Sociopath Traits, Symptoms, And Examples

Published 11/24/2020

You don’t have to look far or wide to find an example of a TV show, movie, or even a song that features a character or theme that’s a sociopath. Society is obsessed with antisocial: sociopaths are celebrated and depicted in so much of the contemporary art of the day.

But what makes a person a sociopath? How can you tell a sociopath apart from a normal person, or even from a person who might be suffering from another form of mental health issue? And where can you find some popular representations of sociopaths, both in the real world and in the realm of popular culture?

Here, you’ll learn all about what makes a sociopath, as well as some of the examples of sociopaths that can be found in contemporary culture.

Traits Of A Sociopath

While the word “sociopath” is used to describe a specific set of traits and behaviors in a person. However, there really isn’t an official diagnosis for a sociopath in the medical, psychiatric, and psychological world. Instead, psychologists and psychologists use the term “sociopathic tendencies” to describe traits and behaviors exhibited by their patients. The official diagnosis that a psychologist or psychologist will give is for an antisocial personality disorder.

Some of the key traits of a sociopath include:

Source: rawpixel.com

  • Not paying any respect to the social norms, laws, or mores of the community around them.
  • Constantly breaking the law or disregarding social boundaries.
  • Using lies and deceptions to manipulate others for their own personal gain.
  • Refusing to or being extremely resistant to making long term plans.
  • Refusing to or being extremely resistant to taking on responsibilities, even when necessary for a job, family, or personal well-being.
  • Showing irritable or aggressive behavior, even when the situation is not particularly stressful or demanding.
  • Not considering their own safety or the safety of those around them while they’re making decisions.
  • Acting brashly, or acting without any regard to the consequences of their actions.
  • Not feeling guilt, remorse, or a “prick of the conscience” when they’ve hurt or mistreated other people.

In addition to these common traits shared by most sociopaths, sociopaths are known (and set apart from psychopaths) by their outbursts of anger and rash behavior. A psychopath is better at hiding their antisocial behavior; a sociopath will not hide their antisocial behavior patterns. This means that a sociopath will disregard the consequences of their actions, where a psychopath might be more prone to avoiding those consequences altogether with their cunning and wit.

You might be wondering if you’re showing any of the signs of being a sociopath. If that’s the case, you should consider this sociopath quiz. The results of the quiz will be able to let you know if you’re exhibiting any sociopathic behaviors or tendencies. You’ll also access a bunch of excellent mental health resources; they’re easily accessible and reviewed by mental health professionals.

Symptoms Of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Even though “sociopath” is a common colloquial word used to describe people with sociopathic tendencies, there’s really no medical or psychological definition or diagnosis of “sociopath.” Instead, a person exhibiting a sociopath’s signs will likely be diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder.

According to DSM-5, the official guide that psychologists and psychiatrists must adhere to when they are making the diagnosis of patients, the elements for the diagnosis of a person with antisocial personality disorder include the following:

  1. Disregard for and violation of others rights since age 15, as indicated by one of the seven sub-features:
  2. Failure to obey laws and norms by engaging in behavior which results in a criminal arrest or would warrant criminal arrest
  3. Lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement,
  4. Impulsive behavior
  5. Irritability and aggression, manifested as frequently assaults others or engages in fighting
  6. Blatantly disregards the safety of self and others,
  7. A pattern of irresponsibility and
  8. Lack of remorse for actions (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

The other diagnostic Criterion is:

  1. The person is at least age 18,
  2. Conduct disorder was present by history before age 15
  3. and the antisocial behavior does not occur in the context of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

Basically, an antisocial personality disorder is present only in adults, and it is used to diagnose those adults whose behaviors benefit themselves at all costs and even to the detriment of those around them. They are often seen as reckless and refusing to acknowledge the fallout of their own behavior, especially when these actions get them what they want. They also exhibit destructive behaviors: these behaviors usually start in adolescence or young adulthood and then continue into their adult life.

For the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder to hold, the person’s actions and intentions should be analyzed by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional. The mental health professional will have to rule out other triggers and causes for the patient’s behaviors, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, before arriving at the diagnosis of an antisocial personality disorder. However, if their analysis shows these symptoms and excludes other underlying mental health issues, they will arrive at antisocial personality disorder.

Again, psychologists and psychiatrists will never issue a “sociopath” diagnosis but will instead talk about their patients’ disorder in terms of an antisocial personality disorder. From there, they will recommend and work through a course of treatment with their patient, provided that their patient agrees to work towards treating their antisocial personality disorder.

Causes Of Antisocial Personality Disorder

Researchers and mental health professionals have been searching for the specific cause or causes of antisocial personality disorder, but they have yet to find a conclusive answer. They aren’t sure what causes antisocial personality disorder, exactly. However, research has shown that genetic and environmental links shed a bit more clarity on antisocial personality disorder.

Source: rawpixel.com

Studies have shown that people with a family history of antisocial personality disorder are more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder themselves in terms of genetics. Plus, men are much more likely to develop an antisocial personality disorder than women are. Researchers still aren’t sure why this is the case, but the statistics are pretty clear on that front.

Environmental factors also play a role in the development of antisocial personality disorder, it seems. For example, people who experience trauma, especially if that trauma is intense and/or prolonged, are more likely to develop an antisocial personality disorder. Likewise, people who grew up in a dysfunctional family – for example, with an abusive or alcoholic parent – are more likely to develop an antisocial personality disorder. There are some clear warnings that a child in an unstable house might be prone to developing an antisocial personality disorder. The clearest of these warnings include frequently setting fires and torturing or killing small animals during their childhood. When children display these warning signals of antisocial personality disorder, they should be taken to see a mental health specialist.

So, even though researchers haven’t yet been able to pinpoint one specific cause of antisocial personality disorder, there are some links and warning signs that can help predict – and hopefully, eventually preventing – antisocial personality disorder.

Examples Of Sociopaths In Real Life

One of the most popular documentaries of this year, Tiger King, featured a main character who could certainly be classified as a sociopath: Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic constantly manipulated those around him so that he could get what he wanted. He resorted to using drugs and blackmail to get people to serve his own interests. He did this without regard to their feelings or well-being. It was usually to those other people’s (and tigers’) detriment. Plus, he was prone to outbursts and rash actions, usually without regard to the consequences. All of these patterns of behavior show that Joe Exotic could be reasonably classified as a sociopath.

Anna Delvey, one of the most cunning con artists of recent years, could also be considered a sociopath. She worked her way in and through Manhattan society, always getting whatever she wanted paid for by her rich friends. She also manipulated men and women alike to pay for vacations and lengthy hotels to stay in inexpensive places. Meanwhile, she was building up a mysterious reputation. She even convinced the bank to give her a big loan on false pretenses. While she was finally caught and forced to do time in jail, her actions leading up to her exposure and capture were typical of a sociopath. She manipulated others and acted to their detriment to get what she wanted, and she showed little to no remorse while doing so.

Examples Of Sociopaths In Popular Culture

Source: rawpixel.com

Amy Elliott Dunne (from the book and movie Gone Girl) is a classic example of a sociopath in popular culture. She goes to enormous lengths to fake her own death, even harming her husband and others in the wake of her big plan. She acts in her own interests and no one else’s. It makes for a compelling story but is also very clearly sociopathic behavior.

One of the longest-running and most popular villains of the Batman franchise can also be considered a sociopath: The Joker. He is known for his outrageous antics and huge – though sometimes ridiculous – personal goals. He will do anything to get what he wants, and he doesn’t let anything stand in his way. He frequently harms others in his spectacles’ execution, and he doesn’t seem to care that others are being hurt. He doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions; he only cares about getting what he wants. For this reason, he’s another great example of a sociopath in popular culture.

Conclusion

A sociopath is a term that is used to describe specific behavioral traits and patterns of behavior. However, it is only a colloquial term that refers to what mental health professionals refer to as antisocial personality disorder. You can identify the traits of a sociopath; there are also many examples of sociopaths in the real world and the realm of fiction.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is exhibiting sociopathic tendencies, you should contact and seek help from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional.