not in others, and with a few individuals but not others.

In the Humm-Wadsworth model, psychopathy is the mental illness associated with the Hustler component.  Around 14% of the population have a higher than average Hustler.


  1. Hi Chris
    I get your email mailouts and generally appreciate your work here. I was wondering how the 'narcissistic personality disorder' (NPD) fits in your sociopath/psychopath spectrum and the HummWadworth model. I feel Trump fits the overt NPD model almost perfectly? best wishes Francis

  2. Hi Francis
    These two blogs should answer your question.
    I would agree you that of the 3 Dark Triad components Donald Trump is stronger in Narcissism.