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Understanding Antisocial Personality Disorders

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Understanding Psychopaths and Sociopaths

Psychology helps us understand what lies behind the actions, thoughts and traits of individuals with psychopathic or sociopathic symptoms. It helps us to explain what makes them different from other individuals, and how these characteristics do not necessarily mean they cannot perform normal, functioning roles in society, but rather how Psychology can also help to prevent these individuals with these characteristics to develop states of mind in which they may become a danger to society.

Psychopathy

Psychopathy is a mental personality disorder that is characterized by the lack of empathy, remorse, risk taking conducts, and a severe antisocial behavior. “Approximately, psychopaths make up about 1 percent of the general population and as much as 25 percent of male offenders in federal correctional settings” (Parry, 2011). Brain anatomy, genetics, and a person’s environment may all contribute to the development of psychopathic traits and there are proven cases in which, if treated at the first signs of psychopathic tendencies, the disorder will not develop at its fullest in the individual.

Psychopaths are typically highly impulsive and highly emotional. They are at high risk of substance abuse and incarceration. According to Joseph Newman at the University of Wisconsin, “Criminal psychopaths are about three times more likely to commit violence than other offenders and about two-and-a-half times more likely to commit other antisocial acts such as lying and sexual exploitation.” (Edwards, 2015). They are very difficult to have relationships with because they lack social skills and empathy.

Sociopathy

Sociopathy is a type of chronic mental condition in which a person's ways of thinking, perceiving situations and relating to others are dysfunctional and may become destructive. A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it is weak.



Sociopaths are less able to follow rules and tend to be careless in their behavior. They are narcissistic, and are very open about it. They can have relationships with others, but they hold no value to them. It’s easy for a sociopath to have a group of “friends” but abandon them at any moment. They often have excuses for their own behavior, or blame others. Some experts see sociopaths as “hot-headed.” They act without thinking how others will be affected, as they do not care about it. Sociopaths can have sadistic tendencies, which may result in violent behavior and danger for others.

Differences and Treatment

It is difficult to pinpoint who is a psychopath and who is a sociopath. Even in the psychology community, academics don’t seem to be able to reach consensus on the definition for both disorders. Even in psychology books, patients will be diagnosed with neither disorder, but with Antisocial Personality Disorder.

“Antisocial Personality Disorder is a type of chronic mental condition in which a person's ways of thinking, perceiving situations and relating to others are dysfunctional — and destructive. People with antisocial personality disorder typically have no regard for right and wrong and often disregard the rights, wishes and feelings of others.” (Mayo Clinic, 2012).

As already stated, both psychopaths and sociopaths have all the required traits to be diagnosed with ASPD. The root of what differentiates them is what the cause for developing these characteristics is. In that we found that the triggers are quite different in essence.

Psychopathy is a developmental disorder that is associated with specific kinds of behavior. Psychopathic behavior causes are mostly biological. In studies made with several inmates showed that those with psychopathic traits, present several abnormalities in their brains, mainly in the anterior insula, anterior midcingulate cortex, somatosensory cortex and amygdala which are the parts of the brain which regulate empathy, fear and decision making processes.

These studies also showed activity in the Ventral Striatum when showed pain, which is the part of the brain that controls pleasure. While psychopathy is caused by abnormalities in the brain, childhood upbringing may also generate changes in the brain chemistry that can result later in real psychopathy. In other words, psychopaths lack empathy, cannot distinguish right from wrong, may like pain or watching someone in pain and have no fear of consequences. But this is all biological, they really do not have control over it.

Since sociopathy also stems from ASPD, this disorder shares several traits, with psychopathy. The main difference is that sociopaths do have a sense of morality, but this is not well adjusted to society standards. This may be thanks to a different or traumatic childhood upbringing or due to a belief system that’s ingrained in the individual’s mind. Perhaps the most identifiable difference between the two, is that sociopaths do have a moral compass and can discern right from wrong, but their right and wrong differ greatly from what we think is normal. They can also form real relationships with people, but only a few and generally they are like minded. This, in addition to the other traits that people with ASPD present, is what makes sociopaths volatile and even dangerous in some cases.

Psychopathy and sociopathy is considered almost untreatable, as people with these disorders are very hard to identify and tend to think that they do not need any treatment. “Antisocial personality disorder is very difficult to treat. People with antisocial personality disorder may also need treatment for other conditions, such as depression, anxiety or substance use disorders. The best treatment or combination of treatments depends on each person's particular situation and severity of symptoms.” (Mayo Clinic, 2012). Techniques such as psychotherapy, help groups, interventions and even some medications have proven to substantially help in the development of people with Antisocial Personality Disorders such as psychopathy and sociopathy.

Conclusion

While not clear, there certainly are differentiators between the terms psychopath and sociopath. Even though this is believed to be true, there’s still a lot to be researched and understood about both mental conditions and Antisocial Personality Disorder in general. Psychologists still need to set a final definition for both terms or mix them into a single term completely. These are two of the most important disorders and should not be taken lightly. Media has constantly misrepresented people that suffer from any of these conditions to the point and everyday language. Once a definition is set for both terms and media starts representing accurately people who has any of these conditions, ordinary people will start to take seriously these diseases and give them the respect and admiration they deserve.


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