[TT] Sociopathy & Psychopathy: Why Should We Care?

Having watched Elementary last week, I was fascinated with great the impact of genetic sociopathy among characters. In this blog entry, I'll try not to bore you all with facts from academic articles that are better suited for those aiming to study Psychology and/or Criminology. What I really want to focus on today is how important it is to know whether sociopathy is coded in our genetics or learned. What's terrifying about psychopaths and sociopaths is that they are not only the few Ted Bundys and Paul Bernardos that exist in the headlines of the media, but they could be our co-workers, our friends, and even our family members. I don't want to scare anyone with this post, because it is rare for psychopathy and sociopathy to manifest into horrible and inhuman crimes, but we should take the time to educate ourselves and ask ourselves why it would be important to understand sociopathy and psychopathy.

Sociopathy is, according to MedlinePlus, known as someone with antisocial personality disorder, long-term problems with behaviors-often criminal in nature-that "manipulate, exploit or violate the rights of others."

Sociopaths and psychopaths are usually clumped together when they are addressed in the media, but those who study the phenomenons know that there are differences. Although the differences are still being debated, social scientists agree that there are distinguishable differences in labelling someone as a psychopath or a sociopath. These terms differ in the origins of the phenomenon. Generally, it is considered that psychopathy is characterized in an inborn temperment and external factors affect a psychopath's behaviour, whereas sociopathy is characterized by environmental stressors and they are born with a normal temperment.
According to David T. Lykken, psychopaths are born with a disorder that detaches them from feeling. They often do know what they are doing, but lack empathy and care for any harm caused. Hence, any crimes committed by psychopaths are generally committed on those they feel close to. Sociopaths are capable of being emotionally attached to individuals, but like psychopaths, will lack empathy and lack the ability to feel shame. In crime, sociopaths will be capable of committing crimes against strangers and will less likely commit crimes against someone they deeply care for.
Although both sociopaths and psychopaths manipulate themselves to become charming and/or intimidating in order to con others, there are differences in how they both present themselves. Psychopaths are very methodical and they maintain themselves in order to commit crimes. Even in the most pressured situation, psychopaths are able to maintain an emotionless mindset. Sociopaths, on the other hand, are less organized and often act impulsively, without thinking about the consequences.

Here's an interesting article that gives you a glimpse on the phenomenon of sociopathy and psychopathy!
Here's another article addressing how you can spot a sociopath/psychopath, named The Psychopath Next Door.

Sometimes I wonder if I, myself, am a sociopath or a psychopath. I had asked my dad one time whether he thought I was capable of killing someone...either in the context of pre-meditated murder or "in the heat of the moment" murder. He had sad no, because I was inherently a good person. I chuckled because I was glad dad didn't think I was a nut case, but deep down I realized I didn't know the answer myself.

Social scientists believe that both hereditary and environmental factors influence whether a person is a sociopath and a psychopath. Of course it is easy to say that a personality disorder, that is considered hereditary in the medical world, would be one major influence in a person's sociopathy. Hence, knowing ancestry would be a good indicator of whether a child will be a sociopath and potentially a psychopath. Advocates for the learning perspective trace a sociopath and psychopath's evolution from birth to criminal activity. They say that the amount and quality of care a child receives when they're young greatly affects how they'll become when they are older.

The reason why I don't know the answer of whether I am a sociopath or a psychopath is because of my family dynamics. There is no way that my traditional Chinese family will tell me whether our ancestors are criminals. My family doesn't believe in personality disorders. Well, they do...but they don't believe that our family is capable of having it...since none of us have had a severe enough traumatic experience. Hence, there is no way they would believe that I would be a sociopath or a psychopath. I'd like to believe them, but it is good to keep yourself in check and make sure that the next person who pisses you off isn't going to get a knife in their back.

Coupling all the things that I mentioned above, I think it's pretty safe to say that there is an element of community awareness as well as personal reflection that can shape and influence the future of sociopathy and psychopathy studies. The whole nature and nurture debate is like asking whether the chicken or the egg came first. We're never going to get one right answer. I hope that people do not take this blog entry as a way of me simplifying a sociopath or psychopath's situation. The two terms are so complicated that there are factions of study dedicated to it. All I'm trying to say is that these things exist, and it's interesting to think about how this knowledge affects us. So what if there are sociopaths and psychopaths? Do we live on just crossing our fingers that we don't encounter any? Or do we actively seek them out and treat them like guinea pigs in a lab?

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