ByJancy Richardson, writer at
To avoid fainting, keep repeating 'It's only a movie...It's only a movie...'
Jancy Richardson

It's become common for movies to refer to a killer as a 'psychopath' or a 'sociopath' - so much so that the two words are used interchangeably. However, they are NOT the same thing. Read on to understand more about the scientific basis for all that movie-world pop psychology...

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD)

Both psychopathy and sociopathy are ASPDs, and are surprisingly common: 0.5 - 5 % of people in the USA are psychopaths or sociopaths, putting the total at between 1.5 and 15 million people!

There are similarities between the two - like any human condition, they are a product of both genetic and environmental factors - but interestingly, psychopaths are more a result of dyed-in-the-wool genetic predispositions ('nature'), whereas sociopaths are created almost entirely by social and developmental conditioning ('nurture').

How to Spot a Psychopath

Screen example: Hannibal Lecter

Social Traits: Deceptive, manipulative, skilled at controlling people and situations (despite what movies tell us, this is NOT linked to intelligence - narcissism and aptitude at exploiting others can be found in non-brainy people, too)

Ethics: No moral sense - 'right' and 'wrong' abstract, impenetrable concepts

Emotions: No emotions, no empathy, cannot have emotional relationships

Crimes: Premeditated, cold, controlled

Motives: Asserting dominance, sadism, personal gain

How to Spot a Sociopath

Screen example: Dexter Morgan

Social Traits: Irritable, withdrawn, antisocial

Ethics: Understand right and wrong - they just don't care

Emotions: Feel emotions, but very little empathy - i.e. they have their own emotions, but don't truly realize or care that other people's are comparable and just as valid, capable of human relationships

Crimes: Unplanned, impulsive, spontaneous, uncontrolled

Motives: Response to emotional impulses such as rage or revenge

Do you know a psychopath or a sociopath?

Sources: PsychCentral, Psychologia, HuffPost, Medical Daily


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