What Makes Someone a Sociopath? Symptoms

Medically Reviewed on 12/1/2022
What Makes Someone a Sociopath
A sociopath is a person who consistently shows little regard for the feelings and rights of others

Sociopathy is another term for antisocial personality disorder, a mental health condition in which an individual consistently shows little regard for the feelings and rights of others. A sociopath is someone who avoids responsibilities and isolates themselves from others.

Common characteristics of a sociopath include:

Not noticing or caring that their action is wrong or against the law

Taking advantage of people or wronging them for their own benefit

Being dishonest

Inability to read emotions

Acting without worrying about consequences

Inability to follow a routine or responsibilities

Failure to control their actions in different situations

Exhibiting no regard for others

Inbility to learn from bad decisions

Difficulty maintaining relationships

Being manipulative

Superficial charm

Being self-absorbed and egocentric

Getting easily bored (in need of constant stimulation)

Habitual lying

Exploiting the goodwill of others, especially financially

Sexual promiscuity

Lack of inhibitions

Lack of long-term goals

Assumption of never being wrong themselves

High intelligence, but no conscience

  • Lack of empathy and remorse
  • Disregard for the feelings of others
  • Manipulation with charm or wit
  • Poor interpersonal skills
  • Unstable relationships
  • Hostility, aggression, or irritability
  • Lack of morals or conscience

Sometimes may cause harm (emotional and physical) to people around them, leading to criminal history

The chronic nature of sociopathy differentiates this condition from other, episodic mental health conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder.

What are the 7 symptoms of a sociopath?

The main 7 symptoms of a sociopath are as follows:

  1. Lack of empathy and remorse
  2. Disregard for the feelings of others
  3. Manipulation with charm or wit
  4. Poor interpersonal skills
  5. Unstable relationships
  6. Hostility, aggression, or irritability
  7. Lack of morals or conscience

Sociopaths may also sometimes  cause harm (emotional and physical) to people around them, leading to criminal history

What causes sociopathy?

Although the exact cause of antisocial personality disorder is unknown, a combination of genetic and environmental factors play a key role in developing the condition:

  • Genetics (may make someone more likely to develop an antisocial personality disorder, and life situations may trigger these genetic markers)
  • Changes in brain functioning (in utero or during brain development)
  • History of childhood conduct disorder
  • Family history of antisocial personality disorder or other personality disorders or mental health disorders
  • Abuse or neglect during childhood
  • Unstable, violent, or chaotic family life during childhood

Personality disorders

Personality disorders due to genetics and the environment can shape personality during childhood. Problems with inherited genetics or the early environment, such as significant exposure to abuse and/or violence, increase the risk of antisocial personality disorder.

Attachment disorder

Attachment disorders can develop when an infant is unable to form an appropriate bond with a caregiver, whether due to parental neglect or abandonment. As a result, they do not learn to form emotional connections with others.

Brain differences

The brain of an individual with ASPD may respond to the word "love" in the same way that it does to the word "chair." Furthermore, while a normal brain demonstrates the ability to solve a problem involving emotional words almost instantly, a sociopath's brain responds to this by increasing blood flow to the temporal lobe, a part of the brain used for analytical thinking, as if it were an algebra problem.


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How are sociopaths diagnosed?

According to clinical psychologists, sociopaths comprise only 1%-4% of the population and must meet specific criteria based on social, medical, and family history for a confirmed diagnosis.

To be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder and classified as a sociopath, a person must exhibit at least 3 of the 7 characteristics listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition:

  • Failure to conform to social norms concerning lawful behaviors, such as performing acts that are grounds for arrest
  • Deceitfulness, repeated lying, or conning others for pleasure or personal profit
  • Impulsivity or failure to plan
  • Irritability and aggressiveness, often with physical assault
  • Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others
  • Consistent irresponsibility and failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor monetary obligations
  • Lack of remorse or rationalizing for having hurt or mistreated another person

Along with these criteria, a person must be at least 18 years and have a history of behavioral issues by the time they are 15 years old. There should be no evidence that these behaviors are due to the influence of any substance or during a schizophrenic or bipolar episode.

What is the difference between sociopathy and psychopathy?

The terms “sociopath” and “psychopath” are frequently debated in academic circles and many believe they are interchangeable personalities. Sociopathy and psychopathy fall under the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder and both are characterized by a lack of empathy, self-centeredness, and a tendency to cause harm to others for personal gain.

However, the primary difference between a sociopath and a psychopath is in their conscience and behaviors:

  • Sociopaths: Sociopaths tend to be more erratic, anxious, and impulsive, whereas psychopaths are often able to maintain the appearance of a stable and normal life. Due to their difficulties in maintaining friendships, they have few friends and few to no acquaintances. They typically have lower levels of education and frequently settle down on the outskirts of society. Most of the crimes they commit are spontaneous. Sociopaths usually have a history of childhood trauma or abuse but may be able to connect with others to an extent.
  • Psychopaths: Psychopaths may not be able to form relationships or emotional attachments to others, exhibiting no remorse when they manipulate or harm people. Psychopaths may have more of a genetic predisposition to be cold. Psychopaths are extremely charming individuals who find it easy to control others. They appear disarming because of how charismatic they are. They typically have advanced degrees and stable employment. They do not develop relationships, but they do learn to mimic emotions. Therefore, it may be challenging for victims to recognize that they have been targeted. Their crimes are meticulously planned, well-executed, and include backup plans.

In many cases, sociopaths and psychopaths pose a risk to society and a threat to others. Violence is not a prerequisite for an ASPD diagnosis, but it is frequently observed in those who have received this diagnosis. Because of their ability to dissociate from others and lack of remorse, psychopaths are typically the most dangerous.

Can a sociopath be cured?

Currently, there are no medications specifically designed to treat antisocial personality disorders.

Most people with antisocial personality disorders do not seek help or treatment because they do not even recognize what they are doing is problematic. Psychotherapy is often recommended but can be difficult because the person may fail to recognize the issue and may not want to change their behavior.

Identifying early warning signs and seeking early intervention can help the person manage their condition. When a person with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) seeks professional help, it is typically for residual symptoms of a co-occurring disorder or for legal issues that necessitate treatment.


Psychotherapy focuses on behavior changes and skill development and is the primary treatment mode recommended by studies.

Because sociopaths lack emotional depth, are unable to form genuine connections with others, and frequently engage in criminal acts for personal gain, psychotherapy treatment tends to focus on teaching prosocial behaviors through a combination of behavior therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and personality reconstruction techniques.


According to studies, using medications to treat sociopaths is only marginally effective. However, because of the co-occurrence of additional disorders such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, medications can be used as a supplement to psychotherapy to reduce these additional problem symptoms. 

Studies have shown that the violent nature of the sociopath frequently necessitates the use of antipsychotic medications in low doses to further control aggressive behavior symptoms. In addition to antipsychotic medications, mood stabilizers, antianxiety, and antidepressant medications are used to treat sociopathy.

Anger management treatment

Studies report sociopaths frequently exhibit violence, irritability, aggression, and anger. Despite their lack of emotional connection, people with ASPD are more likely to engage in reward-directed behavior. According to the American Psychological Association, anger management programs can help identify the link between emotional states and behaviors by teaching the consequences of actions.

This type of treatment focuses on reducing violence to prevent the violation of others' rights and to help the sociopath recognize their role in contributing to society effectively rather than criminally.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/1/2022
Image Source: iStock image

How to Recognize Signs of Sociopathy. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/sociopath-personality-disorder/

Psychopathy vs Sociopathy. https://www.mha-em.org/im-looking-for/mental-health-knowledge-base/conditions/127-psychopathy-vs-sociopathy

Antisocial personality disorder. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/antisocial-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353928

Signs of a Sociopath. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/signs-sociopath\