No, this is not a promo for a new psychological thriller from Hollywood. There seems a bit of confusion out there about what a real psychopath is…and sociopaths as well. But is there really all that much a difference? I would challenge the notion that there is.
I have interviewed psychopaths, and been interviewed myself about psychopaths and their impact on society. I have often pointed out that there not really a difference between the two and I go on to use the term psychopath for the rest of the interview. Occasionally I have had viewers on my YouTube Channel (look up Michael Cross on YouTube) protest my doing this and of course claiming I am either uninformed or deceitful. Well, I would encourage people to listen to what Dr. Kent A. Kiehl had to say about this in a discussion I had with him.
Apparently the term “sociopath” describes the same personality traits as what a psychopath possesses. The reason we hear about sociopaths is that in the era of B.F. Skinner, when behaviorism was in vogue, it was not politically correct to speak of people being born with personality traits already written into their very being; behaviorists believe humans are born essentially equal but that environment plays the key factor in making them into who they turn out to be. So if society makes a psychopath then why not use the term sociopath instead?
We may have a greater understanding of the role genetics plays on human psychology than in the 1960s but the dual terms persist in the public mind. Naturally many people, even psychologists and criminologists, have given a certain distinction to what they mean when referring to how a psychopath behaves. For instance, numerous sources will say the psychopath is more intelligent and calculating than a sociopath, the ideal Machiavellian, who can attain whatever goals they set while the sociopath is more likely to give in to temper and an immediate need for revenge against one who wrongs them. There are more differences that have “evolved” over the past few decades but I would prefer to say that they mean the same thing, and that a quick-tempered sociopath should probably be labeled a psychopath, just one with less control over their actions.
Why is it important to learn about psychopaths? Well, maybe since they are over-represented in any field that enables them to gain power or recognition – including journalism and politics. Of course one cannot say all psychopaths are evil and wishing to do bad, and that may be where childhood environment plays a critical factor. That brings up a very touchy issue, that of a near-future technology that might enable us to see which children are born with the predisposition to psychopathy. Perhaps rather than label them or stigmatize them, we might encourage a more nurturing style of parenting coupled with a strong emphasis on why living with a strong code of ethics will benefit that person in their experiences in life. Who knows, it might give us more ethical politicians in the long run.
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