You don’t have to look far or wide to find an example of a TV show, movie, or even a song that features a character or theme that’s a sociopath. Society is obsessed with antisocial: sociopaths are celebrated and depicted in so much of the contemporary art of the day.
But what makes a person a sociopath? How can you tell a sociopath apart from a normal person, or even from a person who might be suffering from another form of mental health issue? And where can you find some popular representations of sociopaths, both in the real world and in the realm of popular culture?
Here, you’ll learn all about what makes a sociopath, as well as some of the examples of sociopaths that can be found in contemporary culture.
Traits Of A Sociopath
While the word “sociopath” is used to describe a specific set of traits and behaviors in a person. However, there really isn’t an official diagnosis for a sociopath in the medical, psychiatric, and psychological world. Instead, psychologists and psychologists use the term “sociopathic tendencies” to describe traits and behaviors exhibited by their patients. The official diagnosis that a psychologist or psychologist will give is for an antisocial personality disorder.
Some of the key traits of a sociopath include:
- Not paying any respect to the social norms, laws, or mores of the community around them.
- Constantly breaking the law or disregarding social boundaries.
- Using lies and deceptions to manipulate others for their own personal gain.
- Refusing to or being extremely resistant to making long term plans.
- Refusing to or being extremely resistant to taking on responsibilities, even when necessary for a job, family, or personal well-being.
- Showing irritable or aggressive behavior, even when the situation is not particularly stressful or demanding.
- Not considering their own safety or the safety of those around them while they’re making decisions.
- Acting brashly, or acting without any regard to the consequences of their actions.
- Not feeling guilt, remorse, or a “prick of the conscience” when they’ve hurt or mistreated other people.
A psychopath is better at hiding their antisocial behavior; a sociopath will not hide their antisocial behavior patterns. This means that a sociopath will disregard the consequences of their actions, where a psychopath might be more prone to avoiding those consequences altogether with their cunning and wit.
You might be wondering if you’re showing any of the signs of being a sociopath. If that’s the case, you should considerthis sociopath quiz. The results of the quiz will be able to let you know if you’re exhibiting any sociopathic behaviors or tendencies.
Symptoms Of Antisocial Personality Disorder
Even though “sociopath” is a common colloquial word used to describe people with sociopathic tendencies, there’s really no medical or psychological definition or diagnosis of “sociopath.” Instead, a person exhibiting a sociopath’s signs will likely be diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder.
According to DSM-5, the official guide that psychologists and psychiatrists must adhere to when they are making the diagnosis of patients, the elements for thediagnosis of a person with antisocial personality disorderinclude the following:
- Disregard for and violation of others rights since age 15, as indicated by one of the seven sub-features:
- Failure to obey laws and norms by engaging in behavior which results in a criminal arrest or would warrant criminal arrest
- Lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement,
- Impulsive behavior
- Irritability and aggression, manifested as frequently assaults others or engages in fighting
- Blatantly disregards the safety of self and others,
- A pattern of irresponsibility and
- Lack of remorse for actions (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)
The other diagnostic Criterion is:
- The person is at least age 18,
- Conduct disorder was present by history before age 15
- and the antisocial behavior does not occur in the context of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)
Basically, an antisocial personality disorder is present only in adults, and it is used to diagnose those adults whose behaviors benefit themselves at all costs and even to the detriment of those around them. They are often seen as reckless and refusing to acknowledge the fallout of their own behavior, especially when these actions get them what they want. They also exhibit destructive behaviors: these behaviors usually start in adolescence or young adulthood and then continue into their adult life.
For the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder to hold, the person’s actions and intentions should be analyzed by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional. The mental health professional will have to rule out other triggers and causes for the patient’s behaviors, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, before arriving at the diagnosis of an antisocial personality disorder. However, if their analysis shows these symptoms and excludes other underlying mental health issues, they will arrive at antisocial personality disorder.
Again, psychologists and psychiatrists will never issue a “sociopath” diagnosis but will instead talk about their patients’ disorder in terms of an antisocial personality disorder. From there, they will recommend and work through a course of treatment with their patient, provided that their patient agrees to work towards treating their antisocial personality disorder.
Causes Of Antisocial Personality Disorder
Researchers and mental health professionals have been searching for the specific cause or causes of antisocial personality disorder, but they have yet to find a conclusive answer. They aren’t sure what causes antisocial personality disorder, exactly. However, research has shown that genetic and environmental links shed a bit more clarity on antisocial personality disorder.
Studies have shown that people with a family history of antisocial personality disorder are more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder themselves in terms of genetics. Plus, men are much more likely to develop an antisocial personality disorder than women are. Researchers still aren’t sure why this is the case, but the statistics are pretty clear on that front.
Environmental factors also play a role in the development of antisocial personality disorder, it seems. For example, people who experience trauma, especially if that trauma is intense and/or prolonged, are more likely to develop an antisocial personality disorder. Likewise, people who grew up in a dysfunctional family – for example, with an abusive or alcoholic parent – are more likely to develop an antisocial personality disorder. There are some clear warnings that a child in an unstable house might be prone to developing an antisocial personality disorder. The clearest of these warnings include frequently setting fires and torturing or killing small animals during their childhood. When children display these warning signals of antisocial personality disorder, they should be taken to see a mental health specialist.
So, even though researchers haven’t yet been able to pinpoint one specific cause of antisocial personality disorder, there are some links and warning signs that can help predict – and hopefully, eventually preventing – antisocial personality disorder.
Examples Of Sociopaths In Real Life
One of the most popular documentaries of this year,Tiger King, featured a main character who could certainly be classified as a sociopath: Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic constantly manipulated those around him so that he could get what he wanted. He resorted to using drugs and blackmail to get people to serve his own interests. He did this without regard to their feelings or well-being. It was usually to those other people’s (and tigers’) detriment. Plus, he was prone to outbursts and rash actions, usually without regard to the consequences. All of these patterns of behavior show that Joe Exotic could be reasonably classified as a sociopath.
Anna Delvey, one of the most cunning con artists of recent years, could also be considered a sociopath. She worked her way in and through Manhattan society, always getting whatever she wanted paid for by her rich friends. She also manipulated men and women alike to pay for vacations and lengthy hotels to stay in inexpensive places. Meanwhile, she was building up a mysterious reputation. She even convinced the bank to give her a big loan on false pretenses. While she was finally caught and forced to do time in jail, her actions leading up to her exposure and capture were typical of a sociopath. She manipulated others and acted to their detriment to get what she wanted, and she showed little to no remorse while doing so.
Examples Of Sociopaths In Popular Culture
Amy Elliott Dunne (from the book and movieGone Girl) is a classic example of a sociopath in popular culture. She goes to enormous lengths to fake her own death, even harming her husband and others in the wake of her big plan. She acts in her own interests and no one else’s. It makes for a compelling story but is also very clearly sociopathic behavior.
One of the longest-running and most popular villains of the Batman franchise can also be considered a sociopath: The Joker. He is known for his outrageous antics and huge – though sometimes ridiculous – personal goals. He will do anything to get what he wants, and he doesn’t let anything stand in his way. He frequently harms others in his spectacles’ execution, and he doesn’t seem to care that others are being hurt. He doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions; he only cares about getting what he wants. For this reason, he’s another great example of a sociopath in popular culture.
A sociopath is a term that is used to describe specific behavioral traits and patterns of behavior. However, it is only a colloquial term that refers to what mental health professionals refer to as antisocial personality disorder. You can identify the traits of a sociopath; there are also many examples of sociopaths in the real world and the realm of fiction.
If you suspect that you or someone you know is exhibiting sociopathic tendencies, you should contact and seek help from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What makes a person a sociopath?
What are signs of a sociopath?
What makes a sociopath angry?
What does a sociopath act like?
Can sociopaths be nice?
Do sociopaths have friends?
Why do sociopaths stare at you?
Are sociopaths loners?
Do sociopaths feel anything?
Do sociopaths feel sadness?
What are the 7 symptoms of a sociopath? ›
Signs and symptoms of conduct disorder include serious, persistent behavior problems, such as:
- Aggression toward people and animals.
- Destruction of property.
- Serious violation of rules.
Individuals with antisocial personality disorder break rules, lack empathy, tend to show no remorse, and may even appear to enjoy manipulating other people.What is the root of sociopath? ›
The term sociopathy was popularized from 1929/30 by the American psychologist George E. Partridge and was originally intended as an alternative term to indicate that the defining feature was a pervasive failure to adhere to societal norms in a way that could harm others.What is high-functioning sociopath? ›
People with this type of sociopathy are driven and determined. A strong self-love (narcissism) and sense of grandiosity may be their catalyst. Secretive tendencies. High-functioning individuals may keep everything close to the vest.Can a sociopath feel empathy? ›
“However, if you did the same test with a sociopath, they'd be able to lie without physical response. They're not devoid of emotion, but they lack the natural empathy that comes to us.”What motivates a sociopath? ›
It stems from an underlying sense of rage. Sociopaths feel deeply angry and resentful underneath their often-charming exterior, and this rage fuels their sense that they have the right to act out in whichever way they happen to choose at the time.What is sociopath easy? ›
A “sociopath” has little regard for another person's emotions, rights, or experiences. They lack remorse for their actions, and they act in ways that show no regard for others, including lying, cheating, and manipulating. Some people with this condition aren't very sly about their conduct. Others are quite deceptive.What is another name for a sociopath? ›
noun. ['ˈsoʊsiːoʊˌpæθ'] someone with a sociopathic personality; a person with an antisocial personality disorder ( psychopath' was once widely used but has now been superseded by sociopath').What makes a sociopath happy? ›
A sociopath can sometimes be happy when others simply can't, because they don't have feelings of remorse or guilt. These particular emotions usually don't make us feel happy right away. So in theory, the complete lack of these emotions can result in more happiness.Can sociopaths be good people? ›
They're your neighbors, colleagues, maybe even family members and lovers. Thomas admits that sociopaths can be dangerous; they're hungry for power, and they don't feel guilt or remorse. But they're not inherently evil, and some are highly productive members of society.
Is sociopathy on a spectrum? ›
An important one is the concept that sociopathy is a spectrum. This is absolutely true — some people have worse cases of antisocial personality disorder, and the related disorder of psychopathy, than others. Researchers use the Psychopathy Checklist Revised to measure an individual's level of disturbance.Can sociopaths feel fear? ›
Last, a meta-analysis was performed which conclusively showed that psychopathic individuals have trouble in the automatic detection and responsivity to threat but may in fact feel fear, providing direct empirical support for the claim that the conscious experience of fear may not be impaired in these individuals.What is the silent treatment sociopath? ›
Sociopaths use the silent treatment to exert power and control over you, and it works. You feel like you're wrong, a failure and not worth talking to. Each time you apologize for something you did not do, you lose a bit more of your self-esteem. The longer you stay in the relationship, the more worthless you will feel.Is sociopathy learned or genetic? ›
The reasons behind the disorder are not fully understood. The current belief is that psychopathy generally comes from genetic factors, such as parts of the brain not developing fully, while sociopathy results from an interruption in personality development by abuse or trauma in childhood.Do sociopaths feel guilt? ›
Thomas admits that sociopaths can be dangerous; they're hungry for power, and they don't feel guilt or remorse. But they're not inherently evil, and some are highly productive members of society.Do sociopaths have mood swings? ›
Individuals exhibiting sociopathy tend to be highly emotional and frequently experience emotional outbursts or mood swings. While those with sociopathy will engage in harmful behaviors, they typically try to rationalize their behavior in some way.Can sociopaths feel happiness? ›
A sociopath can sometimes be happy when others simply can't, because they don't have feelings of remorse or guilt. These particular emotions usually don't make us feel happy right away. So in theory, the complete lack of these emotions can result in more happiness.Do sociopaths experience jealousy? ›
It is readily observed that psychopaths experience feelings such as anger, resentment, envy and jealousy. Narcissism -- a core element of the sociopathic character type -- can produce powerful feelings of self-righteousness and entitlement.What causes sociopathic behavior? ›
Causes of Antisocial Personality Disorder
Research on adopted children of parents with the disorder indicates that environment may also be a factor, such as when children receive poor discipline, have negative role models, or are not taught to respect the rights of others.
A “sociopath” has little regard for another person's emotions, rights, or experiences. They lack remorse for their actions, and they act in ways that show no regard for others, including lying, cheating, and manipulating. Some people with this condition aren't very sly about their conduct. Others are quite deceptive.
Do sociopaths mellow with age? ›
Most people mellow out with age, but in the case of psychopaths and those suffering from similar antisocial personality disorders such as sociopaths, bad behavior tends to get worse, according to new research from New Zealand's University of Otago.Can a sociopath cry? ›
Sociopaths do not have feelings or emotions, nor do sociopaths cry genuinely. Sociopaths are capable of intense anger, frustration, and rage. They elicit those emotions in others which they cannot feel themselves.Do sociopaths apologize? ›
They Are Quick To Apologize
Sometimes manipulation can be spotted in the way they apologize. "Sociopaths may give sincere-sounding apologies, when they are not sorry at all," Laurie Endicott Thomas, MA, ELS, relationship expert and author of Don't Feed the Narcissists!