What causes sociopathy?

Updated November 21, 2016

Usually, a typical sociopath isn't locked away behind bars but exists with everyone else in society. Most often, they're in places where you'd least expect it. In fact, a sociopath could be living right next door you. Sociopaths don't appear obvious as people out to hurt you. They draw others with their charm and charismatic personality, only to later cause heartache through their deception. People who are sociopaths should be avoided, as they can easily use manipulation to get whatever they want.


Also known as a psychopath, a sociopath is someone who takes advantage of others by lying, stealing and cheating, while remaining unaffected by his actions. Sociopaths suffer from an antisocial personality disorder. Characterised by behavioural abnormalities, sociopaths are people who show an inability for feeling guilt or empathy and disregard the feelings of other people. Often, they tend to be egocentric and violate moral, social and legal norms. They lack the normal restraints of fear, such as sweating, having a dry mouth and tense muscles, that constrains the behaviour of normal people from breaking the law.


Sociopaths make up about three to five per cent of the general population. Roughly three out of 100 males and one out of 100 females have the disorder, according to a 1994 publication of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).


It's not certain what causes someone to become a sociopath; however, it's believed to be caused by nature, nurture or abnormal brain activity. In other words, while some contend it's due to a genetic disposition in families, others believe it's caused by an emotional detachment in early life, causing a disconnection with society. On the other hand, it could be a combination of factors.

Genetic Factors

Studies done by well-known sociologist Dr. Lee Robins showed that if parents with the disorder increased the odds of a child inheriting the disorder. Robins found an increase of sociopathic traits, as well as alcoholism in fathers who had sociopathic children, showing environment also can be a factor. Adoption studies of related children raised in different homes showed children are able to inherit sociopathic characteristics.

Environmental Factors

In 1944, British psychiatrist John Bowlby linked antisocial personality disorder with maternal deprivation during the first five years of a child's life. Studies done by Robins in 1966 revealed that home life, school and community contributed to people having sociopathic personalities. What's more, criminal behaviour researchers Sheldon and Eleanor T. Glueck in 1968 did studies showing that mothers of children with sociopathic tendencies often lacked affection for their children and didn't discipline consistently, creating a dysfunctional home environment.

Abnormal Brain Function

A study done in 2007 at London's Institute of Psychology measured brains of six sociopaths and nine normal people. Distinct differences were found when subjects were shown images or faces showing fear. While the psychopaths had much lower brain activity, the normal participants showed a significant increase in brain function. Also, the psychopaths showed much less activation than the normal people when shown happy faces.

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