People with antisocial personality disorder (APD) display a consistent disregard for the rights of others. Often referred to as psychopathy or sociopathy, antisocial personality disorder is relatively uncommon; about 1 percent of American adults have APD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (2010).
Adults with antisocial personality disorder often display warning signs during childhood or adolescence, usually by engaging in delinquent activities or deliberately hurting animals or people. However, though antisocial personality disorder is linked to childhood behavior, its exact causes remain unclear.
Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms
In addition to disregarding the rights of others, symptoms of antisocial personality disorder include:
- Disregard for the safety of oneself or others
- Failure to conform to social norms
- Irresponsibility at work and in relationships
- Irritability and aggressiveness
- Lack of remorse after hurting others.
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), a person must be at least 18 years old, have exhibited signs of conduct disorder before age 15 and consistently display at least three of the above symptoms in order to be diagnosed with APD. Antisocial personality disorder is a chronic condition, with sociopath symptoms representing a persistent pattern of thoughts and behaviors.
Antisocial Personality Disorders: Development
Antisocial personality disorder typically begins in childhood and early adolescence. Symptoms tend to peak during an individual’s 20s, when he is most likely to break the law or seriously hurt another person.
As a person ages, the more dangerous symptoms of the disorder tend to subside. However, although middle-aged and older sociopaths are less likely to break the law or act impulsively, they still struggle with relationships and responsibility.
Causes of Antisocial Personality Disorder
Although the exact causes of antisocial personality disorder are unknown, sociopath symptoms likely occur due to a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Like many mental disorders, antisocial personality disorder is believed to have a genetic link. A family history of antisocial personality disorder (as well as other mental illness and personality disorders) raises a person’s risk for developing the condition.
The structure of a person’s brain may also play a role in whether they develop APD. In a study published in the “Archives of General Psychiatrity” (2000), researchers found that antisocial personality disorder sufferers had an 11 percent reduction in prefontal gray matter volume. The authors of the study suggested this difference in brain structure might be related to symptoms often displayed by people with APD, such as lack of a conscience.
However, environment also plays a large factor in the personality disorder’s development. Antisocial personality disorder is more prevalent in people whose childhoods involved abuse or neglect, an unstable family life or the loss of parents.
BehaveNet. (2010). DSM-IV and DSM-IV-TR: Antisocial personality disorder. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from http://www.behavenet.com/capsules/disorders/antisocialpd.htm
Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders. (2010). Antisocial personality disorder. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from http://www.minddisorders.com/A-Br/Antisocial-personality-disorder.html
Mayo Clinic. (2008). Antisocial personality disorder. Retrieved July 11, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/antisocial-personality-disorder/
Raine, A., Lencz, T., Bihrle, S., LaCasse, L. & Colletti, P. (2000). Reduced prefrontal gray matter volume and reduced autonomic activity in antisocial personality disorder. Retrieved July 12, 2010, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10665614