Psychopath Vs. Sociopath: What's The Difference?

Warning: this post contains graphic language and content.

The term "sociopath" has a distinct meaning from "psychopath," "psychotic" and other "psych" names that get tossed around in the media, by forensic specialists and on TV shows about murderers.

But there are differences that distinguish sociopathy from psychopathy. Both are a form of antisocial personality disorder, says the American Psychiatric Association in its DSM-5 manual. These disorders share the following traits: propensity for violence, a remorseless mind, indifference to others' rights and not caring about ethical behavior or laws. But, there are differences.

Sociopathic Personality Disorder
  • Prone to nervousness, distress and temper meltdowns, not easily calm and suave like the psychopath
  • Usually not well-educated, often non-gainfully employed, the drifter type, the one whom everyone sees as "troubled" or "disturbed."
  • Their crimes typically are sloppy rather than meticulously premeditated and planned.
  • Capable of emotional bonds with others, but this is difficult to achieve.
  • Despite the capability of emotional attachments, they disregard social mores as a whole.

The sociopath can be thought of as the rudimentary or undeveloped psychopath. The psychopath simply cannot form emotional bonds with humans. They lack empathy. But they can sure trick people into thinking completely the opposite with their charm and superior intelligence. They're skilled at behaving the way they should, but inside they're empty.

Due to their brains and skill at manipulating people, they usually have college degrees and often hold down good jobs. They frequently have spouses and kids -- with nobody suspecting a thing. And, as mentioned, crimes by psychopaths are well-planned, making capture difficult.

While it's believed that psychopathy is the result of faulty brain "wiring," the consensus among experts is that sociopathy is the result of "bad upbringing," including abuse (not surprisingly, considering the nature of sociopaths). Since "genetics" isn't responsible for sociopathy, these individuals do possess the ability to empathize and love, but with limited capacity.

The term psychotic is often confused or interchanged with psychopathic, but there's a saying: "Psychotics haven't murdered as many people in the past 50 years as teen psychopaths have with knives in the past 12 months." Psychotics are disconnected from reality, while psychopaths and sociopaths are fully connected; hearing voices instructing them to kill is not a feature of psychopathy or sociopathy.

Sociopaths aren't nearly as dangerous as psychopaths because at least the former can still associate emotionally with humans. One of the most prolific psychopaths was Ted Bundy, who killed a string of women after viciously raping them. He'd have sex with the corpses for hours.

On January 15, 1978, this savage, by chance, discovered an unlocked door to a Florida State University sorority house, fatally bludgeoned two women and mutilated three, including tearing off nipples and ramming a bottle up the vagina of one. Just blocks away he broke into a woman's apartment, raped her and fractured her skull in multiple locations.

Bundy is believed to have killed at least 30 women and never showed remorse for his convicted crimes. It's hard to believe that all of this is the result of something innately wrong with the impulse-control center of his brain. It's one thing to steal a wallet, then kill on impulse to prevent being identified. But torturing women for the fun of it? Having sex with dead bodies all day long? CAN a person be born this way?

Bundy was executed on January 24, 1989. Initially he denied his crimes, but then, near the execution date, confessed to them. Then, he recanted and claimed innocence as his execution loomed.

Nature, or nurture? Or both? Maybe the Bundy case is a situation of genetics loading the gun, but childhood environment pulling the trigger.

This blog post is part of the Masterminds series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with NBC's The Blacklist. To see all the other posts in the series, click here.