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The desire of being believed, the desire of persuading, of leading, and directing other people, seems to be one of the strongest of all our natural desires.
—Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments
I see no difference between things and people.
—Seishiro Sakurazuka, Tokyo Babylon
Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.
—Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark KnightWikipedia

Psychopathy is a cluster of symptoms, and "psychopath" a common (if overused) term to describe someone, with shallow emotions and a lack of regard for others. Sociopathy and "sociopath" are similar terms, but often shift the emphasis regarding causes towards nurture and away from nature. Despite the popularity of these words, the more technical DSM diagnostic term is antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). While in the psych world "ASPS" is a little synonymous with "scumbag", this is still not 100% accurate. The term psychopathy is however used in research, and ideas of psychopathic traits are used in criminal justice. In popular culture it is used more loosely and often in misleading ways. You cannot be diagnosed as a Psychopath, but if you are arrested and don't particularly care about your crimes you can be labeled as one so that you get a harsher sentence.

Whatever it is called, it is fairly common, with roughly 1% of the population at large – and 25% of prisoners – meeting diagnostic criteria.[note 1] This might be because Psychopathy is generally used to describe anyone with a Cluster B Personality disorder in Popular Psychology, and how accurate this is likely depends on which disorder they have, and the individual himself. It's safe to say at any rate that if someone has a Cluster B Personality disorder, a past therapist or psychiatrist felt they do not get along with others for malicious reasons.

Technical definitions[edit]

Psychopaths display a lack of conscience and a certain level of superficial charm. Because of these conditions as well as being self-serving and manipulative in nature, they often do very well in both business and politics.

The technical term for psychopathy — as listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) — is antisocial personality disorder or ASPD. The term sociopath is also often applied to psychopaths. The media and the general public often use these three terms in the following contexts:

  • "Antisocial" applies to a person who actively opposes social norms. It is often misapplied to people (especially teens) who are introverted or have a difficult time fitting in with society. Autistic people and people with schizoid personality disorder[1] were once considered to have ASPD because they may be loners who don't fit in. This is often folly because it either fails, or more disturbingly, neglects to differentiate betwixt antisocial behavior (actively opposing social norms) and asocial behavior (passively indifferent to social norms). Autistic people can be highly moral in conduct and modest in behavior or at least contradict most of the damning traits on any checklist for sociopathy or psychopathy.
  • "Sociopath" is usually applied to those diagnosed with ASPD based on behavioral traits alone.
  • "Psychopath" is usually applied to those diagnosed with ASPD based on behavioral, affective, and personality traits.

However, to most professional psychologists and psychiatrists, the three terms are synonymous, though some have argued that psychopathy should be a separate disorder.[2] Psychopathy is generally regarded to be a neurobiological disorder whereas Antisocial personality disorder (sociopathy) is considered to be the result of abuse or trauma, like narcissistic personality disorder which is correlated with psychopathy in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM).

Capitalism and everyday psychopaths[edit]

Bret Easton Ellis' novel American Psycho that conflates Wallstreet with psychopathy (e.g., "murders and executions" replaces "mergers and acquisitions.")

Psychopathy isn't limited to only criminals and can in fact be beneficial to an individual in a capitalistic society. Several researchers, such as Swiss psychiatrist Guggenbühl-Craig in his book The Emptied Soul,[3] argue capitalism is an economy which encourages psychopathy and arrogant behavior to achieve great rewards. Slyness and deception are characteristics which would be detrimental in any other economy except in capitalism. In other words, it is a great advantage to not have a conscience because it allows psychopaths to not get distracted from the great satisfaction of self-indulgence, even if it means performing acts which disadvantage others.

In Paul Zak's TED talk, Zak explores the effects of oxytocin on human morality:[4]

So who are these people who manipulate our oxytocin systems? We found, testing thousands of individuals, that five percent of the population don't release oxytocin on stimulus. So if you trust them, their brains don't release oxytocin. If there's money on the table, they keep it all. So there's a technical word for these people in my lab. We call them bastards. (Laughter) These are not people you want to have a beer with. They have many of the attributes of psychopaths.

While five percent may seem like a small amount, keep in mind the statistic says 1 out of 20 people share qualities which can be considered psychopathic.

Hare psychopathy checklist[edit]

Canadian psychologist Robert D. Hare has developed a check list of personality traits that are common to most psychopaths. The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) is as follows: {{collist|2|

  • Factor 1 — Personality "Aggressive narcissism"
    • Glibness/superficial charm
    • Grandiose sense of self-worth
    • Pathological lying
    • Cunning/manipulative
    • Lack of remorse or guilt
    • Emotionally shallow
    • Callous/lack of empathy
    • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Factor 2 — Case History "Socially Deviant Lifestyle"
    • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
    • Parasitic lifestyle
    • Poor behavioral control
    • Promiscuous sexual behavior
    • Lack of realistic, long-term goals
    • Impulsiveness
    • Irresponsibility
    • Juvenile delinquency
    • Early behavioral problems
    • Revocation of conditional release
  • Traits not correlated with either factor
    • Many short-term marital relationships
    • Criminal versatility[5]

Surveyors assign number values to the above traits.

  • Does not apply = 0
  • Somewhat applies = 1
  • Fully applies = 2

If a person scores more than 20 points, then yes. It's quite likely they at least have some psychopathic tendencies.

Other individuals professionally diagnosed as psychopaths (or sociopaths)[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. In her 2005 book The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us, psychologist Martha Stout claims that the number of sociopaths at large in society is closer to 4%.