Blog Archives

Sociopath or Psychopath, Which is a Serial Killer More Likely to Be?


Jack the Ripper,Dr. Scott Bonn, Doc Bonn

Sociopathy and psychopathy are both antisocial personality disorders and they share many common behavioral traits.  Their similarities lead to the confusion between them and help to explain why many people incorrectly believe they are the same, identical disorder.  Key traits that both sociopaths and psychopaths share include:

  • A disregard for laws and social mores
  • A disregard for the rights of others
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt
  • A tendency to display violent behavior and emotional outbursts

In addition to their similarities, each of these two antisocial personality disorders also has its own unique characteristics which are explained below.

First, sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated.  They are volatile and prone to emotional outbursts, including fits of rage.  Second, they are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place. They are frequently transients and drifters.  Third, it is difficult but not impossible for sociopaths to form attachments with others.  They are capable of bonding emotionally and demonstrating empathy with certain people, and in certain situations, but not others.  Thus, some sociopaths are able to form attachments to an individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general.  Finally, in the eyes of others, sociopaths will appear clearly disturbed.  Any crimes committed by a sociopath will tend to be haphazard and spontaneous.  A sociopath who becomes a serial killer will most likely conform to the FBI’s disorganized category of serial predator.  Jack the Ripper offers a classic example of the volatile, spontaneous and disorganized serial killer.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have charming and disarming personalities.  They are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust.  They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to other unsuspecting people.  Psychopaths are often well educated and hold steady jobs.  Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature.  When committing crimes, psychopaths carefully plan out every detail and often have a contingency plan in place.  Unlike their sociopathic counterparts, psychopathic criminals are cool, calm and meticulous.  They make few mistakes.  A psychopath who becomes a serial killer would most likely conform to the FBI’s organized category of killer.  The charming Ted Bundy provides a classic example of the poised, articulate and highly organized serial killer.

The etiology or cause of psychopathy is different than the cause of sociopathy.  It is believed that psychopathy is the result of “nature” (genetics) while sociopathy is the result of “nurture” (environment).  According to the late David Lykken, a behavioral geneticist known for his studies on twins, psychopathy is related to a physiological defect that results in the underdevelopment of the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and emotions. Sociopathy, on the other hand, is more the product of childhood traumas and abuse.  Because sociopathy appears to be learned rather than innate, sociopaths are capable of empathy or emotional connection with others but only to certain individuals, such as a family member or friend, and only in certain contexts.  Psychopaths, on the other hand, are simply incapable of empathy and are unable to form real emotional bonds with anyone.  Ironically, it is the ability of psychopaths to so effectively mimic empathy and emotional bonds with others that make them especially dangerous, deceptive and highly successful serial killers.

The traits of the psychopathic personality are more highly correlated with the characteristics of highly successful, organized serial killers than are sociopathic traits.  Many of the most infamous and prolific serial killers in U.S. history, including Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Dennis Rader, Ed Kemper, Joel Rifkin, Jeffrey Dahmer and Gary Ridgway, have manifested the central traits of psychopathy, and many of these killers have been classified as psychopaths by forensic psychologists.  A cool and unemotional demeanor combined with a keen intellect and charming personality makes the psychopath a very effective predator.

It should come as no surprise that the entertainment industry has provided many inaccurate examples of psychopaths in film, television and books, etc.  Psychopaths are often incorrectly presented by the media as scary people who look frightening or have other off-putting characteristics.  In reality, a psychopath like Ted Bundy can be anyone—a neighbor, coworker, lover or homeless person on the street.  Each of these seemingly harmless people may in reality prey ruthlessly on others around them.

Follow criminologist and media expert Dr. Scott Bonn @DocBonn on Twitter and visit his website www.docbonn.com

Dr. Scott Bonn is located in Manhattan and is available for live on-air commentary, expert consultation and speaking engagements. More information about his experience and past media appearances can be found at his website, DocBonn.Com   Please call (843.808.0859) or email (contact@imaginepublicity.com) to discuss media opportunities.

 

Doc Bonn Explains: The Difference Between a Sociopath and a Psychopath

Dr. Scott Bonn,Doc Bonn,Psychopaths

The study of criminal behavior includes an examination of mental disorders that can contribute to deviant behavior. Sociopathy and psychopathy are terms used in psychology and criminology to refer to two separate groups of people with antisocial personality traits.  Significantly, these conditions are not classified as mental illnesses and they are not official diagnostic terms.  In the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) both sociopathy and psychopathy are listed under the heading of Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD). Many psychiatrists and criminologists use the terms interchangeably. I believe there are important distinctions between them, including their causes or etiology.

Sociopathy and psychopathy share many traits, which is the main source of confusion for differentiating them in psychology and criminology. Traits that sociopaths and psychopaths share include:

  • A disregard for laws and social mores
  • A disregard for the rights of others
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt
  • A tendency to display violent behavior and emotional outbursts

Although there is no consensus among professionals on exactly what differentiates sociopaths from psychopaths, among those who believe each is a separate disorder, there is a list of significant differences. First, sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated. Second, they are likely to be uneducated and live on the fringes of society, unable to hold down a steady job or stay in one place. Some sociopaths form attachments to an individual or group, although they have no regard for society in general. In the eyes of others, sociopaths appear clearly disturbed. Any crimes committed by a sociopath tend to be disorganized and spontaneous. Miguel Rivera (“Charlie Chop-off”) is a classic example of a sociopathic and disorganized serial killer, as is Jack the Ripper.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, often have charming and disarming personalities.  They are manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to other unsuspecting people. Psychopaths are often educated and hold steady jobs. Some are so good at manipulation and mimicry that they have families and other long-term relationships without those around them ever suspecting their true nature.  An example of such an individual is the serial killer Dennis Rader (“Bind, Torture, Kill”) who had a family, career, civic life and avoided detection for 30 years.

When committing crimes, psychopaths carefully plan out every detail and often have contingency plans in place. Because of the marked difference between the method of crimes committed by sociopaths and psychopaths, the distinction between these disorders is perhaps even more important to criminology than it is to psychology.  That is because psychopathic criminals, unlike sociopathic criminals, commit highly organized crimes often after meticulous planning.  Ted Bundy is a classic example of the psychopathic and organized serial killer.

It is also appears that the etiology of psychopathy and sociopathy is quite different.  It is likely that psychopathy is the result of “nature” (genetics) while sociopathy is the result of “nurture” (environment).  According to the late David Lykken, a behavioral geneticist known for his studies on twins, psychopathy is related to a physiological defect that results in the underdevelopment of the part of the brain responsible for impulse control and emotions. Sociopathy, on the other hand, is more the product of childhood traumas and abuse.

Based on this model, sociopaths are capable of empathy or emotional connection with others but only to specific individuals, such as a family member or friend, and only in specific contexts.  Psychopaths, on the other hand, are simply incapable of empathy and are unable to form real emotional bonds with anyone.  It is the ability of psychopaths to effectively mimic empathy and emotional connection that make them particularly dangerous, unassuming and often highly successful criminals.

Dr. Scott Bonn is Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Drew University and a media expert.  He is the author of the critically acclaimed book “Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq” and is currently writing a book about the public’s fascination with serial killers. Follow him @DocBonn on Twitter.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 77 other followers