This definition has arisen in an answer for a previous question in this community, so I very much need to know the definition specifications for the term, as I am confused at its foundation.

It is claimed to be an individual that has no empathy for others, but in my view this can be demonstrated to be true for almost every human being in some regard, so this must be an issue with my generality that I have applied in my comprehension of the term.

What is the standard definition of a psychopath?

This was very insightful in my opinion that relates to the subject matter here

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    The psychopath has no respect for boundaries of any kind. It isn't merely that they can't recognize them, rather they deliberately seek to violate them. One notable philosopher (Erich Fromm) who was also an astute observer of human psychology and behavior actually suggested with good reason (imho) that psychopaths might actually be a completely separate species, since they habitually prey on human beings. However, perhaps they're just organically damaged and thereby emotionally dysfunctional humans. The defect is severe enough to cause them to seem alien or abnormal to healthy individuals.
    – Bread
    Aug 4, 2019 at 2:08
  • I very much appreciate the contribution you have made here, and yes I agree, it is boundaries that is the focal point, the simple benevolence to just laugh it off when having observed something that someone excludes from their world view (this exclusion having insulted ones self on a personal level) Aug 4, 2019 at 10:28
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    The word "psychopath" does not appear in: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5 Book by American Psychiatric Association: psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/dsm "Psychopathology" does appear, however it refers to the range of pathologies of interest to psychiatrists. Also "psychotic", which is a class name for symptoms, e.g. hallucinations, that may form part of a psychotic disorder. The term "psychopath" is no more technical than "crazy" or "obnoxious"
    – christo183
    Aug 8, 2019 at 7:30
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    Note psychiatrists will sometimes use the word "psychopath": dsm.psychiatryonline.org/action/doSearch?AllField=psychopath , but then it should be understood as descriptive not diagnostic.
    – christo183
    Aug 8, 2019 at 7:33
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    It's not opinion based, although it may be better suited to psychology.stackexchange.com. As christo183 pointed out, the DSM-5 contains the official definitions of psychological conditions, including psychopathy. That definition is the answer. Prior to its addition to the DSM, the best definition would probably be the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised.
    – Ray
    Aug 15, 2019 at 16:45

2 Answers 2


First point: the term 'psychopath' isn't a clinical diagnosis. In the best case it is a loose term for any mental disorder that features destructive, antisocial behavior; in the worst case it's mere pop-psychology meant to explain away social and cultural ills as psychological aberrations.

We should keep in mind that almost every psychological diagnosis exists on a continuum of behavior. They are classifications more than categories, where people are included because they fall into the tail of a bell curve, not because they are qualitatively different from others. For example, if we look at the DSM criteria for establishing Narcissistic Personality Disorder (page 6 of this pdf), we can recognize:

  1. that all of us have such tendencies, on occasion and in certain contexts, but...
  2. that someone like Donald Trump exhibits these tendencies with a magnitude and consistency that most of us would find unimaginable.

Variations within the population are both normal and functional. Fighter pilots and firemen will generally be more prone to risk-taking than the rest of the population; academics and CEOs will normally exhibit greater degrees of grandiosity and attention-seeking; these qualities are functional for their respective career paths. The psychological question centers more on whether the degree of these qualities is destructive to the society and the individual than on the mere question of whether these qualities exist. And given the nature of this issue, the question often hinges on the relationship between social well-being and individual well-being. 'Sanity' is often viewed in terms of a comity between personal and interpersonal spheres of life, a comity that is often extremely difficult for those off in the tails of the distribution.

Use the term 'psychopath' lightly, and with generous applications of salt.

  • ah. thanks very much you leading remark has clarified the confusion I elaborated on in my reply to the other answer. Aug 4, 2019 at 10:25

Wikipedia provides an initial place to look for a definition of psychopathy:

Psychopathy is traditionally a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, and egotistical traits. It is sometimes considered synonymous with sociopathy. Different conceptions of psychopathy have been used throughout history that are only partly overlapping and may sometimes be contradictory.

From this we can expect historical definitions that are potentially contradictory. However, it is a recognized personality disorder although under other names:

Hervey M. Cleckley, an American psychiatrist, influenced the initial diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality reaction/disturbance in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), as did American psychologist George E. Partridge. The DSM and International Classification of Diseases (ICD) subsequently introduced the diagnoses of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) and dissocial personality disorder (DPD) respectively, stating that these diagnoses have been referred to (or include what is referred to) as psychopathy or sociopathy. The creation of ASPD and DPD was driven by the fact that many of the classic traits of psychopathy were impossible to measure objectively. [my emphasis]

That professionals consider the traits of psychopathy "impossible to measure objectively" suggests that any definition should be based on antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) or dissocial personality disorder (DPD).

Wikipedia describes ASPD and DPD together as follows:

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD or APD) is a personality disorder characterized by a long term pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights of others. A low moral sense or conscience is often apparent, as well as a history of crime, legal problems, or impulsive and aggressive behavior.

Antisocial personality disorder is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Dissocial personality disorder (DPD), a similar or equivalent concept, is defined in the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD), which includes antisocial personality disorder in the diagnosis. Both manuals provide similar criteria for diagnosing the disorder.

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, July 10). Antisocial personality disorder. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11:03, August 3, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Antisocial_personality_disorder&oldid=905686596

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, July 29). Psychopathy. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:28, August 3, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Psychopathy&oldid=908418525

  • Ok Thanks very much for you contribution I think to clarify the confusion I have had, is that yes there are a very many number of folk this term could be directed to, but it is important for society to recognize there is a spectrum here, the binary nature of such a diagnosis can be somewhat of a hinderance to society in that if they are indeed such anti social creatures, yet demonstrate benevolence to the extent they have not directly impacted the lives of others in a negative or fatal way, this partial qualification must be acknowledged Aug 4, 2019 at 10:24
  • follow up question, lack of empathy is also stated as a symptom of autism, how are the two different? Aug 5, 2019 at 0:08

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