Psychopathy and ASPD
Where do they overlap, and where do they divide?
ASPD is a well known construct, as is psychopathy. In today’s world it is normal to run across things that will make claims about psychopathy, sociopathy, and ASPD all being the same thing. However, even in the most simplistic of terms, they are not the same thing, and really, they aren’t much alike at all. I will address sociopathy later on, as it deserves it’s own article. For now, let’s focus on ASPD and psychopathy.
Let’s start here. Psychopathy is a variant brain structure. If you really want to dig into this aspect of it, you may do so with the link below. It is heavily detailed and extensive. It’s a big read, but it is incredibly informative. If not, I will give the readers digest version below.
Psychopathy exists in two different realms. The first we will go into is the psychiatric realm. This is pretty much entirely focused on the criminal psychopaths.
Psychopathy is not an all-or-nothing occurrence. There are a number of ways that it can be present, from a dangerous criminal to a hyper-focused surgeon. Studies on psychopathy are done in prisons and in hospitals. This means that the cohort that is being studied is by definition criminal. A good number of criminal psychopaths are low-functioning. I will address the number of criminal psychopaths in a future post.
What this translates to is possibly lower intelligence, inability to predict the consequences of their actions, and most importantly, impulse control problems. “Why does it matter?” you might ask. If aliens arrived on this planet and were assessing the quality of the neurotypical human race based on the examples found in prison, would that be a good representation? No, of course not. It isn’t with psychopaths either.
Psychopathy is housed under the DSM-V category of ASPD. Sociopathy has been placed there as well. Neither one have any business being there. How that came to be can be found here;
The second realm that psychopathy is studied under is the neurobiology and neuroscience realm. This is where the study of the variant brain structure comes into play. This brain structure is the reason that we lack certain experiences. A large component of this can relate back to two separate things. One is how the brain processes chemistry such as oxytocin. The oxytocin receptor in a psychopathic brain is mutated, therefore the oxytocin doesn’t bind to it. A lot of people think that psychopaths lack oxytocin. That isn’t the case, it doesn’t get processed, but it is present.
Oxytocin is responsible for some very important aspects of the neurotypical experience. Oxytocin is what causes people to feel chemical love, trust, bonding, it is responsible for jealousy, and also it helps with facial memory and facial recognition. All of this is either impaired in psychopathy, or absent all together. I still have some facial recognition and facial memory because this is not solely governed by oxytocin. I do not have chemical love, bonding, trust, or jealousy however.
The next part is the brain structure of psychopathy versus what is considered normal. There are several areas that are reduced in size. As Kevin Dutton said about the psychopathic amygdala, it is understaffed, and by that he means it is about eighteen percent smaller than neurotypicals.
The emotional processing that happens in the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala, the executive suite of the brain is greatly diminished in a psychopathic brain. A psychopath will never get depressed, they will never have suicidal ideations, cannot feel fear, will never have self doubt, have low self esteem, will never have emotional empathy, as well as many others. I will do a psychopathic emotion post in the future, but for now this is a decent list. You can see some more of them by clicking the link at the bottom of the answer.
ASPD is one of those things. I am currently looking at as a trait collection that, instead of being representative of a condition on its own, is more the manifestation of antisocial traits that can be present in a number of conditions.
For instance, a person that is psychopathic can have antisocial traits that manifest due to epigenetic switches that are thrown during rearing. Their motivation for behaving in the way that they do is motivated by psychopathic reasoning. However, if a person with histrionic personality disorder manifests antisocial traits, they would be similar in behavior but have different motivating factors. This was beautifully illustrated by Quoran, Robert Porter. He states in his answer to the question;
The most misunderstood thing about psychopathy is a distinction that professionals have failed to make and as a result the general population doesn’t understand either. There are two schools of thought about psychopathic traits, and the two are often meshed together.
The first school of thought is the neurobiological traits a psychopath contains which affect the way they are wired. These traits would be things such as lack of fear, lack of empathy, lack of prosocial emotions, inability to feel the emotion love, inability to form attachments. None of these statements speak of behavior, only cognitive capabilities.
The second school of thought deals with behavioral psychology and tends to stray away from the condition as a neurobiological issue. This is where conjecture is formed on how a person’s behavior will manifest if they have psychopathy. People begin to be assigned psychopathic traits with no distinction made about the trait’s origin or the underlying cause to its manifestation.
Anyone can behave in a certain way for a variety of different reasons. We could say lack of empathy is a psychopathic trait, but narcissists lack empathy for a completely different reason than psychopaths. A narcissist lacks empathy because they view others as inferior. There is a common quote attributed to a psychopath which says “Do I feel bad when I hurt someone? Yeah, sometimes. But mostly it's just like... uh... (laughs). I mean, how did you feel the last time you squashed a fly?” That person could be a psychopath using an example to illustrate a point, but if they were being literal, then their lack of empathy is a result of narcissism.
The traits manifestation is purely psychological, but people could claim that this trait is psychopathic, because there is no distinction made between behavioral psychology with the rest of the field.
If this distinction were made, we would see that there are psychopaths in all walks of life with different personalities. The psychopathy checklist (PCL-R) is somewhat accurate in determining a certain subset of psychopaths, but it doesn’t do the rest of them any justice.
This is a great description of psychopathic versus antisocial traits. The traits that make up actual psychopathy are as follows:
Coolness under pressure
These are the true aspects of psychopathy. The antisocial traits are as follows:
Poor behavioral controls
Promiscuous sexual behavior
Early behavior problems
Lack of realistic long-term goals
Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
Many short term marital relationships
Revocation of conditional release
Comparing the two lists, you can see there is a fundamental difference. The first list deals with intrapersonal traits—in other words, how the mind works and how the person views the world from the outside in. The second one is a list of behaviors, not about how a mind works. You can view the world with the first list, but nothing on it determines that there will be any behavior from the second list displayed by that person.
That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, but there is no correlation between the two. On the other hand, the second list of behaviors wouldn’t be limited to one type of person; it is instead a list that would suit any criminal. Also, you may note that none of the lists has to do with things like anxiety, which is interesting in and of itself. A person that has antisocial traits may experience anxiety, but a psychopath cannot. It is one of many fundamental differences between the diagnoses.
I think another aspect that needs to be addressed is cause of different aspects. They differ based on the condition. Think of empathy, or a lack thereof, as an example.
It’s interesting. Many things can lack empathy, but that is just the manifestation of that thing. It is the motivation behind it that is really what should be looked at.
In psychopathy, it is lack of the brain structure.
In sociopathy, it was a response to protect the person from pain and suffering.
In narcissism, it is to be able to service the ego needs and protect them from seeing themselves in a negative light.
If you look at the conditions and see a lack of empathy, it is easy to say all of them are similar. However, the moment you look at why they lack that empathy, you see that they are vastly different. The problem with many aspects of research is that they are looking at a red herring, really.
Yes, they have identified a lack, but that is where they stopped looking. A lack of empathy is a signifier. So while its identification is important, not digging deeper is both lazy and misleading when it comes to understanding the actual conditions.
If you want to have any hope of addressing these issues, you have to see what causes them. I think that antisocial behaviors are definitely something that can be addressed and changed, but why they are there, what causes them—it all is a huge part of this overall picture.
Those traits are a hindrance to anyone with them. It would be best to figure out how to change the behaviors in the condition itself for better functioning of society.