Lion of the Blogosphere

Psychopaths, sociopaths, fMRIs, and politics

What’s the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath? The Wikipedia article on Psychopathy implies that psychopathy is popular term for sociopathic personality disorder. If there is a distinction between the two in how they are used, it merely seems to me that “psychopaths” are more successful at being sociopathic than mere “sociopaths,” but that’s not a very good distinction. The term “psychopath” brings to mind the psycho-killer, which I think obscures the facts that there are many psychopaths who have avoided the criminal justice system and lead what others assume are normal lives.

My definition of the psychopathic/sociopathic personality (based on reading the book the Sociopath Next Door) is that these people have no empathy for others and no morals. I think that psychopaths/sociopaths have a tendency to be bold and disinhibited because our internal moral compass (including shame and guilt) is what causes cautious behavior, and that such boldness is merely a side effect of having no morals.

Aspergery people also lack empathy, but the differences are that (1) psychopaths/sociopaths are able to read emotions and behaviors of other people while aspergery people are clueless; and (2) aspergery people do have a morals even though they lack empathy, and we rarely see aspergery people involved in criminal activities. Also, aspergery people are very bad at lying while psychopaths/sociopaths are very good at lying.

Psychopaths/sociopath are best described with the adjective of “evil,” even though you rarely see psychologists or psychiatrists using that word because they don’t like it. However, if you think about it, the concept of evil is very old, and no doubt if 4% of people today are psychopaths/sociopaths, that has been true for as long as the term “evil” existed, and “evil” was used to describe those people.

Besides their psychopathy/sociopathy, these people may have any other personality traits that regular people have. They may have high IQ or low IQ, high future-time-orientation or low-future-time-orientation, be extroverted or introverted, but ambitious or lazy, etc.

Psychopaths/sociopaths are more likely to be criminals because most people avoid committing crimes because they know that certain behavior is wrong. Psychopaths/sociopaths don’t see anything as being inherently wrong for them to do, they only avoid committing crimes because they don’t want to go to prison. Psychopaths/sociopaths with low IQ and low-future-time orientation are almost guaranteed to wind up in prison.

Psychopaths/sociopaths with high IQ and who are ambitious are likely to do very well in corporate America where sociopathic behavior is rewarded with promotions instead of unemployment. I believe this explains Carly Fiorina perfectly, but it’s believed that psychopaths/sociopaths are very disproportionately represented among top corporate executives.

People are born psychopaths/sociopaths (or at least at manifests in childhood), and parents of these people would know their children have this disorder, but parents almost always protect their children instead of warning society about the danger that their children pose.

A commenter sent me a link to a proposal that all politicians should be tested for psychopathy. And then I discovered that there may be a way to detect psychopathy through fMRI scans, which is fascinating proof that psychopathy/sociopathy is a biological condition of the brain, heavily influenced by genes, rather than the result of bad parenting or lack of quality time with a shrink.

It sounds to me like the fMRI scan needs a little more research before it’s ready to test politicians. We need to verify that it can identify the high-functioning psychopaths in corporate management in addition to psychopathic criminals. But it sounds like an intriguing possibility that evil could be detected by an fMRI scan, and we could prevent evil people from being politicians or running corporations.

Written by Lion of the Blogosphere

September 22, 2015 at 10:32 am

Posted in Psychology

60 Responses

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  1. I’m not sure that you’d want to exclude psychopaths from corporate offices. If you think about what you’d do once one has been identified you’re either executing them, exiling them to an island, or restricting their ambition to areas outside of government control.

    Given that the first two options are unlikely to be acceptable to general public it follows that letting psychopaths make a lot of money and indulge their hedonism from executive positions is the least harmful choice.


    September 22, 2015 at 11:13 am

    • From executive positions? They can do a lot more damage there.

      How about infantry? The military actually needs people with no compunction about killing (and has written on how to use them).


      September 26, 2015 at 6:10 pm

  2. If you’re interested in psychopathy, I’d recommend the following two books:

    “The Psychopath Test”, by Jon Ronson
    “The Wisdom of Psychopaths”, by Kevin Dutton.

    They really need to be read one after the other. When reading Dutton, I was deeply impressed at his conclusions, which made a lot of sense, but not at the fact that he seemed to be basing it on very little actual research. While reading Ronson, on the other hand, I was deeply impressed at his research and interviews, but he never seemed to take them anywhere. Ronson’s research, combined with Dutton’s conclusions, would be a very good intro in how to look at the topic.


    September 22, 2015 at 11:15 am

  3. Whose going to employ or marry a certified psychopath? I don’t think testing will work. You can’t discriminate against them just because they don’t care for other people’s feelings as long as they don’t commit crimes.

    I had an infection in my thigh and went to an emergency room. Two Bosnian doctors claimed that local anesthesia wouldn’t work and offered me a general or none. I didn’t want a general, so they cut me raw. That was some neat experience! I’ve never been in such pain in my life. I think they just wanted to bill for anestisia but I could see that they enjoyed cutting me. If they were tested, they would have never ended up in either medicine or the US and the progressive media would scream discrimination and racism. Won’t work.


    September 22, 2015 at 11:26 am

    • Why didn’t you go to another emergency room rather than let the Bosnians mistreat you?


      September 22, 2015 at 1:08 pm

      • 1. The truth is, I wanted to try it without anesthesia. In ‘War and Peace’ Count Bolkonsky has his arm amputee and I wanted to feel his agony and pain.

        2. Time is money, I have to work, can’t just run around emergency rooms wasting time.


        September 22, 2015 at 1:26 pm

      • Yakov, I never thought I’d say this, but you really need to get into BDSM. There are healthier ways to indulge this than surgery without anesthesia.


        September 26, 2015 at 6:11 pm

    • Can we all agree that the person (s) responsible for that huge price increase from 14-750 dollars per pill is/are very evil greedy people. Certainly they are psychopaths.


      September 22, 2015 at 2:51 pm

      • I’m not sure. Years of working in a corporate environment trains non-psychopaths to think only in terms of profit.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        September 22, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    • Was the infection contracted from your HVAC work? If so, just another unfortunate (& unrecognized & uncompensated?) example of the hazards of blue collar work.

      E. Rekshun

      September 22, 2015 at 5:25 pm

      • Nothing to do with HVAC. I assumed it’s a Divine punishment and a call for reflection and repentance. Even though you can’t be sure, but it’s better than running to sue someone.


        September 23, 2015 at 9:23 pm

  4. Psychopaths/sociopaths with high IQ and who are ambitious are likely to do very well in corporate America… I believe this explains Carly Fiorina perfectly,

    I don’t think so. Her ex didn’t make the slam dunk case you seem to think. For instance, he was whining that she calmly told him that she would never see him again. Dude, they’re getting a divorce and they have no kids. Why on earth would she ever see him again?

    And it’s like with Newt Gingrich’s ex, who wouldn’t shut up about him. After all this time, it looks pathetic. And she had something to say beyond “my ex was socially awkward”!

    Go after her on the outsourcing and the fact that she was a terrible businesswoman. Her terrible record on economics and immigration. Everything, basically. This…is reaching.


    September 22, 2015 at 11:31 am

  5. I think that psychopathy is highly genetic so I don’t think that every child is a born psychopath. I do think that psychopaths, at least the intelligent ones, often rise to high status and that high status individuals (such as politicians and corporate executives) not only in our society but in most past societies are often psychopaths.

    Someone like Joseph Stalin was remarkable for his lack of empathy both for people he had had long associations with but even for his own children. He refused to exchange a German gneral for his own son who had been captured by the Germans. He arrested and imprisoned the wife of his long time associate Molotov on a ridiculous charge of treason.


    September 22, 2015 at 11:49 am

    • Stalin’s son died in a German prison camp although the Germans were eager to exchange him for high ranking Germans held by the Soviets. Stalin seemed to be completely indifferent to his son’s fate.


      September 22, 2015 at 11:56 am

    • Stalin was right in treating his son like any other lieutenant. You think a president should give his son preferential treatment? Why?


      September 22, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      • In fact, it’s reported that he had said: ‘I don’t exchange a lieutenant for a general’.


        September 22, 2015 at 12:09 pm

      • Stalin, in that case, made the right call, but the fact he made it so dispassionately indicates that he had almost practically no concern for his life.

        Mao’s son died during the Korean War. When he heard that, he went quiet for a moment before saying, “In war, casualties are to be expected. This is nothing.” He never showed any concern about that ever again.


        September 22, 2015 at 2:08 pm

      • Whether Staliw was rigjt or wrong in some abstract (and basically meaningless) sense his reaction showe his utter indifference even to his own children.


        September 23, 2015 at 8:29 am

      • I think Stalin set a good example to other world leaders in how to treat their children. He gave them no preferential treatment, they worked and served in the army like everyone else and he left them no inheritance because he had no personal assets.


        September 25, 2015 at 12:50 am

    • I was just think about this earlier. Makes me wonder what percentage of psychopaths harm even those genetically related to themselves (Ed Kemper is another instance, although he was far more brutal).

      Lion of the Judah-sphere

      September 27, 2015 at 3:08 pm

      • I was thinking specifically of Stalin after reading “Stalin: Breaker of Nations” by Robert Conquest (cool name!)

        Lion of the Judah-sphere

        September 27, 2015 at 3:10 pm

  6. This is definitely one of your better blog posts. I agree that sociopaths and psychopaths are used interchangeably, and the term that better describes the condition they describe is “evil”. I didn’t know about the fMRI scans, so I learned something.


    September 22, 2015 at 11:56 am

    • It’s a solid post, but not as good as the ‘Pizza Rat’. I’ve worked with psychopaths my whole life, so not much new here, but I never saw Chinese cooking rats or Indians worshiping them until that ‘Pizza Rat’ post.

      Incidentally, in the brokerage firm where I’d spent 10 years, we called our cycling club ‘Cyclepaths’ and had t-shirts with that logo. Very appropriate, lol! I commuted by bike 22 miles every day. Those were the days!


      September 22, 2015 at 12:20 pm

  7. WebMD says the difference between psychopath and sociopath is that psychopaths are “skilled actors whose sole mission is to manipulate people for personal gain”. It said “Psychopaths are more ‘cold-hearted’ and calculating. They carefully plot their moves, and use aggression in a planned-out way to get what they want.” Sociopaths, on the other hand “make it plain that they’re not interested in anyone but themselves.” Experts see sociopaths as “hot-headed” and “act without thinking how others will be affected.” The article also says psychopaths have no conscience and feel no remorse but that sociopaths do and may even feel remorse. Though a sociopath’s conscience doesn’t stop them from doing what they know is wrong. Psychopaths are hard to spot and have to be rooted out. But you know a sociopath when you see one.

    “Aspergery people also lack empathy”

    Aspies lack ’emotional empathy’. Due to social deficits, aspies lack what’s called ’emotional contagion’ which is an automatic response to another person’s emotions. You can’t really blame someone for something they don’t have the ability to recognize. Aspies do, however, have ‘cognitive empathy’. For example, if they read about someone’s experiences battling cancer or being abused they’ll understand it on an intellectual level and feel as much empathy as anyone else. So it’s not so much the inability to feel empathy as an inability to identify another person’s state of mind in interpersonal relations.


    September 22, 2015 at 11:56 am

    • Your description of sociopathy sounds to be me more like a general description of anti-social personality disorder. And “They carefully plot their moves, and use aggression in a planned-out way to get what they want” sounds like a description of someone who has sociopathy but also a higher IQ and better future-time-orientation, which are traits independent of a lack of morals and empathy.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      September 22, 2015 at 12:06 pm

      • That”s because there is no official diagnosis for psychopathy. It actually falls under ‘anti-social personality disorder’.


        September 22, 2015 at 12:11 pm

      • psychopathy should be sociopathy in that last comment


        September 22, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    • The cold bagel with cream cheese vs the pippin hot pizza!


      September 22, 2015 at 12:27 pm

      • The cold bagel with cream cheese vs the pippin hot pizza!

        Both are 100% prole!


        September 22, 2015 at 4:09 pm

    • Again, your description of psychopaths is really a description of straight out evil.

      Your description of sociopaths makes it sound more like a personality order. The normal person is sadistic to some degree, but controls it. Sociopaths can’t control this, though they may want to.


      September 22, 2015 at 2:08 pm

  8. An interesting sci-fi fantasy world would be one where you could identify abnormally evil people by brain scans, in early childhood, and they are then taken away from their parents and executed or exiled.

    Would this make for a better society, or would there be some awful hidden consequence (maybe humans need human predators)? Would the parents try to resist?


    September 22, 2015 at 11:59 am

  9. At some point we’ll be able to use fMRI to solve the problems of the death penalty — namely, that it takes too long to execute people, and that there is a small risk of executing the innocent. Do the fMRI, and if they thus admit their guilt, take them immediately to the execution chamber.

    You could even think of extending the process to “ordinary crimes” and thus eliminating a lot of the trouble and expense of the justice system. No need for lawyers and juries and lengthy trials, just stick ’em in the fMRI and bingo you have your answer.


    September 22, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    • This argument uses strange logic.

      The situation where a fMRI brain scan is valid in detecting something like psychopathy, is a situation where psychopathy is produced by a brain abnormality. Psychopaths are very dangerous and destructive people, who are hard to detect without a brain scan. If the brain abnormality can’t be corrected, its literally defensible for a society to screen children for this abnormality and isolate or execute them. There would be no need to wait until a crime has been committed, and its better to do this as early in life as possible before the children would know what is going on.

      People can be convicted of crimes for a variety of reasons. They may be normally law abiding but lost it in a particular situation (we have a term “crimes of passion”). They may belong to a criminal gang or family because their families were or that is what people did in their neighborhood. They may be doing something that really shouldn’t be illegal. They might have not have even committed the crime, but framed by some psychopath. Brain structure is irrelevant.

      You seem to be falling for the common American belief that everyone convicted of a crime must be a bad person, and irredeemable.


      September 22, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      • An fMRI brain scan can detect it when a normal brain is engaged in lying. If you put them in the scanner and asked them enough of the right questions about the crime, then you would know whether or not they did it.

        The scan would not determine their motive, but the fact that they did it. Sentencing would take into account motive and circumstances.

        People convicted of crimes ARE bad. They should receive some punishment regardless of motive. Whether or not they are redeemable is an open question, but the recidivism rate indicates many criminals are, in fact, irredeemable.


        September 22, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      • Ed you are cold as ice.You talk of killing children the way most people think of killing an ant infestation.



        September 22, 2015 at 3:02 pm

  10. Psychopathy is NOT a disorder. It’s an evolved trait.

    Psychopathy = feature.
    Autism/Asperger’s = bug.

    Indeed, the x% of people are psychopaths is wholly dependent on where you set your cutoff. Psychopathic traits are continuously distributed in the population. It’s a dimension of personality – the Honest-humility of the HEXACO.

    Indeed, what we call “psychopathic” behavior is in fact normal clannish behavior.


    Predictions on the Worldwide Distribution of Personality


    September 22, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    • Maybe clan-leaders would tend to be psychopaths, but lower-ranking clan-members wouldn’t and couldn’t be. The clan-leaders would kill them. Do you maintain that our Western psychopaths would treat their clan-members non-callously/manipulatively if they belonged to clans, but that since they don’t belong to clans they treat everyone callously/manipulatively? This can’t be true, since our Western psychopaths have terrorized their own parents and siblings since toddlerhood. On the “HEXACO” system — honesty and humility are entirely unrelated virtues; moreover, any lower-ranking clan-member would be required to exhibit humility. Do you maintain that this would be a mere pose of humility, a fake humility? But such posing would tend to be discovered, and the poser punished.


      September 22, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      • @garr:

        ” Do you maintain that our Western psychopaths would treat their clan-members non-callously/manipulatively if they belonged to clans, but that since they don’t belong to clans they treat everyone callously/manipulatively? This can’t be true, since our Western psychopaths have terrorized their own parents and siblings since toddlerhood.”

        Psychopaths act nepotistically, generally. This may be because they had clannish individuals in the study, but I don’t expect WEIRDO psychopaths to be much different in that respect.

        ” On the “HEXACO” system — honesty and humility are entirely unrelated virtues;”

        If they were unrelated, they wouldn’t be in the same personality dimension.


        September 22, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    • Amazing article, Jayman. I’m going to read it a few times.


      September 23, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    • I think they’re both adaptations to previously existing situations, and psychopathy is still adaptive in many situations whereas Asperger’s no longer is. Asperger’s lets you learn the name and properties of every plant in the forest or become a great woodcutter, but is now a problem when your whole job is kissing up to people. Psychopathy is quite useful in the corporate world.

      Have you ever seen any evidence psychopaths don’t mistreat their clanmates? Traditional cultures are full of myths about bad people who hurt others and are punished (look at wicked stepmothers and brothers in Grimm’s fairy tales).


      September 26, 2015 at 6:17 pm

      • @SFG:

        Autism? An adaptation to what? How are social deficits ever adaptive?

        Click on the given link for evidence (always wise before asking if someone has evidence of their claim).


        September 27, 2015 at 12:15 am

      • If the genes which caused autism were purely bad, they would have all been culled from the gene pool.

        Lion of the Blogosphere

        September 27, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      • They are being culled. That’s how genetic load works. The cause of autism and most common mental disorders are a multitude of rare deleterious mutations (individually rare but collectively common). These mutations are slowly being weeded out of the gene pool, but of course, new mutations keep popping up. The result is these syndromes existing a low equilibrium frequency. See Keller & Miller (2006):

        Resolving the paradox of common, harmful, heritable mental disorders: Which evolutionary genetic models work best?


        September 27, 2015 at 4:31 pm

      • Autism? An adaptation to what?

        Before you ask that, ask whether autism is being over-diagnosed. Is it?

        The Undiscovered Jew

        September 27, 2015 at 8:11 pm

  11. My impression (take this a big grain of salt) is that sociopath and psychopath developed distinct meanings in popular usage which don’t match any distinction that researchers would make, and that most researchers prefer psychopath to the exclusion of sociopath. I think that in the popular imagination, “psychopath” became associated with serial killers, including a garrishly extreme thirst for blood; Norman Bates being a good example. Subsequently, a somewhat subtler impression of antisocial personality disorder began to permeate into the public consciousness, and it didn’t feel right to use the same word that describes a serial killer; that is, intuitively “psychopath” seems a bit over the top for someone like Carly Fiorina. Thus, there was an appetite which was fulfilled by the alternative technical term, sociopath. Popular usage seems distinct enough that I might say that while Hannibal Lecter is just a psychopath, and Carly Fiorina is just a sociopath, Ted Bundy was both.

    This being the case, use of the term psychopathy for the full range of psychopaths/sociopaths has a distinctly technical sound to it.

    Greg Pandatshang

    September 22, 2015 at 2:24 pm

  12. Lion, in that book does it say if p-s/paths know that they have this personality, that they are p-s/paths, that they are bad? If yes, do they consider having this personality an advantage or a hindrance?


    September 22, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    • Psychopathic individuals don’t want to change, and they view the morality of normal people as weakness to be exploited.

      And of course they have access to Google just like I do, so I’m sure that higher-IQ psychopaths can easily learn about psychopathy.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      September 22, 2015 at 2:36 pm

  13. Throughout all of history nations were governed by sociopaths. In the days of warrior aristocracy it was the most ruthless conquerers who ascended to the throne and became King. No doubt many of their heirs inherited their lust for power. But at least they were honest about it. Modern democracy merely gives people the illusion that they are free, while manipulative psychopaths rule from behind the scenes..

    Who is really more evil? Attila the Hun or George Soros?


    September 22, 2015 at 4:12 pm

    • The real comparison would be Attila the Hun or Hitler or Stalin.


      September 26, 2015 at 6:18 pm

  14. This sociopath/psychopath stuff seems to be a rehashing of the Authoritarian Personality ideas that took hold in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Ironically, Freudianism does a very good job identifying the modern Leftist, which is why Freudianism became discredited.

    I’ve always understood a psychopath as someone who cannot perceive reality correctly and a sociopath as someone who hates people.


    September 22, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    • See, you are confusing psychopathy with psychosis. Which is why “psychopath” is a bad word because it confuses laypeople.

      Lion of the Blogosphere

      September 22, 2015 at 6:46 pm

      • As is “antisocial,” because in the psych world it basically means psychopathic, and not introverted or aspie which is how laymen use the term.


        September 22, 2015 at 11:50 pm

  15. Lion, you don’t agree with Jayman so let us here why. I don’t agree either, but I’m not smart enough to argue with him. Discuss it guys.


    September 22, 2015 at 4:25 pm

    • Yakov, in case you are fishing for compliments, let me say that I think that on this subject you are of course smart enough to argue. If LOTB and Jayman do argue, I predict that Jayman will win, not because he is smarter, but because he has thought longer about psychopaths. You see, there are societies that succeed for a while because they have many psychopaths, and there are other societies that succeed because they have many people who really really hate psychopaths. Jayman may or may not have thought about that specific fact, but he has thought about similar facts. To tell the truth, I think it takes about thirty years of study to be able to be accurate on the historical implications of this, but decent people with common sense can easily discuss the issue intelligently, albeit without the academic footnotes that get you your sad little assistant professor salary at a school that nobody respects (that is, at every English speaking school that is not Oxford or Cambridge – and the professors there don’t get paid enough to boost their standing in society very much, either). Historians to consult on this include Christopher Dawson, Oswald Spengler, King Solomon, Isaiah, Saint Luke, maybe Tacitus, Maimonides, and Chateaubriand. Carly Fiorina is almost certainly not a psychopath or a sociopath for the simple reason that if she supported the killing of babies she would be the frontrunner in the Democrat party right now, and she is smart enough to know that. LOTB knows this too, but I think that some pro-life dude stole a hot Jewish girlfriend from him at some point in the past. I am otherwise mystified at his pro-abortion-clinic stance.

      howitzer daniel

      September 22, 2015 at 9:33 pm

  16. I think I read somewhere that psychologists & psychiatrists that use the term “psychopath” believe that the bad (evil) behavior is mostly due to genetic brain malfunction. Shrinks that use the term “sociopath” believe that the bad (evil) behavior is mostly due to upbringing and social influences.

    Lotb: Psychopaths/sociopaths with low IQ and low-future-time orientation are almost guaranteed to wind up in prison.

    Does the very high number of black males in prison indicate a high incidence of low IQ among black males?

    Psychopaths/sociopaths with high IQ and who are ambitious are likely to do very well in corporate America…

    Does the very low number of black males in the upper levels of corporate America indicate low IQ among black males?

    E. Rekshun

    September 22, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    • Yes, they make that distinction in “Snakes in Suits”. They forget that every personality trait is at least 80% genetically determined!

      Lion of the Judah-sphere

      September 22, 2015 at 11:23 pm

  17. I’m trying to follow the thread of this blog. Was the NYC rat a sociopath or a psychopath? Or, because it seemed rather shy, maybe it was just an aspie.

    Mark Caplan

    September 22, 2015 at 6:23 pm

  18. Psychopaths lie, are often charming, and have low anxiety.


    September 22, 2015 at 6:27 pm

  19. For those interested in psychopaths, the entirety of “Snakes in Suits” is online! Wait, can I say that?

    Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton is very good, as someone mentioned above.

    Another important distinction to make is between anti-social personality disorder and psychopathy.

    Lion of the Judah-sphere

    September 22, 2015 at 11:21 pm

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