Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

There is an excellent book by psychologist Martha Stout called "The Sociopath Next Door" which examines this subject. The author claims as many as 1 in 25 Americans is a sociopath.


Indeed, this book changed my perception of human nature -- some people are un-reformable. Most of them aren't serial killers, they're just dicks who get their rocks off by controlling other people. Think your asshole boss, or a jerk you knew who was always using people.

It's rather soothing to be able to label your 'asshole boss' with an epithet like 'sociopath', but that doesn't make it correct. It's just makes it easier to be less critical and believe someone that is arguing that.

It's ridiculous to suggest that 1 in 25 people could be a sociopath. Sociopathy is a disorder, a mental illness, a way in which someone can differ from the norm. If it would affect 4% of the population, it would be an essential part of the norm. Instead of labeling these people as 'sociopaths', why not accept that not everyone has the empathic abilities we'd hope for? Why not accept that, in spite the lack of empathic ability, such people can still lead meaningful lives and can care for others? Calling them 'sociopaths' is just another way of dehumanizing those we don't like, so we don't have to face to darker sides of our own humanity.

The "Sociopath Next Door" (excellent book) makes a very good point - it is not clear that being a sociopath is a disorder or an illness in that it doesn't appear to have negative effects on the person with this behavior. Indeed it makes the point that there are many environments where having sociopathic behavior is a decided advantage.

What I found truly frightening in that book was the section pointing out the downfalls of the results of the Milgram experiment (most of us will do what we are told by an authority figure, even to the point of torturing/killing) with sociopathic behavior by a minority.

> Sociopathy is a disorder, a mental illness, a way in which someone can differ from the norm

You don't know that sociopathy is a mental illness or disorder. That was also explained in the article. For all you know someone who achieves universal enlightenment might become a sociopath because he/she realizes that we all eventually die and nothing that happens in this world matters, or something like that.

In fact I'd say it's simply an effect of a different world view, and the ones getting caught are the dumber/impulsive ones while the smarter ones are the ones we label as "assholes."

  You don't know that sociopathy is a mental illness or disorder.
It is defined as such. We need a word to describe such cases and this is the word that is used. It is not sensible to redefine the term to describe something else, simply because we want to apply it to the something else, because of its connotations. It's a much better idea to resist the tempation to label an asshole boss a sociopath and instead apply the terms we already have for people who behave like assholes out of a deeper conviction. He could be a fascist, a nihilist, a hedonist or what have you in terms and combinations of terms to describe world views. Sociopathy is not a world view: it's a fundamental lack of ability to embrace certain worldviews, that your asshole boss could readily embrace, if events drove him that way. We all know the stories of a lifechanging event that turns someone from a greedy asshole into a generous soul. A sociopath could never experience that: he has to work to overcome his shortcomings, if he is capable of that at all. That is the difference between a mental illness and a debilitating philosophical state of mind.

I do forensic psychiatric risk assessments, and use the Hare Psychopathy Checklist regularly.

Neither sociopathy nor psychopathy is listed as a diagnosis in the DSM IV or IDC 10 (the current canonical lists of diagnoses for mental health). Both are listed as descriptors to "Dissocial Personality Disorder" in the ICD 10.

I believe the APA's official stance is that psychopathy and sociopathy are obsolete synonyms for antisocial personality disorder. That being said, the ASPD criteria are somewhat different from the PCL-R; PCL-R tends to select a much smaller set of the population.

I didn't mean a psychiatric definition, but a common usage, 'dictionary', definition. The point is that you need different words to be able to distinguish between people incapable of displaying social behavior and people that choose to display antisocial behavior part of the time. An asshole boss usually still behaves in a civil way towards his peers and would even show altruism towards them. You can be a complete jerk that proposes that homeless people are lazy bums that should be incinerated and that still doesn't make you a sociopath or a psychopath, if you take out the trash for your disabled neighbour at the same time. To use those words for such people muddles the issue: it suggests a lack of ability where we are dealing with a conviction that can be changed given the right circumstances.

You can't have 1 in 25 people being a sociopath. You can have 1 in 25 people being an antisocial asshole.

Hare says his classification is being misused, and labeling these people with a mental disorder is one such way he says it's being misused.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact