Saturday, June 23, 2012

Are Scammers Sociopaths or Psychopaths?

Psychopaths Rule Our World
Psychopaths Rule Our World (Photo credit: Adam Crowe)
A reader asked: how can a scammer justify scamming people causing others to lose while he gains? Are they psychopaths or sociopaths?

The answer is not that simple. If the alleged scammer was NOT AWARE that he is scamming people, then the question would NOT apply. However, this then becomes a problem when such an ignorant scammer is then informed that s/he is actually scamming people. However, that's a completely different problem.

For the purpose of this article, let's assume that the scammer knows perfectly well that they perpetuating a scam.

First, let us define what is a sociopath, and what is a psychopath.

A sociopath is commonly defined as someone who has "a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood."

The clinical term is "anti-social personality disorder", or ASPD , or just APD. There are five subtypes, but the one we are focusing on today is "covetous antisocial". A person who has the covetous APD believes that the world owns him what he's due, and because he feels that way, he will do ANYTHING, including cheat / lie into getting what's due him.

A psychopath, on the other hand, is described as someone who lacks empathy, and thus, have no regard for the pain he is inflicting on others. Psychopaths are often described as heartless killers, and frequently appear in horror movies. However, psychopathy can appear in far subtler forms.

While the two are different, they are very similar, which leads to frequent confusion between the two. Basically, sociopath is a term used to describe frequently the "social cause" of the disorder, while "psychopath" is a term used to describe the "internal / psychological cause" of the disorder. However, this difference may be wrong.

There is an important difference. Sociopaths are often anti-social, live like a recluse, always the "odd man out", commonly regarded as the local weirdo, inability to form any relationships or even hold jobs, and so on. However, they may be able to form relationships with specific individuals, such as some friends and family members, but just not to public at large. There are some suggestions that this is caused by events post-birth (i.e. nurture), but more studies are needed.

On the other hand, psychopath are incapable of feeling emotions, but they adapted by SIMULATING emotions. Psychopaths can often be the most charming person, if they want something from you. They are manipulative, but they can hold jobs, and form relationships, at least on the surface.  Due to this inability to feel emotions, many suspect psychopathy is a physical problem in the brain, such as in ability to receive full strength feedback signals from the "empathy circuits" in the brain, or a type of learning disorder.

Psychopathic criminals comes in all guises, and many serial killers are psychopaths. Ted Bundy, for example, is a infamous psychopathic killer who planned his crime spree carefully. The crimes are often planned in exquisite detail, with contingency plans.

Another factor to consider: scammers often use post-facto justification for their crimes:
  • Victims were gullible and deserved to be tricked
  • I am smarter so I deserve their money and they don't
  • I am just teaching them how to be smart, and that's the fee I charged
  • I was going to pay them back eventually
  • and so on
Which would suggest psychopathy instead of sociopathy. 

Thus, it is more accurate to classify most scammers as psychopaths. 

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