What is the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath?

There is a lot of debate about whether there is a meaningful difference between sociopaths and psychopaths.
The DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual used by psychologists) lists both under the heading of Anti-social Personality Disorder, and there are different schools of thought on whether they should be treated as distinct.

Psychopaths and sociopaths both apparently lack a conscience. Both will engage in behavior that harms others with no feeling of guilt or remorse, and rarely consider the risks to others implicit in their actions. They have an intellectual understanding of pro-social emotions, but seem to feel no emotional bonds with others. The result is that they can seem like perfectly decent and reasonable human beings in most situations, but can take bizarrely inappropriate actions to satisfy perceived insults, fantasies, or mere whims.

Those psychologists who make a distinction between the two usually do so on the basis of organization. Sociopaths are seen as disorganized and rash, making extreme responses to normal situations. They lack impulse control. Psychopaths, by contrast, are highly organized, often secretly planning out and fantasizing about their acts in great detail before actually committing them, and sometimes manipulating people around them.

Here are other opinions from the WikiAnswers community:

  • Some claim that the terms are interchangeable, and others claim that Sociopaths can function in society and psychopaths cannot, or the other way around.
  • According to the Princeton dictionary, they are synonyms of each other.
  • Although the Psychological process of denial of Conscience within the MIND of a sociopath and a psychopath is the same dynamic [Esoteric processes], the particular Fate Karma of the individual determines which behavioral expression one engages in, and it is these behavioral expressions that modern mental health focus on and label as either sociopathic or psychopathic.
  • Some argue the sociopath to be less organized in his or her demeanor, nervous and easily agitated - someone likely living on the fringes of society, without solid or consistent economic support. A sociopath is more likely to spontaneously act out in inappropriate ways without thinking through the consequences.
  • Some argue that the psychopath tends to be extremely organized, secretive and manipulative. The outer personality is often charismatic and charming, hiding the real person beneath. Though psychopaths do not feel for others, they can mimic behaviors that make them appear normal. Upon meeting, one would have more of a tendency to trust a psychopath than a sociopath.
  • cause of the organized personality of the psychopath, he or she might have a tendency to be better educated than the average sociopath, who probably lacks the attentive skills to excel in school. While psychopaths can fly under the radar of society, many maintaining families and steady work, a sociopath more often lacks the skills and drive for mimicking normal behavior, making "seemingly healthy" relationships and a stable home less likely. From a criminal standpoint, a sociopath's crimes are typically disorganized and spontaneous, while the psychopath's crimes are well planned out. For this reason, psychopaths are harder to catch than sociopaths, as the sociopath is more apt to leave ample evidence in his or her explosions of violence.
  • A psychopath thinks 2+2=5 rather than 2+2=4. A sociopath knows 2+2=4, but hates to admit it.
  • There is no difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. The original term was psychopath but mental health professions were concerned that the public may confuse psychotic with psychopath. Psychopaths are generally not psychotic but the terms sound similar. Psychopaths are not suffering from psychosis. In order to avoid confusion, the term sociopaths was created to replace psychopath. The is no difference between the characteristics of a psychopath and a sociopath.
  • Psychopaths are born (Disorganized Episodic Aggression) and sociopaths are made (Organized Sociopathic Hatred)
  • Sociopath: Egocentricity; Callousness; Impulsivity; Conscience defect; Exaggerated sexuality; Excessive boasting; Risk taking; Inability to resist temptation; Antagonistic, deprecating attitude toward the opposite sex; Lack of interest in bonding with a mate
  • Psychopath: Glib and superficial charm; Grandiose sense of self-worth; Need for stimulation; Pathological lying; Conning and manipulativeness; Lack of remorse or guilt; Shallow affect; Callousness and lack of empathy; Parasitic lifestyle; Poor behavioral controls; Promiscuous sexual behavior; Early behavior problems; Lack of realistic, long-term goals; Impulsivity; Irresponsibility; Failure to accept responsibility for own actions; Many short-term marital relationships; Juvenile delinquency; Revocation of conditional release; Criminal versatility
  • A psychopath is born that way. Antisocial Personality Disorder and Sociopaths are made through the environment. ALL psychopaths have an antisocial personality and may have traits of the "sociopath" as well BUT not all antisocial personalities are psychopaths!
  • Both sociopaths and psychopaths are the common terms for someone who has Antisocial Personality Disorder, there is no technical distinction between these two terms because neither of them is official. However psychopaths are traditionally thought of as more physically violent, where as sociopaths are manipulative and deceitful.
  • This is a politically charged topic in academic circles, and there has been a lot of debate- but, in general, nothing. Most academics use the terms interchangeably, with sociopath being the preferred term for sociologists/criminologists and psychopath the preferred term for psychologists.
  • Some people use sociopath to mean a mild form of psychopath (i.e. someone who displays the behavioral traits but who lacks the emotional callousness). Some use sociopath to distinguish between those who were born psychopaths and those who were made into psychopaths by life experiences. Others use the term proto-psychopath to describe the latter group.
  • Due to the confusion between psychopathy and psychosis, sociopath became the preferred term for a while, but leading researchers in the field still use psychopath.
  • Psychopaths are loners that kill because their minds tell them to because they're influenced by their thinking and behavioral patterns. Sociopaths kill because they don't see reality in all that's around them; and what they see makes them display the persona, and the personality of a pathological liar, conceal their true identity, or disassociate from people, places and things. A sociopath seems to be more influenced by society, and less influenced, by their thinking patterns, and psychological behavior.
  • The differences between a psychopath and a sociopath are there, many believe the two are synonymous. A sociopath is generally very charming and charismatic, as well as very manipulating. They are devious and underhanded before being violent. A psychopath is unpredictable and generally has no warning signs before becoming violent.