About Serial Killers, Psychopaths and Sociopaths

Dale Cregan

What is a Serial Killer?

The term “serial killer” was first used by Robert Ressler (former FBI director of the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program) in the mid-1970s. Prior to this term, they were referred to as “crimes in a series”, mass murders or stranger-on-stranger crime.

A serial killer is traditionally defined as an individual who has killed three or more people over a period of more than a month, with down time (a “cooling off period”) between the murders, and whose motivation for killing is usually based on psychological gratification (Wikipedia).

What Drives a Serial Killer?

Ted Bundy

Serial killer Henry Lee Lucas blamed his upbringing; Jeffrey Dahmer claimed that he was born with a “part” of him missing. Ted Bundy claimed pornography made him do it. Herbert Mullin – Santa Cruz killer of thirteen – blamed the voices in his head that told him it was time to “sing the die song.” Carl Panzram swore that prison turned him into a monster, whereas Bobby Joe Long said a motorcycle accident made him hypersexual and eventually a serial lust killer. And John Wayne Gacy believed that his victims deserved to die (Crime Library).

Top 7 Serial Killer Myths: Sourced from www.all-about-forensic-psychology.com

1) Serial killers are dysfunctional loners.
2) Serial killers are all white males.
3) Serial killers are only motivated by sex.
4) Serial killers operate interstate.
5) Serial killers can’t stop killing.
6) Serial killers are insane or evil.
7) Serial killers want to get caught.

About Sociopaths and Psychopaths: (Collated by Jeanne Marie Kerns)

I’ve been asked what the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath a number of times while running SDL workshops and on the SDL Facebook page, so here’s a comprehensive collection of comparisons.

Overview: A sociopath is someone who is affected with a personality disorder marked by antisocial behaviour. A psychopath is a person with an antisocial personality disorder, manifested in aggressive, perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior without empathy or remorse.

David Lykken’s studies revealed that psychopaths are born with temperamental differences that lead them to being risk seekers, impulsive, fearless as well as not being able to socialize normally. Sociopaths have normal temperaments, and their personality disorder tends to affect their lives regarding parenting, peers, and their intelligence.

TV Psychopaths

Sociopaths can be anyone from your mother, father, best friend, neighbour or even your co-worker, and you would not even realize that they are dealing with this disorder that affects everything in their daily life. Sociopaths go above and beyond themselves to make sure that other people around them have no idea that their life is something other than what it is. More than likely you have met one or two sociopaths in your life and not even realize it.

Psychopaths on the other hand are usually very flamboyant with how they deal with their disorder. Some famous psychopaths are Charles Manson, Richard Ramirez, Theodore Bundy and David Berkowitz. These four men are famous for being some of the most notorious and manipulative serial killers in history. Not all psychopaths are as out there as these four men, however their rage is almost always as intense, it just depends on how they channel it.

“Psychopaths are human predators who coldly, callously and ruthlessly use charm, deceit, manipulation, threats, intimidation and violence to dominate and control others and to satisfy their own selfish needs and desires.” – Hare (1993)

Similarities of Characteristics between a Sociopath and a Psychopath:

1. Sociopaths are very charming. Psychopaths use superficial charm to lure their victims
2. Sociopaths can be extremely manipulative and will try to con you whenever possible. Psychopaths are very predatory and usually will live off other people.
3. Sociopaths feel that they are entitled to everything. Psychopaths are extremely self-centered.
4. Sociopaths will lie continuously to get what they want. They can even sometimes manipulate a lie detector. Psychopaths are very deceptive and tend to lie continuously.
5. Sociopaths have no remorse, shame or guilt. Psychopaths show no remorse of guilt towards their victims.
6. Sociopaths will never take blame for anything they have done to anyone no matter if it is family or friend. Psychopaths are always blaming other people for their actions.
7. Sociopaths need to have excitement in their lives or live on the edge. Psychopaths must always do something to keep themselves from boredom.
8. Sociopaths have many sexual partners and tend to act out many sexual acts. Psychopaths have many sexual partners in their lifetime.
9. Sociopaths rarely stay in one place for a long time (home/work). Psychopaths are very impulsive with their lifestyle.

More specifically Sociopath Characteristics:

1. Sociopaths will show love and happiness only when it serves their purpose. None of the feelings are genuine. Sociopaths have no room for love in their life.
2. Sociopaths have lack of empathy for their victims suffer pain that they have caused.
3. Sociopaths believe that they are all mightier than thou; there is no concern on how their behaviour impacts others.
4. Sociopaths usually have a long history of juvenile delinquency as well as behaviour problems.
5. Sociopaths will change themselves if they know it will keep them from being found out.

More specifically Psychopath Characteristics:

1. Psychopaths never have a realistic view of their lives. (King of the World, from another planet etc)
2. Psychopaths always want psychological gratification in sexual and criminal activities.
3. Psychopaths tend to try suicide, rarely succeeding.


About Stu Dunn

With a background in sales and behavioural science, I enjoy learning more about people, behaviour, psychology - which led into motivation - and more recently - sales again. Having started my own real estate company with my wife, it's time to merge interests.
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8 Responses to About Serial Killers, Psychopaths and Sociopaths

  1. . I once heard (a prof, I think) it said that psychopaths are sociopaths who have actually committed violence, but I really don’t know if there is a distinction. A lot of the popular texts I’ve read on the subject use both terms interchangeably.

  2. j says:

    Paul the apostle in the bible informed us that hardness of the heart is behind all addictions and evils of the human race Romans 1:18-32. Take all the characteristics of a sociopath or a psycopath and add drugs like meth to the mix,plus bitterness and hardning of the heart and guess what you get??The x factor

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  5. Alv says:

    This mixes sociopaths, psychopaths, the component of narcisism present on both of them and doesnt make the big point of difference: soc’s are born “normal” and because of the life they had “turned” into a sociopath. Psychopaths are less “normal” and since they’re kids they are impulsive, aggresive and tend to enjoy they pain of their victims.

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  7. Querty says:

    These definitions aren’t entirely correct. The term ‘sociopath’ is a non-clinical term for someone who has an antisocial personality disorder. The term ‘psychopath’ refers to someone who has a brain defect which (among other things) inhibits empathy and attracts the individual to high-stimulation behaviors. These are two completely different disorders, although there are a significant number of individuals who have both. The ‘hidden life’ and ‘flamboyance’
    characteristics can be exhibited (or not) in either of the two categories, depending on individual personality traits and other factors.

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