Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho shocked and stunned audiences with depictions of the antagonist’s, Norman Bates, gruesome crimes. From incestous to insidious, his atrocities left crowds with feelings of unease and discomfort. However, was Norman Bates really a “psycho”? Terms like “psychopath” and “sociopath” are used interchangeably to describe anyone who lashes out violently, but what do these terms actually mean?

Both psychopaths and sociopaths typically display symptoms of their condition beginning around age fifteen, typically by being diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder. They typically distance themselves emotionally from society, forming few, if any, personal connections with others. According to the DSM-5, this can cause strain to their intrapersonal and interpersonal growth. Often in their youth, they will perform some, or multiple acts suggestive of their future psychopathic or sociopathic behaviors, including setting fires, bed wetting, or torturing animals. While a clear diagnosis cannot be found in the DSM-5, differences between the two are evident, revealing more into the psyche of individuals with both conditions.

Psychopaths are remorseless. Rather than being motivated by a moral compass, they act based on their desires and wants. They have no conscience, which reveals itself as a lack of empathy. It is important to note that this does not suggest impulsiveness, for psychopaths are renowned for their ability to manipulate and plan to achieve their goals. They are also not often violent. Psychopaths are capable of maintaining relationships, but do so only on the surface; they have no guilt when hurting those they “care” about. Some research suggests a difference in brain structure that promotes psychopathy, leading it to be considered more “nature” than “nurture.” Only 1% of the population is believed to be psychopathic.

Sociopaths, while displaying an extreme lack of empathy,  have a weak conscience. They still are capable of feeling guilt, especially to the few that they form emotional connections with. They are extremely impulsive and often commit crimes of passion. While psychopaths often can hold a steady job and excel in certain cut-throat fields, sociopaths show difficulty keeping a job due to their erratic behavior. Sociopaths are often the result of environmental factors, being nurtured into their condition through a poor family life growing up. 4% of people are sociopaths.

Based on these definitions, it is evident that “psychopath” and “sociopath” are used interchangeably and to encompass a wide range of behaviors. It also shows that the loved “psychos” of media are not psychopaths at all. Norman Bates shows few psychopathic traits at all. His impulsiveness and ability to make an emotional connection would place him closer to a sociopath, but due to his delusions perhaps psychotic is more appropriate.


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