Mike Kueber's Blog

September 30, 2012

Sociopaths and psychopaths in our midst

Filed under: Medical — Mike Kueber @ 11:07 pm

A few days ago, a Facebook friend made a point about rapists, murderers, and people who have no empathy.  The people with no empathy were conservatives, like Paul Ryan and Ayn Rand.  In her book, the people with no empathy were worse than rapists and murderers. 

When I challenged her on that shocking position, she responded coolly that people with no empathy are accurately called sociopaths, and nothing can be worse than sociopaths.  At that point, I backed off the discussion because we were getting into psychiatric diagnoses that I did not have a working knowledge of.

For my future reference, I learned that dictionaries define a sociopath is a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.  People often conflate sociopathy and psychopathy, which dictionaries define as a personality disorder that can be characterized by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, cold-heartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality.

One pundit suggested that the term sociopathy may be preferred by sociologists that see the causes as due to social factors. The term psychopathy may be preferred by psychologists who see the causes as due to a combination of psychological, genetic, and environmental factors.

According to the WiseGeek.com, both a psychopath and a sociopath have a complete disregard for the feelings and rights of others. This often surfaces by age 15 and may be accompanied by cruelty to animals. These traits are distinct and repetitive, creating a pattern of misbehavior that goes beyond normal adolescent mischief. Both fail to feel remorse or guilt. They appear to lack a conscience and are completely self-serving. They routinely disregard rules, social mores and laws, and don’t care about putting themselves or others at risk 

Wiki.answers.com agrees that the terms are generally synonymous, but also suggests a possible distinction:   

  • Those psychologists who make a distinction between the two usually do so on the basis of organization. Sociopaths are seen as disorganized and rash, making extreme responses to normal situations. They lack impulse control. Psychopaths, by contrast, are highly organized, often secretly planning out and fantasizing about their acts in great detail before actually committing them, and sometimes manipulating people around them.  

Suffice to say, Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan are neither sociopaths nor psychopaths, and any attempt to demonize them as such is no helpful to a healthy debate over whether America’s safety net is too generous.



  1. I’ve spent a lot of time investigating and writing about psychopathy and how it has implications for us at all levels, from the family level to the political level. I’m not going to comment on any specific people here, but you might find it interesting to read my page on the topic. It will definitely get you thinking if you’re drawn to this topic.

    Comment by ST on Psychopathy — October 3, 2012 @ 5:09 am | Reply

  2. Where is the logical progression in this post? Blowing off a shotgun in the last paragraph? I wanted something thoughtful on the subject. Tossed away.

    Comment by Derek Currie — March 14, 2013 @ 7:12 pm | Reply

    • My bad, Derek.

      Comment by Mike Kueber — March 18, 2013 @ 1:12 am | Reply

      • Thank you for a nice simply reply. This ‘who is a psychopath’ thing is very dangerous. But on the other hand, it can be incredibly informative, at least at this primitive stage of our comprehension of our own brains. I tend to fall back on my usual mantra of ‘We never know everything about anything’, expecting there is more going on than we understand. But there are noticeable patterns of human behavior that can be useful indicators of whether a person is dangerous, insincere, off their rocker, etc. Just don’t fall for the concept of anything being absolute.

        Comment by Derek Currie — March 18, 2013 @ 6:38 pm

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