To answer today’s question, we’re turning to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and Encyclopedia Britannica. Sociopathy and psychopathy are both defined in the DSM as types of anti-social personality disorders, which are characterized by a “pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others.”
When it comes to the differences between the two conditions, Encyclopedia Britannica writes:
Among persons who display APD, those called psychopaths are distinguished by a nearly complete inability to form genuine emotional attachments to others; a compensating tendency to form artificial and shallow relationships, which the psychopath cynically exploits or manipulates to benefit himself; a corresponding ability to appear glib and even charming to others; an ability in some psychopaths to maintain the appearance of a normal work and family life; and a tendency to carefully plan criminal activities to avoid detection.
Sociopaths, in contrast, are generally capable of developing a close attachment to one or a few individuals or groups, though they too generally have severe difficulties in forming relationships. Sociopaths are also usually incapable of anything even remotely resembling a normal work or family life, and, in comparison to psychopaths, they are exceptionally impulsive and erratic and more prone to rage or violent outbursts. Accordingly, their criminal activities tend to be spur-of-the-moment rather than carefully premeditated.
How about nature vs. nurture? Environmental and biological factors play a role in the makeup of both the sociopath and psychopath. However, according to Encyclopedia Britannica,
It is generally agreed that psychopathy is chiefly a genetic or inherited condition, notably related to the underdevelopment of parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and impulse control. The most-important causes of sociopathy, in contrast, lie in physical or emotional abuse or severe trauma experienced during childhood.
In short: “Psychopaths are born, and sociopaths are made.”