Have you ever met a sociopath? Many of us throw the word around when talking about people that seem to display no empathy in their life, but do they really show sociopathic tendencies? Sociopathy is a real mental disorder, and people who suffer from this character trait have genuine issues around honesty, trust, and other authentic emotions.
The American Psychiatric Association estimates sociopaths represent around 3% to 5% of the US population. That means three to five of every 100 people you meet are sociopaths, and approximately 10 million sociopaths are walking around in American society. That’s a significant number of people.
Sociopaths are clever liars. They have the ability to be cunning and manipulative with their behavior toward others, and they get a kick out of pulling the wool over someone’s eyes. Can sociopaths pass a lie detector test without the examiner detecting deception in their answers?
What is Sociopathy?
Sociopaths are people who suffer from a severe type of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). According to research, around 30% of individuals with ASPD are sociopaths. They exhibit a history of behavioral problems, abuse or aggression towards others, possible criminal involvement, and difficulty maintaining relationships.
Many sociopaths have narcissistic personality traits, and those with narcissism embedded in their characters can be especially deceptive, dangerous, and manipulative toward the people they meet. Many of them also have issues with dependence on alcohol and drugs, exhibiting patterns of impulsive or irresponsible decision-making that wreck other people’s lives.
Sociopaths harm people and don’t display any empathy for the people they hurt or the fallout from their actions. They are self-centered individuals who will walk over anyone to achieve what they want.
What are the Traits of Sociopaths?
Most sociopaths are skilled in deception, making them hard to identify. They can appear very charming while manipulating another person’s emotions and deceiving them. If you don’t know someone well, you’ll find it hard to determine if they’re a sociopath.
So, what kind of behavioral dynamics characterize a sociopath?
Sociopaths don’t follow the normal rules of society. They don’t have a moral code or adhere to society’s principles regarding collaboration, communication, and mutual respect. A sociopath might decide to skip a line without considering other people’s time, shoplift from a store with no remorse, or break the law without regard for their actions and their effects on others around them.
A sociopath doesn’t value their relationships with other people. They may cheat on their partner behind their back, gossip about other people in their social circle, even their best friends, or disrespect their family members without any regard for how it makes the other person feel.
It’s interesting to note that many CEOs and global leaders exhibit sociopathic or psychopathic tendencies in their character. Sociopaths love having power over others and the ability to direct another person’s future and actions.
When they attain powerful positions in organizations, they tend to abuse their authority and become destructive and irresponsible toward other people below them. They enjoy having the upper hand in any relationship.
Hostility to Others
Most sociopaths exhibit anger, hostility, and aggression toward others. It’s common for these individuals to hold to sexist, racist, or misogynistic ideologies relating to how they feel about individuals and societal groups. While they’re less likely to be violent like psychopaths, they will often use behavior like bullying, guilting, or teasing to belittle others.
Deceptive or Devious Intentions
Most sociopaths are dishonest, devious, or deceptive. They often lie and distort or exaggerate facts, purposely misrepresenting the truth to achieve their goals. If someone catches them in a lie, they often use redirection, projection, or denial to divert attention away from them and onto the person making the accusation.
Sociopaths exhibit ruthless behavior in the pursuit of their goals. Since they have no moral compass, they don’t have the normal reservations of others and no concern for the damage caused on the way to getting what they want.
They don’t respect ethical boundaries and are fine with crossing lines that other people consider hard behavioral barriers. They lie, steal, and cheat if it means they’ll reach their target. They have no problem abusing others or violating trust if it helps them achieve their ideals.
Quick to Anger
Sociopaths don’t experience the same full spectrum of emotions as normal people. They might not ever feel sensations of guilt or shame surrounding their actions. However, they tend to be angry people, and this anger shows up in hatred, often in their relationships. They’re prone to yelling and outbursts when they get upset with others.
Few Close Relationships
Since sociopaths feel little empathy towards others, they find it hard to form a close bond with another person. They might have relationships with family or a significant other but find it hard to create lasting relationships. They usually have a lengthy list of people who dislike them because they violated or betrayed their trust.
Cunning & Persuasive Character
Sociopaths are generally very persuasive people and will make good first impressions on others. They’re very charming and cunning, making it easy to get other people to agree with them. However, the more they interact with a person, the more the other person starts to see through this veneer. Most people will distance themselves from a sociopath after they discover their true nature. However, they
Sociopaths are highly manipulative individuals. They know how to guilt people into doing what they want, and they often exhibit a pattern of lying to others to coerce them into doing things for them. They use their power of persuasion, charm, and emotional manipulation to push people into doing something that serves their interests, disregarding the other person’s safety and feelings.
Some sociopaths will manipulate others because they enjoy it and find it somewhat entertaining. They might not have a specific reason to control the person; they just do it because they can and know they’ll get away with it without the other person realizing it. If the other person does realize what’s going on and confronts the sociopath, they’ll deny their behavior.
Most individuals with ASPD don’t have a good moral compass if any at all. They don’t display feelings of regret if they harm others or make a bad choice that damages other people’s emotional state. This limited or non-existent ability to feel remorse or empathy for others displays in their character in several ways.
They may knowingly engage in activities such as lying, manipulating or emotionally bullying others. Some sociopaths might feel some small sensation of guilt or shame after being caught, but it won’t stop them from continuing this behavior in the future.
Thrill-Seeking and Opportunist Behavior
Sociopaths will often exhibit thrill-seeking behavior that usually puts other people around them at risk. They do so without feeling any concern if it hurts or affects other people physically or emotionally. For instance, they might use drugs and convince “a friend” to use them by manipulating or shaming them into trying it, with no regard that the experience could lead to the person developing an addiction.
Or they might push an irresponsible gambler into taking out a marker at a casino just because they want to see them lose more money at the poker table. This behavior comes from the impulses and urges they experience at the moment, giving them a chance to escape boredom.
While many opportunists will look at how to change a bad situation into a good one, sociopaths will do the opposite. They look to create hardship for others to serve their own advantage. They attempt to profit from the misfortune of others and to view others’ struggles positively.
A sociopath will often seem emotionally absent, which many people view as them being level-headed or cool. When other people feel anxious and nervous, the sociopath feels calm and collected. Or if others feel emotionally sad, such as when losing a loved one, the sociopath may seem unperturbed by the loss.
What is the Cause of Sociopathy?
Sociopathic behavior can be learned or passed down through genetic links. Experts agree that sociopathy doesn’t exist in the natural world. It’s a chronic mental disorder affecting how people interact with their environment.
In many cases, it’s a genetic trait born in people and a personality structure involved with how people engage with the people they meet. However, they are cases where people develop sociopathic behavior as they adapt to their life experiences.
People might develop sociopathic behavior because of their upbringing and what they learn from their parents or the people around them as they age. Or they may develop sociopathic tendencies due to chemical dependency.
Sociopathy is challenging to diagnose, and psychiatrists have a hard time pinpointing the degree to which a person is affected by the condition. During diagnosis, the medical professional must evaluate whether the behavior manifests as an environmental response or a long-term issue following them since their early years.
What’s the Difference between Sociopathy & Psychopathy?
Both sociopaths and psychopaths share the similar trait of their condition being an onset of antisocial personality disorder. However, that doesn’t mean all people with ASPD are sociopaths or psychopaths. People that develop sociopathy tend to be more impulsive and erratic, while those with psychopathy maintain an appearance of a normal, stable life.
When psychiatrists diagnose sociopathy, they base their findings on the person’s impact on others and how others evaluate their behavior. When they diagnose psychopathy, they’re basing it on the patient’s thoughts and decision-making process.
Can a Lie Detector Test Catch a Sociopath?
Sociopaths are talented liars, but can they beat a lie detector test? Well, it depends on the scale of sociopathy in the person. There’s a spectrum for sociopathic behavior. Some people might exhibit mild sociopathic tendencies, while others are full-tilt.
If a true, pure sociopath were to take a lie detector test, they might have the ability to pass it without triggering deception in the exam. Since true sociopaths have little to no empathy, they also don’t share feelings of shame or guilt that most people do when telling lies.
They often know if they’re being deceptive, and unlike a psychopath, they don’t usually believe their lies. They’re capable of telling right from wrong; they just don’t care about it or have any moral compass telling them what they’re doing is wrong.
So, some sociopaths might be able to pass a lie detector test, but it’s less common for them to beat the polygraph than a psychopath.
How the Lie Detector Test Works
So, how can a sociopath beat a lie detector test? The polygraph operates by analyzing physiological feedback to detect the “fight-or-flight” (FoF) response in an examinee under questioning. The FoF is an autonomous response in the body that occurs when the person is under stress.
The average person activates the FoF when they have to answer the polygraph examiner’s question with a lie. However, genuine sociopaths don’t have a moral compass, and while they don’t believe their lies, they may convince themselves that they’ve done nothing wrong.
Since the polygraph examiner gives the questions they’ll ask the examinee during the session before the test starts, the sociopath has time to assess their answers and self-justify their behavior. For instance, if one of the questions is, “did you cheat on your husband with another man?” The sociopath can convince themself that there is no such thing as cheating, and their behavior is normal.
Their mind can adjust their moral compass to think that what they did wasn’t cheating; it was just normal behavior. As a result, despite being deceptive, they don’t activate the FoF or indicate deception during the lie detector test.
Can You Catch a Sociopath with a Lie Detector Test? – The Verdict
It’s difficult to catch sociopaths being deceptive during a polygraph test. However, it depends on the examiner’s skills in formulating and asking questions. It also depends on when on the sociopathic spectrum the person lies. If they’re a full-blown sociopath, it’s going to be harder to identify deception than in someone with mild sociopathic tendencies.