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What Are the Causes of Sociopathic Behavior?

author image Lizette Mollinea
Lizette Mollinea has been a licensed mental health counselor since 1998 and is based in Florida. She has worked as a therapist in a variety of settings including social service agencies, psychiatric hospitals and private practice. She received her master's degree in mental health counseling from Nova Southeastern University.
What Are the Causes of Sociopathic Behavior?
An adolescent leaning against a wall by himself. Photo Credit: Susan Stevenson/Hemera/Getty Images

A person who is considered to be a sociopath has developed behaviors that violate the rights of others. Often these are criminal in nature. The "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition" (DSM-IV) describes some of these behaviors as failing to conform to society’s rules, deceitfulness, impulsiveness, reckless endangerment of self or others, and a lack of remorse. This behavior falls under a condition called Antisocial Personality Disorder. Some of the causes for this disorder can be traced to childhood.

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Child Abuse and Neglect

Children who were abused by their parents or caretakers may suffer serious consequences later in life. The chance of becoming a sociopath increases when a child is subjected to this type of mistreatment. A child who has distant and uncaring parents is also at risk. Donald Black, M.D., of PsychCentral explains that children with this type of care-taking often fail to form attachments to their parents or caretakers, making it more difficult to form these bonds with others later in life. Parents who are unavailable often provide little supervision or rules. This results in a child who hasn’t learned the importance of following rules, whether at home, school or in society. Abusive, neglectful or absent parents fail to be good role models for the child to follow into adulthood. Children who constantly move from home to home, such as in foster care, are also at risk due to the lack of attachment to others.

Brain Chemistry

According to the New York University Langone Medical Center, an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex is responsible for controlling judgment, impulsiveness, aggressiveness and decision-making. Individuals who exhibit antisocial behavior are thought to have chemical imbalances that prevent this area of the brain from sending out the signals that dictate appropriate behaviors. The specific chemical involved is serotonin, which brings about a sense of well-being. Individuals with sociopathic behavior may have damage to the nerve centers that regulate the release of serotonin.

Conduct Disorder

The DSM- IV states that a child who is diagnosed with conduct disorder prior to age 10 has a higher chance of developing antisocial personality disorder unless the condition is treated early and effectively. The symptoms of conduct disorder are much like that of antisocial personality disorder. The criteria are bullying and threatening others, aggression to people or animals, physical cruelty, destroying property, lying and stealing. A child who has early onset of conduct disorder has a worse prognosis than one who develops the disorder later in childhood or adolescence.

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