Psychopath: Meaning, Traits, Signs vs. Sociopath

What is a psychopath

What is a psychopath?

“Psychopath” is a term used to describe someone who is cold, callous, and has no empathy. Even though it’s not a medical diagnosis, it’s commonly used in clinical and legal settings.

Indeed, psychopathy is not a diagnosis in and of itself, but many of its features are shared by an antisocial personality disorder, which is a broad term used to describe people who continually break rules and act out. However, only a small proportion of people with antisocial personalities are considered psychopaths.

This article discusses what makes someone a psychopath, how to recognize if someone’s a psychopath and the history of the term. It also discusses ways to cope with a psychopath and available treatments.

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Common psychopathic traits

Individuals with psychopathology behave differently. Many of them commit sexual offenses and murder. There are also those who succeed in leading. They all have different traits.

Psychopathic traits don’t necessarily mean a person is a psychopath. Even without being an actual psychopath, one may exhibit several psychopathic characteristics.

It’s not necessarily the case that people with psychopathic traits act in a psychopathic manner. The term psychopath is reserved for individuals who exhibit both psychopathic and antisocial traits.

Some of the most common psychopathic traits are:

  • Antisocial behavior
  • Narcissism
  • Superficial charm
  • Impulsivity
  • Callous, emotionless traits
  • Lack of guilt
  • No empathy

There is evidence that approximately 29 percent of the general population are psychopathic in some way. The majority of the population are likely to be psychopaths, but only 0.6% are likely to qualify.

Read: 15 Signs of an Egoistic Person

Can a psychopath be tested?

There may indeed be a variety of free “psychopath tests” available online, but the two most commonly used ones are the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPL) and the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R).

Psychopathy checklist-revised (PCL-R)

An individual with the PCL-R is assessed against a list of twenty items to determine if certain characteristics or behaviors indicate psychopathy. You should complete the assessment along with a semistructured interview and a review of any available records, such as police reports or medical records. Criminal behavior is often predicted by it to determine the likelihood of re-offending and rehabilitation potential.

Psychopathic personality inventory (PPL)

It’s an alternative test that’s been around since 1996. Non-criminal populations take this test to assess psychopathic tendencies. Prisoners can still be served with this tool, but it is more commonly used with other populations, including university students.

Signs of a psychopath

Psychopaths may display some of the following characteristics as children or as they grow older. The following are some of the most common signs of psychopathy.

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Superficial charm

Psychopaths tend to come across as likable at first glance. Most of them share stories that make them look good, and they’re generally good conversationalists. Sometimes, they are funny and charming as well.

Need for stimulation

The psychopath loves excitement. People with this personality like to live fast-paced lives in which they are constantly in motion.

It is quite common for them to break rules in order to satisfy their need for stimulation. Getting away with something might be thrilling to them, or they may even be enthralled with the thought that they could “get caught” at any moment. Thus, they are often unable to tolerate routines or boring tasks and maybe intolerant of boring tasks.

Pathological lying

A psychopath tells lies so that he or she looks good and stays out of trouble. Psychopaths will tell a lie to disguise their previous ones as well. Sometimes they are unable to remember what they have said as they lose track of their own stories. The reworking of facts or changing of the story is their response to any challenge.

Read: Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Grandiose sense of self-worth

An inflated sense of self is characteristic of psychopaths. Psychopaths believe they are entitled and important. It is often believed that they are justified in living according to their own rules and that laws are not applicable to them.


It is not hard for psychopaths to get other people to do what they want. Lying may be their ploy to have someone else do their work for them while playing on a person’s guilt.

Lack of remorse

Psychopathic individuals don’t give a damn about the consequences of their behavior. If other people hurt their feelings, they may forget or insist they are overreacting for causing people pain. People usually rationalize their actions and blame others.

Shallow affect

The vast majority of psychopaths don’t exhibit any emotions. Many of them appear unfeeling and cold. Nevertheless, they can display their emotions when it’s in their best interests. Their emotions are typically short-lived and fairly shallow.

Whether it’s showing anger to intimidate someone or showing sadness to manipulate them, these behaviors can be used to gain power over others. People with these emotions do not actually feel them.

Lack of empathy

Psychopaths have difficulty comprehending how people feel fear, sadness or anxiety. They are unable to read people, so they can’t make sense of it. Even when they are close friends or family members, they are completely indifferent to the suffering of others.

Read: Signs of Self-Obsessed Person

Parasitic lifestyle

Sometimes psychopaths complain about not being able to earn money, or they may claim that others have wronged them. They then take advantage of others’ generosity by depending on them for financial support. People are used for their own ends with no thought for how they might feel.

Poor behavioral controls

Psychopaths tend to struggle with following rules, laws and policies. Although they usually start off following the rules, they don’t stick with them for very long.

Promiscuous sexual behavior

A psychopath is likely to cheat on his or her spouse because he or she doesn’t care about others around them. It is not uncommon for them to have unprotected sexual relations with strangers.

Sexual activity may also be used as a means to gain what they want. They do not view it as a loving or emotional act.

Early behavioral problems

Behavioral problems are common among psychopaths from a young age. Cheating, skipping school, vandalism, substance abuse, and violence are common among these kinds of people. The escalation of their misbehaviors tends to be more serious over time than that of their peers.

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Unrealistic, long-term goals

A psychopath can have aspirations to become rich or famous. Most of the time, they do not have a clue about how to accomplish these things. However, they insist that somehow, they can get the things they want without putting much effort into it.


When it comes to psychology, psychopaths react based on their feelings. Their choices aren’t considered for the potential risks or benefits. They’re more concerned with immediate gratification. Therefore, they could end a relationship, quit their jobs, move to another city, or buy a new car on the spur of the moment.


Psychopaths don’t believe in promises. They are not trustworthy no matter how much they promise to repay a loan or sign a contract. Child support payments may be neglected, debts may be accumulated, or obligations may be overlooked.

Psychopathic individuals do not take responsibility for their problems. Their problems are always the fault of others. It’s common for them to play the role of victim, and they enjoy telling stories about how others have exploited them.

Many marital relationships

Psychopaths may become married to serve themselves. Some people might share their debt with others or spend their partner’s income. Their behavior has often also led to frequent divorces among their partners since they are eventually viewed in a more realistic light.

Read: Secure Attachment Style

Criminal versatility

People with psychopath tendencies often view rules as suggestions – and laws as restrictions that limit their freedom. They can engage in a wide range of criminal behaviors.

There are many different crimes one can commit, from driving infractions to financial violations to violence. Most of them don’t result in prison time. It may be illegal for some to operate under shady businesses or participate in unethical practices that do not result in arrests.

Revocation of conditional release

When psychopaths are released from prison, they typically do not adhere to conditions of release. Some of them believe they will never be caught again. Other times, they find reasons to justify their behavior. They may also blame other people when they get caught.

Psychopath versus sociopath

Psychopaths and sociopaths are often used interchangeably, as with many other terms in psychology. Sociopaths do not have their own official diagnosis, so they are grouped under ASPD along with psychopaths. There are no differences in their diagnosis.

Masand explains that people tend to categorize personality disorders based on the severity of their symptoms. This is incorrect. Psychopathy is sometimes described as a more severe form of sociopathy, but again, that’s really inaccurate.”

ASPD is also known as a psychopath and a sociopath. ASPD symptoms include behaviors common to both disorders.

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Causes of psychopathy

Psychopathy is often attributed to issues with parent-child attachment, according to earlier research.

Children who are rejected by their parents, experience emotional deprivation, and lack affection increase their risk of becoming psychopaths.

Researchers have linked maltreatment, abuse, insecure attachments, and frequent separations from caregivers to maltreatment, abuse, and neglect. These childhood issues may contribute to the development of psychopathic traits.

Nevertheless, other researchers believe it could be the opposite. Behaviorally disturbed children may have attachment issues as a result of their behavior. They may be rejected by adults as a result of their misconduct.

Psychopathic traits may be due to several factors, including genetics, neurological disorders, toxic exposure in utero, and adverse parenting practices.

Psychopathy and violence

Studies suggest psychopaths are more likely to commit acts of violence than the general public. These traits have been linked with violence in various studies. Psychopathic tendencies may be evaluated in court systems as a way of predicting whether or not they will commit further violent acts in the future.

However, not every psychopath is violent. There may be “successful psychopaths” who become leaders and serve little prison time.

Successful psychopaths may have more conscientious traits than those who end up convicted of serious crimes, which might help them manage their antisocial impulses better.

Read: How to Deal With a Narcissist

Treatment for psychopath

Psychopaths can be treated, but there is much debate as to whether they can be treated. Research indicates that treatment is not effective. However, with appropriate treatment, certain behaviors, such as violence, can be reduced.

According to a review of the literature done in 2018, many studies only looked at the effectiveness of treatment for special groups, like sex offenders. In that context, the treatment that works for psychopaths may not work for others.

The treatment of female psychopaths may also differ. It’s possible that their treatment differs a little bit from men because they tend to be less violent.

Similarly, some studies have found cognitive behavioral therapy to be effective. Nevertheless, further research is necessary to determine which cognitive restructuring strategies are most effective and how to use them with specific populations.


There is no need for psychopaths to change because, to them, change is not necessary. They believe that the fault lies with other people, not themselves. It’s usually others around them who seek strategies for coping with their illness. It’s hard to be around someone who is callous and unemotional.

If you are not careful, the behavior of a psychopath can seriously harm your mental health. Healthy boundaries are important, as is recognizing when you are being manipulated.

Getting professional help is a good idea if it causes you a great deal of distress. You can achieve your personal and professional goals by working with a mental health professional.

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Psychopathic traits and behaviors include coldness, manipulation, antisociality and narcissism. The precise reasons for these tendencies remain unclear, however, although they have been linked to maltreatment, rejection, and lack of parental affection in early childhood.

There is an increased risk of violence and criminal behavior among persons with psychopath traits, but not every psychopath is a violent criminal. Treatments such as CBT may aid in reducing some psychopathic traits and behaviors.