While these terms are often used interchangeably, they refer to different sets of characteristics and symptoms. Both psychopathy and sociopathy are classified under antisocial personality disorder, which is a part of the Cluster B personality disorder group. Behaviors of those in this group demonstrates a disregard for societal rules and others, as well as unpredictability.
According to Psychology Today, some symptoms of antisocial personality disorder include criminal activity, manipulation, impulsiveness, aggression, irresponsibility, irritability, disregard for the safety of self and others, and a lack of remorse.
Within the category of antisocial personality disorders is sociopathy, which is distinct in its volatility. Sociopathy is primarily shaped by environmental traumas, such as abusive relationships or a troubled childhood, but individuals who are genetically predisposed have a higher likelihood of developing the disorder. Some common behavior of sociopaths include emotional outbursts, lack of self control, and a disregard for societal rules.
Sociopaths lack conscientiousness causing them to break rules and treat others badly. However, it is uneasy to identify a sociopath because their symptoms may be masked by a charming personality. One of the greatest differences between sociopathy and psychopathy is that sociopaths are capable of forming attachments to others, while psychopaths lack genuine relationships.
Unlike sociopathy, pychopathy is generally caused by genetics or congenital injury. A distinct trait of psychopaths is the lack of empathy, meaning that they do not feel remorse when hurting others and are highly manipulative. Psychopathy is also characterized by the inability to form true emotional attatchments, yet psychopaths utilize superficial charm and dishonesty to gain success. Although not all psychopaths are dangerous, they are more likely to commit crimes than sociopaths.
Despite both being classified as antisocial personality disorder, psychopaths and sociopaths demonstrate different behaviors. Understanding this is important if someone in your life is diagnosed, as well as in research and treatment of such disorders.