What is a sociopathic person?

Updated February 21, 2017

Societal norms set the standards for individual behaviour in terms of how we interact with others. Respect, empathy and conscience are all built-in to these norms. And while social standards play a large role in personality development, individuals who are labelled sociopathic are antisocial as far as societal norms go.


According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), a sociopath is someone who has an antisocial personality disorder. This is someone who is completely self-serving, has little to no regard for others' feelings, and has no use for societal rules of conduct. Emotionally, a sociopath experiences no remorse or regret for wrongdoing. As a result, it's difficult for someone with this disorder to maintain ongoing relationships.

Behavioural Characteristics

The DSM-IV defines antisocial personality disorder as "...a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood." While someone may exhibit questionable behaviours at times, a personality disorder isn't apparent unless these behaviours are carried out on a consistent basis over a long period of time. Physical aggression and abusive behaviours---either physical or sexual---are characteristic of someone with this disorder.

Causative Factors

Antisocial personality disorder can be caused by genetic and environmental factors, including having parents who were sociopaths or enduring an abusive childhood. Statistically, men are more likely to become antisocial than women, with 3 per cent of men and 1 per cent of women affected by it. People with an alcoholic parent are also at a higher risk of acquiring antisocial behaviour traits. Setting fires and exhibiting cruelty to animals are characteristics of children inclined to develop these traits.

Theoretical Basis

Psychoanalytic theory attributes a sociopath's behaviour to an underdeveloped ego caused by parental rejection during childhood. When basic needs for security and love remain unmet, a person's sense of "conscience" is stunted. Ego represents a person's sense of right and wrong and affects his ability to control his impulses. In the case of antisocial behaviour, a weak ego means the weaker "id" portion of a person's psyche is directing his actions. The id has a childlike nature, meaning selfishness and immediate gratification become the person's primary motivations.


Personality traits found in a sociopathic person are much like other traits, meaning they determine how a person interacts with the world around her. Sociopaths are often charming and personable, but this behaviour typically serves their need to manipulate others. Rather than considering the rights and feeling of others, the antisocial individual views people as objects, or rather as a means to an end. It's not uncommon for them to engage in pathological lying, promiscuity, drug use and compulsive gambling.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Jacquelyn Jeanty has worked as a freelance writer since 2008. Her work appears at various websites. Her specialty areas include health, home and garden, Christianity and personal development. Jeanty holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Purdue University.