Psychologists have addressed many of the facets of sociopathy. Some feel that one of the main sociopathic traits is a locking in of attention that only allows a person to focus on one train of thought or activity, and exclude others. Others feel that a sociopath lacks not just a moral identity but his entire self-identity.
Studies have brought in behavioral characteristics that define psychopathy today. These are used in diagnosing psychopaths, sociopaths and people with anti-social disorders. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is the textbook of mental disorders, actually refers to all people with sociopathic traits as having antisocial personality disorder.
What is Antisocial Personality Disorder?
APD is a mental condition where the person has a long-lasting pattern of violating, exploiting and manipulating other people’s rights. There are many common sociopath traits, and we will discuss the criteria used to define APD here.
There is no precise recognized cause for sociopathy. Many researchers and psychologists believe it to result from a complex interaction of environmental and genetic factors, which may include such things as alcoholic parents or child abuse. Sociopathy is found more often in men than women.
What are the most Common Sociopath Traits?
We’ll list various traits of sociopathy below. Not all people with APD will show all of the traits. Generally speaking, if a person has three or more of these traits, they qualify for the APD diagnosis.
- Persistent and gross attitude of disregard for obligations and social norms, and irresponsibility
- Callous level of unconcern for others’ feelings
- A low frustration tolerance and a low threshold for the discharge of feelings of aggression, which include violence
- An incapacity to maintain relationships that endure, even though they have no problem in establishing relationships
- A marked proclivity for blaming others or offering plausible behavior rationalizations for the actions that bring him into societal conflict
- An incapacity to experience the guilt that most people feel, or to profit from any experience, especially punishment
The DSM is a widely used tool when physicians and researchers seek a way to diagnose APD. It defines people with APD as having:
- An age of 18 years or more
- Occurrences of antisocial behavior not only during manic or schizophrenic episodes
- Evidence of disordered conduct that started before the individual was 15 years old
- A pervasive pattern of disregard for other’s rights and violating them – This has usually occurred since the person was 15 years of age, and is indicated by three+ of these traits:
- Deception, typically indicated by using aliases, lying or conning people for personal pleasure or profit
- Failure to properly conform to accepted social norms of lawful behavior by performing acts with a penalty of arrest, repeatedly
- Aggressiveness and irritability, indicated by numerous assaults or physical fights
- Failure to plan ahead, or impulsiveness
- Irresponsibility in a consistent manner, indicated by a repeated failure to sustain stable behavior on the job or to honor one’s financial obligations
- Irresponsible disregard for safety of oneself or other people
- Lack of any remorse for acts committed, showing indifference or rationalization of hurting people, mistreating them and stealing from others
Sociopathy versus Psychopathy versus Antisocial Personality Disorder
There has often been confusion between these three terminologies. The features overlap widely. Sociopathy can be nearly synonymous with typical antisocial personality disorder, which is actually a medical diagnosis commonly called sociopathy.
Some people have some sociopath traits, but not to the point where they meet the criteria for diagnosing APD. They may also wrongly be referred to as sociopaths.
Some psychologists and researchers consider sociopathy to be synonymous with psychopathy. The latter isn’t a widely used diagnosis in the case of mental disorders. Most psychopaths meet the criteria for being diagnosed with APD, but the reverse is often not true. Only about 33% of APD members of society meet the diagnostic criteria for psychopathy.
Higher Functioning Sociopaths
People with sociopath traits who also are very intelligent are sometimes called high functioning sociopaths. These people are likely successful in whatever field they choose. They make meticulous plans, and their traits like shallow emotions, deceptiveness, lack of remorse and lack of empathy make it quite difficult for “normal” people to effectively compete with them.
Sociopath Traits in Children
APD is only diagnosed in people 18 years of age or older. In younger children and teenagers under the age of 18, their sociopathic traits are typically diagnosed as conduct disorders. If the person is still affected past the age of 18, their diagnosis will be changed to APD.
The so-called “triad of sociopathy” can sometimes be observed in children. This includes bed wetting, cruelty to animals and an obsession with setting fires. These traits might be present in the childhood years of eventual sociopaths. These three traits are the most important basic features of the conduct disorders found in children and young teenagers.