What Are The Symptoms Of Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Hollywood has often glamorized psychopaths and sociopaths – some of our favorite, most memorable villains are remorseless and calculative, and have no regard for the people around them. And because life so often inspires art, many variants of these characters also exist among us and have been responsible for some of history’s most inconceivable crimes. This behavior often points to a medical condition called antisocial personality disorder. This mental disorder can vary in its severity, ranging from mild antisocial behavior (like having no regard for rules or consequences) to committing violent crimes.

How Does Someone Develop Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Because the severity of the disorder can vary, its causes and manifestations have been broken down into three categories based on the person’s level of awareness of their actions. Neurological design, wherein parts of the brain are affected during early development, and traumatic childhood experiences are the major precipitating factors. It’s important to note that people with antisocial personality disorder do not go into a state of psychosis or trance; they are well aware of their actions. Based on the symptoms presented,

a person with antisocial personality disorder will likely fall under one of these three categories:1

  1. People who commit violent acts without knowing what they’re doing is wrong. In such people, it has been found that brain development is affected at several levels while still a fetus in the mother’s womb.
  2. Those who know that the act they’re committing is wrong, but cannot control their impulse to act. In such groups, traumatic experiences and abuse between the age of three until puberty have been found to be a trigger.
  3. People who are fully aware of their actions and consciously make a choice to act or resist based on their circumstances. Many of these people have experienced trauma to the brain around adolescence.


In people under the age of 15, this disorder manifests in behavior that may include cruelty to animals, damaging property, deceitful behavior, and having no regard for rules.

Symptoms of the disorder in adults can be diverse, making it harder to detect. Such

people often get in trouble with the law, have absolutely no respect for other people and their needs, don’t feel any regret for hurting others, are often part of an abusive relationship (where they are the offender), and, perhaps most importantly, feel no guilt or regret for their actions and never learn from their mistakes.2 Also, for reasons unknown, men more than women tend to develop this disorder, even when exposed to similar trauma.3

As you can see, every single part of the disorder is behavioral in nature. To be diagnosed clinically, the person must have committed at least one very irresponsible act before reaching adolescence, followed by sustained behavior such as stealing and animal cruelty in older age.4

Psychopaths Vs. Sociopaths

Two groups of people are often identified and classified based on

their behavior: psychopaths and sociopaths. The distinction here is subtle: Psychopaths are calculative in nature and do their best to blend in with society, while sociopaths often exhibit erratic behavior with no certainty about when they will act. A good example of a psychopath in pop culture is Thomas Harris’ unforgettable Dr. Hannibal Lecter, while the Joker from the Batman series represents a sociopath who is erratic. Science, however, is highly divided on this classification and most doctors acknowledge both these groups under one umbrella – the antisocial personality disorder. The causes or triggers ascribed to these behaviors and the treatments prescribed remain the same for both.

Seeking Help

Most diagnoses of this disorder are only made when family members urge the sufferer to seek medical help. It was found in a controlled study that the facade of control and lack of anxiety that these people exhibit is often only superficial. Under a holistic form of treatment that includes counseling and treatment for depression, people with the disorder seem to accept their actions and consciously work toward not repeating any harmful


Helping the individual understand their need for control and violence is a major challenge, but it can also be a crucial breakthrough point toward effective treatment. Since they have set ideas about how society must work, they tend to become violent when these ideas are disturbed. The focus of treatment is always on helping the person understand their own mental states. Any other approach, such as trying to make them understand a victim’s perspective, is found to be ineffective.6