psychopathy in fiction

Psychopathy vs Sociopathy

A recent post spurred my irritation about sociopaths and psychopaths and the general opinion of them in pop culture.  So, here is a bit of a rant.

Both psychopathy and sociopathy are personality disorders that impact a human being’s behavior.  Often, people confuse sociopathy and psychopathy because of the media’s general depiction of them and pop culture’s inability to properly label either.


In general, psychopaths are born and sociopaths are raised.  A psychopath tends to result from genetics and is passed down through families.  Sociopaths are the result of their environment, often in the form of abuse or severe pressure while as a child.

If an individual displays troubling behavior from the get go, they’re likely a psychopath.  If they develop that troubling behavior over years, they are likely a sociopath.  This can be hard to know because psychopaths can be the victims of violence and abuse (and since it is genetic, its possible one of their parents is a psychopath as well, increasing the chance for abuse) and psychopaths are extremely adept at hiding their behavior.


Empathy is another way to define both these conditions.

Sociopaths can feel empathy but it is highly muted.  I’ve heard it explained to me like people with severe autism, where connections take repeated and constant attempts before success.  I’ve also heard of it explained like a switch, where the sociopath can effectively ‘turn off/on’ their empathy, which given the cause of sociopathy, makes sense.  Since sociopathy is created from pressure, stress and abuse, the sociopath’s empathy is effectively dissociated as a coping mechanism.

Psychopaths, however, do not feel empathy.  Period.  They may be extremely adept at mimicking empathy.  They can understand the process and behavior.  But they don’t feel empathy.  

Connections are made based on the psychopath’s needs.  The psychopath views others as tools; to inflate their ego, as property, as means to an end, as intellectual stimulus.  Psychopaths don’t have friends on an emotional level, but rather those they respect based on other traits, such as their intelligence or skill.


Sociopaths tend to be erratic and their behavior is more impulse than direct choice.  Sociopaths may be habitual liars, may have rage issues or may steal with little thought beyond immediate gratification.  While sociopaths can plan, their impulse control tends to be hampered, meaning that their plans tend to fall apart after some time.  This leads to a lot of sociopaths losing their job and, combined with their impulses, leads to them turning to crime or substance abuse.

Psychopaths, in contrast, are not erratic.  They are calculating and meticulous.  Early identification of psychopathy, such as mutilating animals, is not done out of impulse control, but rather the psychopath’s inability to understand the inherent wrongness of their actions.

Psychopaths often hold jobs and their actions, such as lying, stealing or violence, tend to be extremely calculated and are done in a way to provide specific and targeted results for the psychopath.

Pop Culture

So, who is an actual sociopath or psychopath in pop culture?  I’ll give a few examples.

Traditionally, The Joker in comics/DCAU is a psychopath due to his lack of empathy, eye for detail and his use of Harley Quinn.  In modern media, like Suicide Squad and The Dark Knight, Joker is depicted as more of a sociopath, with more erratic behavior.

Lord Voldemort is a psychopath, incapable of feeling love and empathy, who only views those around him as tools or obstacles.

Patrick Bateman from American Psycho is, correctly, identified as a psychopath. 

The Purple Man from Jessica Jones is a sociopath.  It is hinted that he became the way he is after his parents experimented on him.  In addition, his behavior tends to fall closer to the erratic and impulsive side.  While not to be trusted (especially if he was a psychopath) his admission that he has feelings for Jessica would also point to him being a sociopath.

Racter from Shadowrun: Hong Kong is a psychopath.  Right down to his admission that he views the player as a friend, not for any emotional reason, but for academic reasons.

If I remember my crim psych reading correctly, sudden and fleeting bursts of anger are a hallmark of psychopathy. I won’t say outright that that’s Christian’s particular psychopathology, but I will say it’s a good possibility.

anonymous asked:

So basically...everything is Sherlock's fault then? We're just going to place even more blame on him?



Okay, but seriously.  This is a good question, and there’s a lot broiling under its surface.

…Okay, this got long-ass, even for me, so here’s a short summary of the contents you’ll find below:

Sherlock is not a very good man and there’s a whole hell of a lot to blame him for, including some violations of John Watson.  John Watson is a better man but isn’t pristinely innocent either, and more often than not, fairly carries some portion of the blame himself.  He actually has an unsavory character trait, to go along with Sherlock’s colossal dickery, of being willing to dodge some portion of his fair share of the blame by letting Sherlock absorb it for him—a thing Sherlock willingly does (and not out of selflessness, but as part of his enablement of John’s worse traits, either because they give John pleasure or because they keep John at his side).  Also, it turns out that following the appropriate laying of blame through the show is a really useful way of tracking the plot arcs and evolution of relationships.

And now if you want to read all 3600 words of this monster, help yourself to the details.

The first point is that there is a danger in personifying fictional characters to much.  In real life, blame is not cute or funny.  It’s a vicious thing, and when you don’t apply it with fairness and compassion, it can be savagely damaging.

But we aren’t talking about real people.  We’re talking about characters, and in a narrative, blame is a commodity to be manipulated for the needs and purposes of the story that’s being told.  As consumers of the story, it’s easy to lose sight of that; after all, part of the point of a story is for us to step into the characters’ shoes and identify with them.  When we’re in the story, it’s being told about US, in a way—some corner of our minds that we have given over into its keeping to let it whisk us away.

So, that said, point #2: (spoilers under the cut)

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laurineandersen  asked:

I'm studying psychology. And as much as i want to agree, Christian is not a psychopath. He lacks another characteristic traits that can identify him as one. For example: "Failure to follow any life plan"; "Lack of empathy"; "Parasitic lifestyle"; "Pathological egocentricity and incapacity to love." The way E. L. James portrays him surely is not helpful but psychopaths cannot love and Christian "loves" Ana, or so he says. He's not a psychopath. He's just a jerk.

I, too, am studying psychology! :>

Not all psychopaths have to meet all of the criteria on the PCL-R—just enough to pass >30 points.

I would argue that Christian lacks significant empathy and definitely displays a fair amount of egocentricity. If you look at the items on the PCL-R, most of the ones Christian doesn’t meet are lifestyle-related. As far as we know, Christian has no history of juvenile delinquency or other childhood affective control problems.

Re: your point about love, I’ve got three things to say.

1: ‘incapacity to love’ isn’t on Hare’s list, which is still the tool the vast majority of people studying psychopathy use to assess psychopathy.

2: Christian could easily be lying about loving Ana. For chrissakes, being a convincing liar is one of the hallmarks of psychopathy. Wouldn’t you say you loved someone if you thought it meant she’d stay around and have sex with you longer? (I mean, if you weren’t going to feel guilty about doing so, which you wouldn’t if you were a psychopath.)

3: Many psychopaths (Richard Kuklinski, aka “The Iceman", about whom there is a great documentary featuring Park Dietz, comes to mind) say that they love their spouses and families. Whether their concept and/or experience of love is the same as nonpsychopaths is up for debate, but I would argue that Christian, even if he was a psychopath, could believe that he loved Ana.