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Psychopathy Symptoms

A symptom is an internal, subjective experience that cannot be identified by anyone else.

Psychopathy is a developmental disorder. Therefore, parents, caregivers, and other family members should know the early symptoms and signs of psychopathy and become familiar with the behaviors and traits that may appear in children at different ages. A symptom is a subjective experience that cannot be identified by anyone else. (This is in contrast to a sign, which is an objective, observable phenomenon that can be identified by another person.)


An Uncaring Temperament

An uncaring temperament is the social and emotional core of psychopathy. This feature distinguishes psychopathy from other conditions associated with aggression or antisocial behavior. A person with an uncaring temperament may:

  • Behave in ways that cause others physical, social, emotional, or financial harm
  • Not express remorse or guilt after causing harm
  • Not show concern when others are in distress
  • Lie to, use, or manipulate others to get what they want
  • Seem cold
  • Be unconcerned about doing well in school, work, or in relationships
  • Not keep friends
  • Seem insincere or superficial

Boldness and Social Dominance

Children and adults with psychopathy have unusually fearless, bold, and dominant personalities. For example, they may:

  • Take physical, social, financial, or legal risks
  • Engage in thrill-seeking behaviors
  • Not show or feel fear in situations that would scare most people
  • Not learn to avoid behaviors that have resulted in harm or punishment
  • Appear very confident or arrogant

Disinhibited Behavior

Disinhibited behavior refers to behavior that is impulsive, spontaneous, or unplanned. For example a disinhibited person may:

  • Get bored or impatient more easily than others of the same age
  • Not plan ahead, or leave things until the last minute
  • Act without thinking of the consequences
  • Fail to keep promises or commitments
  • Often miss work or school

These traits may:

  • First appear in early childhood (although if they are mild they may not be recognized or be mistaken for other conditions)
  • Persist into adulthood
  • Interfere with school, work, and relationships

What Psychopathy Is NOT

Psychopathy is NOT limited to certain categories of people.

People of any gender, race, cultural background, or age can be affected by psychopathy. Psychopathic traits may manifest differently in different people. For example, in males psychopathy is more likely to result in physical aggression, whereas in females it is more likely to result in social aggression (bullying or ostracism).

Psychopathy is NOT the same as psychosis.

Psychosis refers to the inability to tell truth from fantasy. People with psychosis may hallucinate or have delusions (for example, they may believe they have supernatural powers). Some people with psychosis have a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. These disorders are not linked to psychopathy. It is possible, however, to have both psychopathy and one of these disorders.

Psychopathy is NOT the same thing as violence or crime.

There are many reasons people may be violent or engage in criminal activity. Most people who are violent or engage in criminal activity are not psychopathic. And many people with psychopathy are not violent.

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