Antisocial personality is a condition characterized by a failure to follow normal moral codes and cultural norms. People with the condition often engage in manipulative, harmful behavior.
The term "antisocial personality disorder” originated in the 1980s as an alternative to the term psychopathy. New studies, however, are beginning to draw some distinctions between psychopathy and antisocial personality. The criminal justice system continues to use the term psychopath to describe people who appear unable to behave ethically, and among the general public, people diagnosed with antisocial personality are frequently referred to as sociopaths.
People with antisocial personality appear to understand moral codes, as demonstrated by their ability to hide their behavior and manipulate others, but are unable to obey moral norms and may struggle with empathy. Symptoms include:
- Setting fires or exhibiting cruelty to animals, particularly in childhood.
- Strong ability to flatter and manipulate others.
- Impulsivity and risk-taking behaviors.
- Repeated brushes with the law not caused by addiction or other factors.
- Frequent lying and stealing.
- Inability to show or experience remorse.
- Inability to empathize with others; may enjoy the suffering of others.
The root cause for the development of antisocial personality is still not well understood among mental health and medical professionals, though it is believed to be a combination of early environment and genetics. Children exposed to trauma and violence, or those whose parents display antisocial personality characteristics may be more likely to develop the condition. According to neurological findings, antisocial personality traits may be linked to deficits in the area of the prefrontal cortex.
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Antisocial personality disorder is extremely difficult to treat. Treatment tends to focus on modifying antisocial behaviors and reducing criminal recidivism, as well as treating any coexisting conditions, such as substance abuse. Therapy that emphasizes behavior modifications along with the consequences of illegal or dangerous behavior show the most promise. People rarely seek treatment for the condition itself, though they may come to therapy for other mental health concerns or as part of a court-ordered sentence. People with antisocial personality may be more likely to drop out of treatment and to lie to or manipulate their therapists.
The study of sociopathy and related conditions is an extremely popular topic in pop psychology books. The book The Sociopath Next Door, for example, was a popular bestseller. The Showtime series Dexter follows a man who appears to meet the criteria for antisocial personality as he exercises his violent urges by killing serial killers.
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