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An Investigation of Sociopathy

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The study of sociopathy is still a mystery in the forensic and psychiatric fields. Researchers seek to apply a universal definition but often fall short. This sample psychology paper explores the condition and typical identifying patterns associated with sociopaths.

Typical patterns of a sociopath

Sociopaths are defined as people who display anti-social behavior characterized by a lack of empathy towards others coupled with abnormal moral conduct and an inability to conform to societal norms. Sociopaths are often confused with psychopaths, but there is a big difference; sociopaths tend to be more disorganized, like the Columbine shooters, while psychopaths are more methodical, like modern serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy (Glass). Symptoms of sociopathy include:

  • Lying
  • Irresponsible and impulsive behavior
  • Lack of remorse towards living things
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Altercations with the law
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Superficial charm
  • Exaggerated estimation of self
  • Need for stimulation
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Lack of personal responsibility
  • Manipulative tendencies

Sociopaths are often unable to control their behavior and when faced with unappealing situations, they often resort to threats, verbal abuse, and aggression. A child is born with the capacity to become a sociopath, though it is necessary for environmental factors to trigger it to manifest. They exhibit antisocial behavior during childhood and the behavior will continue without doctor intervention. The one exception to this, though, is in the case of traumatic brain injury (“Sociopath Causes: the Making of a Sociopath” 2015). Trauma to the paralimbic system can cause the individual to develop a sociopathic personality.

Verbal and interpersonal communication

Sociopaths have specific speech tendencies that make them stand out amongst normal people. They often use charm to get what they want. Therefore, a sociopath will compliment their victim excessively to get what they want, in addition to using inviting words and appearing to be agreeable. Sociopaths are usually pretty good with first impressions, as they will tell you what you want to hear and are less likely to show that they disagree (Glass). Sociopaths also excel at interpersonal relationships and understanding nonverbal communication.

They appear interested because they will ask a lot of questions in their quest to discover what makes you happy and sad so that it is easier to play on your emotions. Another speech tendency that sociopaths exhibit is grandiosity and blaming. Sociopaths tend to have inflated opinions of themselves and use the word ‘I’ frequently. Also, they exhibit a sense of entitlement and tend to take no responsibility for their own actions.

They will often place the blame on their victims and focus on what the victim did to provoke them. Often times, any perceived slight against them is met with hostile and derogatory responses. Sociopaths lack any regard for consequences and are rather impulsive. As a result, they often come up with wild ideas and change topics often because their impulsivity makes it hard for them to remain focused on one subject.

Voice patterns can also reveal sociopaths. Usually, a sociopath will have a hollowness to their tone and appear to be disconnected. Their voice will lack emotion, resulting in a monotonous tone (Glass). However, they may whine when they do not get their way or are blaming others for their actions. Their tone may also vary when they are attempting to manipulate; they will get louder and speak faster in an attempt to capture your attention. These linguistic patterns can easily give a sociopath away.

Sociopath's body language

Body language can also indicate that someone is a sociopath. Sociopaths sometimes lack fluidity in their body language and have stiff or rigid movements. They appear to have nice posture. This kind of movement occurs because the movement is dictated by how we feel, and sociopaths are void of emotion (Glass), making them unable to express emotion through their body movements.

They display little to no movement and any movement they do express comes across as mechanical. In addition, sociopaths may shake their head ‘no’ at something positive or shake their head ‘yes’ in response to something negative. They may also puff out their chests because of their inflated ego. Sociopaths use wide gestures that seem a little out of control in an attempt to gain attention.

Facial expressions can also indicate sociopathy. While trying to manipulate someone, a sociopath will maintain unbreakable eye contact and stare intensely. They want the person they are manipulating to pay attention to their gaze in an attempt to seem sincere and captivating. When they feel they have nothing to gain from you, though, they break eye contact; they are only able to relate to others as objects that can do things for them and when it becomes clear that they will not get what they want from you, they will look away (Glass).

Lack of emotional response among sociopaths

If they cannot see the value you can bring to them, they will not even attempt to try to connect with you. Those who suffer from sociopathy lack animation or appropriate emotional responses in their facial expressions. They often maintain a pleasant-looking or smug mask of emotion while trying not to give away the unpleasantness that exists in their minds. Sociopaths lack a wide range of emotional expression in their facial features because they are devoid of emotion (Glass).

They may try to offer a half-smile in an attempt to look pleasant but it will actually end up looking like they are smirking. Sometimes, sociopaths may attempt to fake cry to garner sympathy. However, there are rarely any tears so they need to mimic sadness by wiping under their eyes and contorting their face into what they imagine looks like they are upset. These facial expressions can be indicators that someone is a sociopath.

Biological causes of sociopathy

Currently, not much is known about what causes sociopathy. Some research suggests that as much as 50% of the cause can be attributed to genetics while the rest is likely the result of a number of environmental factors while another study found that 56% of sociopaths can be explained through their genetics (Meyers 2013). Still, though, sociopathy cannot be definitively tied to any specific biological factors.

However, for sociopaths, brain development is different and the part of the brain responsible for learning from mistakes and responding to fearful or sad facial expressions is smaller than normal (“Sociopath- Sociopathic Personality Disorder”). Another issue related to the brain may be that the brain of the sociopath tends to develop more slowly than others. Early brain damage or faulty wiring in the brain can also attribute to sociopathy (“Sociopath Causes: the Making of a Sociopath” 2015).

This may attribute to the lack of empathy towards other people and living things. In addition, some studies show hormonal fluctuations that may play a role in the sociopathic disorder. Though the biological factors that come into play are uncertain, there is undoubtedly evidence that biology does play a role in the development of sociopathy. Monozygotic, or identical, twins who are raised separately help prove this.

Sociopathic studies of twins

The study of sociopathy includes the debate whether the mind and actions are influenced by nurturing or nature or both. If one twin displays sociopathic tendencies, the other twin is likely to display similar behavior despite being raised in totally different environments (Simon 2012). This predisposition towards a deficiency in empathy can become apparent as early as seven years of age. The study of such twins has not yet provided enough evidence to confirm a strictly genetic basis, but a strong predisposition based in biology cannot be denied.

Differences in brain activity between sociopaths and non-sociopaths are easily detectable. Tests like fMRIs and EEGs have shown that there are definitely brain-based causes of sociopathy. CAT scans have shown that a sociopath’s brain does not operate the same way that normal individuals’ brains do.

A normal person would see a picture of something that is typically associated with emotion, like a wedding ceremony or a funeral, and the parts of the brain associated with processing emotion show activity. Meanwhile, a sociopath would look at those pictures and the emotional processing part of the brain would remain dormant (Simon 2012). Yes, there does seem to be biological causes to sociopathy, but there must be an environmental trigger first.

Environmental causes and stimulation

Biology can predispose someone to sociopathy, but environmental factors will trigger biological factors and cause them to manifest. Environmental factors can develop sociopathy early in life. While not every sociopath has experienced a specific life event that led to their sociopathy, that is not the case for all of them. Environmental factors can also come into play; these traumas include sexual, emotional, and physical abuse, deprivation, rejection, poverty, abandonment, and association with people who are antisocial (“Sociopath- Sociopathic Personality Disorder”).

Potential treatment for sociopaths

There is no definitive treatment for sociopathy. As a personality disorder, it is ingrained in who a person is and impacts every facet of their lives. People often assume that a sociopath has been too often indulged and spoiled and that tough love and a dose of reality will make them change. However, this approach is a bit too simplistic and rarely works. A number of treatments have been attempted to little avail.

First, cognitive behavior therapy and punishment do not work because sociopaths are unable to learn from their behavior (“Sociopath Treatment: Can a Sociopath Change?” 2015). They do not care about what effect their actions have on others so they are unconcerned with the consequences and are unable to feel remorse. Therapy and counseling do not work either because for therapy to be effective there must be a trusting and collaborative relationship between the patient and the therapist as well as a desire to change.

No sense of moral responsibility

A sociopath will not feel a need to change and are unwilling to work with another person unless it can benefit them. Third, you cannot attempt to teach a sociopath empathy or emotion because they lack the necessary components to feel either (“Sociopath Treatment: Can a Sociopath Change?” 2015). They are simply not wired for such things. Threats and pleas will not work either. A sociopath lacks the emotional ability to care about pleas for change.

Additionally, a sociopath will see the threat as another point for them in a game because they have forced the person to act emotionally. They see the threat as a reward and it motivates them to keep playing. Finally, no medication exists that can treat sociopathy. It is a personality disorder rather than an illness, making it more difficult to treat with medication.

Successful sociopathy treatment

There have been two traditional mental illness treatments that have been successful in managing sociopathy. The first is confronting the problem head-on. For any change to occur, it is important to understand the nature and scope of sociopathy and acknowledge the complexity of the traits and behaviors that come along with it. This can help to deal with the issue as a whole instead of its individual parts.

If you attempt to only change the aspect of sociopathy, like trying to get the person to stop lying or stealing, it will do nothing to change the sociopath’s nature. The other method that has shown some success in tackling sociopathy is adopting a systematic approach. There is a better chance of success if the treatment is aimed at every system in which the sociopath functions, like their relationships, work, extracurricular activities, etc., than if only one aspect is dealt with at a time (“Sociopath Treatment: Can a Sociopath Change?” 2015).

There is some evidence that working with sociopaths in the field can be effective in changing their attitude and behavior, though, after some improvement, the sociopath often reverts back to their old habits and behavior. Unfortunately, these two methods have only shown to be effective in helping child sociopaths or children who exhibit sociopathic behaviors.

Conclusion

Sociopathy is a personality disorder that is mainly categorized by the sociopath’s lack of emotion and empathy for other living things. They tend to only see others as objects that they can manipulate to get the things they want. There is evidence that sociopathy is caused and influenced by a number of biological and environmental factors; there has to first be a biological inclination to sociopathy and then an environmental trigger that sets the sociopathic behavior and tendencies in motion.

Currently, there is no definitive treatment for sociopathy, though there are some methods that may be able to control and manage the behavior. However, there is no known ‘cure’ and management of these tendencies is incredibly difficult and often unfruitful.

Work Cited

Glass, Dr. Lillian. “How Body Language, Speech, and Voice Patterns Can Be Used to Spot the Possible Sociopathic ‘Casey Anthonys’ of the World”. Dr. Lillian Glass Body Language Blog. Wordpress.com, n.d. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

Meyers, Seth. “Understanding the Sociopath: Cause, Motivation, Relationship”. Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, LLC, Apr. 2, 2013. Web. Dec. 2, 2015.

Simon, Dr. George K. “Is Sociopathy Genetic?” Manipulative-People.com. Dr. George Simon, 24 Aug. 2012. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

“Sociopath- Sociopathic Personality Disorder”. DepressionD. Depression D, 2011. Web. Dec. 2, 2015.

Peterson, Tanya J. “Sociopath Causes: the Making of a Sociopath”. Healthy Place. HealthyPlace.com, 2015. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Peterson, Tanya J. “Sociopath Treatment: Can a Sociopath Change?”. Healthy Place. HealthyPlace.com, 2015. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

 
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