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Psychological Reports, 1980, 47, 15-21.

@ Psychological Reports 1980

DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN PSYCHOPATHIC, SOCIOPATHIC AND


ANTI-SOCIAL PERSONALITY DISORDERS1

LOUIS B. SCHLESINGER
Pair Oaks Hospital, Summit, New Jersey

St~mmary.-Relevant distinctions between the concepts of psychopathic,


sociopathic and anti-social personalities are discussed in this paper. The focus
is briefly on the dynamics, purpose, and meaning of the criminal act itself
rather than on subjective impressions such as empathy or egocentricity. Other
relevant factors rhat differentiate the three groups are type of crime, motive,
length of prison term, presence of psychiatric symptoms, and social environment.
Case material is presented to illustrate the points.

A perennial and unresolved issue in the field of criminal psychopathology


has been the confusion in diagnosing individuals whose personalities bring them
repeatedly into conflict with society. Terms such as "psychopath and "socio-
path" have often been considered synonymous for all sorts of behaviors ranging
from egocentricity ( 7 ) to murder ( 17). These concepts have been "officially"
replaced ( 1 ) by such terms as anti-social personality, group delinquent reaction,
unsocialized aggressive reaction, dysocial behavior, and more recently other
labeling has been added such as conduct disorder ( 2 ) . However, the addition of
more labels seems merely to add to the confusion. It is common knowledge that
all of these terms have been, at best, used inconsistently and constitute essentially
a plethora of "diagnosis" placed on individuals who may (or may not) have
come in conflict with society's standards.
The purpose of this paper is to make a modest contribution towards
clarifying distinctions between the psychopathic, sociopathic, and anti-social
personality. A classificatory approach is offered based on behavior rather than
on personality description. A brief historical review of prior descriptive-
classificatory schemata will first be presented since many of these views have
become classic.
Prichard ( 2 2 ) was one of the first to describe the conditions he called
"moral insanity" or "moral imbecility." He states:
There is a form of mental derangement in which the intellectual functions a p p e a to have
sustained little or no injury, while the disorder is manifested principally or alone in the
state of feelings, temper and habits. The moral or active principles of the mind are
strangely perverted or depraved . . . The power of self government is lost . . . The
individual is found to be incapable of conducting himself with decency and propriety
in the business of life.

'Request reprints from Louis B. Schlesinger, Ph.D., 12 Tower Drive, Maplewood, New
Jersey 07040.
L. B. SCHLESINGER

Several early authors extended the term "psychopath" to encompass such


disorders as hysteria and obsessions ( 1 5 ) , sex deviations, psychasthenia, and de-
pression ( 1 6 ) . Henderson ( 10) included traits such as instability, queerness,
explosiveness, intuitiveness, egocentricity, and "genius" as pathognomic of the
psychopathic state. Noyes (21) argued that the defect which defines the psy-
chopathic personality lies primarily in che "connotative, emotional and character-
ological aspects of the personality. . . . There is no loss of synthesis of personality
like in psychosis." Cleckley ( 5 ) , on the other hand, believes that psychopathy
is a form of psychosis because of che lack of integration of the affective com-
ponents into the personality. Here, the psychosis is not one in the clinical
sense but is "masked," i.e., lies at deeper levels of the personality.
Some authors believe that the basic dismrbance of the anti-social individual
lies within the realm of affect. Guttenmacher (3) argues that psychopathic
behavior is "generally the result of affect starvation during the first years of
life . . . plus sadistic treatment in early childhood." Revitch ( 2 3 ) states that
"emotional immaturity is the basic characteristic of the psychopath . . . inability
to form deep feelings such as lasting friendships, love or for that matter, lasting
deep hatred."
The psychoanalytic school has also addressed these issues. Karpman ( 14)
believes the existence of a separate enticy such as psychopathy or criminality
is more apparent than real. Instead, he suggests that such cases are manifesta-
tions of neurosis or schizophrenia. The true psychopathic state (primary psy-
chopathy or anethopathy) is a manifestation of a poorly developed superego
(12, 1 3 ) . Lindner (18, 19) suggests that the genesis of psychopathy and be-
havior disorders results from psychosexual immaturity and fixation at the
pre-genital stage. Fenichel ( 6 ) , on the other hand, believes these disorders
are "impulse neuroses" and the goal of these individuals is release of tension.
Recent trends have taken several directions. Some authors have again
questioned the fruitfulness of a separate concept and have relegated asocial
behavior to manifestations of other more "acceptable" diagnoses such as schizo-
phrenia, anxiety states, etc. A different approach has been to break down
criminal behavior into very distinct categories, e.g., dysocial vs anti-social. This
has also resulted in minimal success ( 2 4 ) . Some continue to re-evaluate the
problem ( 3 ) while others continue to study various aspects of criminality
without a superstructure on which to place their observation (4, 9, 2 6 ) .
The time is propitious to offer such a superstructure. The relegation of
our observations to manifestations of entities with which we are more familiar
or the execution of experiments ( 2 0 ) without first knowing on what we are
experimenting will only serve to perpetuate chaos. A restructuring of the
knowledge we now possess into a more organized and simplified system is the
necessary first step.
DISTINCTIONS I N PERSONALITY DISORDERS

PROPOSEDCLASSIFICATORY SCHEMA
The following is an attempt to draw important distinctions between psy-
chopathic, sociopathic, and anti-social per~onalities.~A clear differentiation of
these individuals according to overt behavior and motivations will serve as a
starting point.
Psychopath.-Psychopathy (as defined in this paper) is a condition we
really know very little about because psychopaths, typically, do not get appre-
hended and examined. If they are incarcerated, it is usually for a short duration.
As stated by Revitch (23, p. 3 ) "one should be careful of not missing a psycho-
path merely because of a record of good conduct and adequate army service."
W e are referring, here, to behavior of the "con man," one engaged in swindles,
rackets or manipulation, usually with reference to "business deals." A "profes-
sional confidence man" described the qualities of a psychopath:
Not all persons can be good con men. They generally must have a winning personality,
shrewdness, agility, like the good things in life, and be too lazy to work for them, and
have great egotism. They must, first of all, be good actors. T h e whole con game is a
matter of acting. If they cannot put on this veneer of culture, they cannot make a go
of it. A confidence man must live by his wits" (25, p. 5 6 ) .
Psychopaths display (as many authors have pointed out) characteristics
such as good intelligence, loyalty to one's self, and a lack of emocional depth,
etc. However, it is not just characteristics such as these by which we recognize
a psychopath. These traits can be found, to some degree, in almost all persons
if one were to look hard enough.- What the individual does is the first step
in recognition. An example is provided in Case 1.
Case I.-A. G. is a 31-yr.-old separated white male who is serving 2 to 3 yr. in the
state prison for fraud. T h e inmate allegedly sold counterfeit stocks to prominent business-
men in the New Jersey area. Although this was his first time in prison, he was indicted
and subsequently vindicated o n four previous occasions for similar charges. T h e inmate
is a high school graduate with no stable employment record. H e states that he is a
"salesman o r a businessman." Very shortly after admittance, the inmate was assigned
a job in the kitchen. I t was discovered several weeks later that A. G. was pilfering food
and "selling" it to both inmates and guards at night. Within one month, the inmate was
transferred to a minimum security work farm from which he escaped within two w e e k .
W h e n examined at the time of admission to the state prison, he appeared very well-
groomed, polite, and began a conversation stating, "I appreciate the opportunity to speak
with such a knowledgeable man as yourself." H e vehemently denied any emotional '

disorder, although he stated he was in delicate health and was appealing to the super-
intendent to be transferred to a different prison "for medicinal reasons."
This individual is classified as a psychopath firstly because of his distinct
behavioral pattern. He may share many personality traits with many other
individuals in prison; however, the nature and motivation of his behavior is of
a markedly different quality, i.e., compared with the anti-social and sociopathic
'Because of the persistent connotations attached to these labels, it might prove more
effective to eliminate them altogether and describe asocial behavior type A, B, and C.
18 L. B. SCHLESINGER

personalities described below, and thus seems to comprise a separate diag-


nostic entity.
Anti-social personality.-Heretofore, many of those incarcerated in out
state prisons were considered psychopaths, sociopaths, anti-socials, etc. solely
because they were there. It is clear that the psychopath (as previously described
in this paper) rarely makes his way to prison. However, there is, to be sure,
a group of individuals, different in quality from the psychopath, who chronically
find themselves incarcerated. Many of these individuals will here be labeled
anti-social personalities. While the psychopath engages, for example, in con
games, the anti-social personality engages in armed robbery. The intellect of
the anti-social personality is not as keen as the psychopath's. Moreover, it
is common for the anti-social personality to look up to and try to emulate the
psychopath; however, he is usually unsuccessful. The anti-social personality
may, in a sense, be considered an "inadequate psychopath." The following
case is illustrative.
Case 2.-R. D. is a 52-yr.-old divorced white male serving two consecutive sentences in
the state prison for armed robbery. The first crime involved the robbery of a super-
market by the inmate and a female accomplice whom he met, several days before, in a
bar. R. D. was apprehended three days later when he "flashed several thousand dollars
in front of a used car salesman" who subsequently called the police. Once at prison, the
inmate became involved in various prisoners' groups and was paroled after several years.
He remained on parole approximately nine months until he decided (impulsively) to
rob a bank. He states, "I met three guys in a bar and got drunk-before I knew it,
I was inside a bank robbing it. The cops came, I drew my gun and accidently shot myself
in the yornach-they told me this is how it happened, but I really don't remember dearly."
The inmate had a history of anti-social behavior dating back to grade school where
"I was a disciplinary problem-I broke windows, refused to accept correction, got into
fights . . ." H e revealed a very unstable home life, living mostly with grandparents
since his widowed father "ran a saloon and didn't have time to take care of me." R. D.
joined the Marines at age 16 and subsequently received a dishonorable discharge for
stealing the payroll. The inmate was incarcerated most of his adult life for crimes
involving armed robbery, assault, etc
The inmate denied drug usage but admitted to using alcohol in "moderation."
Periodic depression of a reactive nature was described with one suicide attempt in 1965.
This was attributed to "stress and loneliness." Psychotic sympromatology, phobias, ideas
of reference, anxiety states, and psychosomatic manifestations were not evident. For
the past two years, the inmate has been impotent.
It is clear from this case that, while the psychopath and the anti-social
personality may have many traits in common, their behavior is of such a
different quality as to warrant a separate diagnosis. The criminality of the
psychopath is finely honed while the anti-social personality's criminal behavior
is "crude." Moreover, the personalicy disturbance is much more manifest with
the anti-social personality who admits to depression, suicidal thoughts, early
history of delinquency, etc.
DISTINCTIONS I N PERSONALITY DISORDERS 19

Differentiation of these two entities is most clearly made by examination


of the individual's behavioral dynamics. From this perspective, it is seen that
these two cases are distinct. Prior methods of classification-dealing foremost
with personality description--can easily confuse (as has so often been done)
these two domains.
Sociopath.-This category is comprised of individuals who come in conflict
with society as a result of being subjected to an environment whose values, etc.
promote asocial activity. Hinsie and Campbell ( 11) aptly describe the socio-
path as one "who is ill in terms of society and social conformity-it does not
include those whose behavior is symptomatic of a more primary personality
disturbance." Examples may include heroin addicts who commit armed
robbery for drug money or even those born into certain "crime families." Case
3 provides an illustration of the sociopath.
Case 3 . 4 . H. is a 32-~r.-oldmale heroin addict serving a 10- to 15-yr. sentence in the
state prison on the charge of armed robbery of a supermarket. The motive for his crime
was the need for money to support his habit. He had been in the state prison twice (both
times for armed robbery) and in several youth correctional facilities for offenses such as
breaking and entering and car theft. H e was born and reared in a broken home in a
dilapidated ghetto in New Jersey. Early delinquency was attribuced to "needing money
'cause my clothes weren:t up to par." The inmate stopped going to school at age 15
because "all my friends quit and I felt I didn't need it." H e resorted to break and entry
to get money, since he was unemployed.
The inmate lived with several women, and fathered a total of six children. For the
past nine years he has been using heroin regularly. H e was in and out of several drug
programs both in the community and in prison-all to no avail. H e is now active in
more drug groups, psychotherapy, and the high school equivalenq program. Except
for possession of drugs once, prison disciplinary charges have been minimal. From the
several psychiatric and psychological examinations, chere .was no evidence of psychosis,
paranoia, anxiety, psychosomatic manifestations or suicidal or phobic ideation. Strong
feelings of inadequacy were noted.
The primary factor contributing to this individual's criminal behavior
was his environment which fostered it. It is interesting to note that the be-
havior in Cases 2 and 3 (armed robbery) was the same-but the dynamics
differed. The sociopath's motives were apparent ( t o obtain drug money)
while the anti-social personality acted for less obvious reasons. While the
sociopath is subjected to an environment that fosters crime, the anti-social
personality need not be. However, the latter individual m2y seek this environ-
ment out, in terms of relationships, etc.
DISCUSSION
Despite many characteristics shared by the three groups discussed, im-
portant distinctions are also present (see Table 1 ) . Psychopathy is the entity
we know least about because "true criminals" are not caught. W e see, instead,
the inadequate criminal (the anti-social personality) in prison along with the
L. B. SCHLESINGER

TABLE 1
DISTINCTIONSBETWEEN PSYCHOPATHIC, SOCIOPATHIC
AND ANTI-SOCIALPERSONALITIES

Disorder Type of Motive Prison Psychiatric Social


Crime Term Symptoms Environment
Psychopath Con games Very clear Very short None Middle class
if at all and up, ,
mostly
Sociopath Robberies Very clear Moderate Mild Lower class
and and mostly
assaults repetitive
Anti-social Robberies Unclear Moderate Moderate Low and
and and to severe middle class
assaults repetitive mostly

sociopaths. This is not to suggest that all criminality is a result of these three
disorders. Many conditions such as early schizophrenia, neurosis, behavior
disorders, etc. may certainly result in crime. However, these latter entities
seem to be easily recognizable, whereas the former are not.
It was suggested that classification of those individuals who come in
conflict with society should begin on the basis of behavioral dynamics of the
crime itself. The sociopath and anti-social personalities a v quite distinguishable
by examining the patient's social/psychological history along with present
criminal behavior. The psychopath presents the greatest difficulty since he
goes undetected in the absence of a criminal record. Still, his history and
crimical pursuits are clearly of a different quality, given scrupulous examination.
It is hoped that this approach provides a more parsimonious way of classi-
fying these offenders. From this, future efforts may be aimed at careful
analysis of the personalicy constellations of these groups of individuals along
with suggestions for both treatment and prevention.
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Accepted May 23, 1980.