The difference between a psychopath and a sociopath

A great question that arose once I started reading about the brain and brain disorders is this: what is the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath? Both terms are thrown around in pop culture, generally to mean, “a person with really fucked up morals (or a lack of them.)” But these are two different terms—something must separate them, yes?

I researched this question on the web a few years ago and found very little useful information. Generally I got the impression that psychopaths were somehow worse than sociopaths, but exactly how was unclear.

I was discussing the topic with a friend recently and we looked it up again and found this article. It makes things a bit clearer, though not completely. One point.

Sociopathy, while severely the less understood of the two disorders, can be congenital or acquired. Psychopathy, meanwhile, is generally considered a confluence of genetic and chemical imbalances.

So, psychopaths are born psychopaths, not made that way. So, would serial killer Henry Lee Lucas who was raised in an environment of unbelievable neglect be a sociopath? Maybe, though I’ve always heard him described as a psychopath.

Another point of distinction:

Psychopaths lack the proper neurological frameworks to develop a sense of ethics and morality. Sociopaths interact with their social worlds in a meaningful way, but their moral compasses needed a massive tune-up yesterday.

while psychopathy and sociopathy both likely involve impaired cognitive function, the two differ in which circuits are affected. Psychopaths are fearless; sociopaths aren’t. Psychopaths don’t have a sense of right and wrong; sociopaths do.

So the main difference would seem to be that sociopaths understand what they are doing is wrong and they just don’t care, whereas psychopaths don’t really understand that they are in the wrong. This still seems a little vague but is clearer than it used to be in my mind.

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