A reader sent me the following question:
In your opinion, what is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath? Do you believe there is one?
I responded with the following:
This is a question with a million different answers it seems. In the earlier part of the 20th century when psychologists believed that environment played the biggest role in the personalities of others, the term ‘sociopath’ was born. As genetic-based personality studies took root, academia quickly abandoned the term in favor of the original term used (coined in the late 1800s) – ‘psychopath.’
However, others will use the term ‘sociopath’ as a synonym for ASPD. There is no doubt at this stage of the game that ASPD and psychopathy are two different beasts. Neural studies have shown marked differences in the brain and its function between those who are merely ASPD and those that are psychopathic.
So at this point, I would say that there is no difference between the two groups and that ‘psychopath’ is the preferred nomenclature.
To make things interesting, however, I am quickly losing sight of a universal definition of psychopathy. Having just finished Kent Kiehl’s The Psychopath Whisperer and James Fallon’s The Psychopath Inside, it seems that there is no universal agreement on what constitutes psychopathy. Until I read Fallon’s book, I was convinced that the Hare PCL-R was essential for determining psychopathy. After reading Fallon’s account and reading of his comorbid disorders, seeing his brain scans, and his more “pro-social” (although he is no saint) behavior, I don’t know what to think anymore. I still have much to learn about my condition, how the condition manifests in others with the disorder, and philosophical questions of free will to flesh it all out.
So no, I do not believe there is a difference between the groupings of ‘sociopaths’ and ‘psychopaths’. I do believe that we are still homing in on what exactly these groups represent, however.