- Academic Research and Writing Tips / Tutorial

The Deviant Behavior of the Sociopath

The course spanning task will be an eight to ten page criminological theory paper (100 points). For this task you will develop and present your own research project based in one of the social constructionist perspectives covered in the class. Obtain a few research articles from the journal "Criminology" to use as an example for how to write this paper. This paper is different from some of the papers that you have written in past CLS classes, so it is very important that you get an article from this journal to use.


I Introduction

Sociopath Research

A Background: criminology and psychology
B Thesis: Assessing risk levels for sociopaths must involve communication between criminal justice and psychological professionals.

II Body

A Theoretical background
1. Social constructionism
2. Constructionism and deviance

B Social constructionism and sociopaths
1. Sociopaths, society, and psychology
2. Criminological perspectives of deviance
3. Need for cross-pollination of perspectives
4. Sociopathic traits: serial killers, cult leaders, lone killers
5. Responses and labeling theory (constructionism)
6. Broken Windows theory

III Conclusion

A Restatement of thesis
B Ideas for future research


There are many definitions of a sociopath, and these definitions are often complicated by the prevalence of the word in the lexicon, and how it is used by the media. It is also important to look at sociopaths through the perspective of criminological theories of deviance, such as social constructionism theory, sometimes also called relativist theory. For criminal justice professionals, dealing with sociopaths, as with psychopaths or those with another deviant psychiatric disorder, also means dealing with those who diagnose and treat them. “The The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lists both psychopathy and sociopathy under the heading of Antisocial Personalities. Both psychopaths and sociopaths engage in similar actions and tend to have similar characteristics” (What, 2013). One must also look for a sociopath profile that is not divisive and does not have too many loopholes. That is, to say in a form of profiling that sociopaths tend to be heterosexual males, flies in the face of logic when one considers that many sociopaths, including the infamous John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer cases, are and were homosexual, and also that many serial killers are and were women.

There are specific instances of sociopathic action such as ritual or serial murder that can be used to illustrate the basics of the crime, like some other sociopaths as well who appear to all intents and purposes normal on the outside, who have a desire to be an active and contributing member of community and society. Many sociopaths do not have any remarkable childhood experiences of abuse or neglect, and do not fit any established pattern for seeking out and profiling killers. However, “Criminologists devote their life to assessing, comprehending, restraining, and helping lawmakers to prevent criminal and deviant acts. Not all criminal acts are deviant, and likewise all deviant acts are not criminal” (Hall, 2013). For outcomes to truly be optimized, assessing risk levels for sociopaths must involve communication between criminal justice and psychological professionals.

Theoretical background

Social constructionist theory is a theory of deviance that points towards external environmental considerations impacting the individual and causing them to perform acts of deviant behavior. There are different kinds of social constructionist theorists, ranging from realist to nominalist assumptions. “Pro-realists accuse constructionists of being nihilistic and unscientific; anti-realists ridicule any attempt at science as just another truth claim that is using scientific ideology to claim legitimacy for its own political ends” (Evaluation, 2013). Anti-realists, on the other hand, tend to argue that claiming objectivity regarding the condition is impossible without subjectively portraying one’s own analysis as flawed through contextual discourse. Although types of social constructionist theory differ, they all share the same goals of understanding deviant behavior’s causes and effects. Most perspectives that use social constructionism to understand types of deviance such as sociopathic behavior are fairly relativistic, in that they are more likely to view environmental and general universals in correlation with deviance and crime. “The Constructionist approach may be referred to as much more radically relativistic, that is they are more likely to emphasize difference, the variation or relativity in moral and legal codes from one society to another, as well as, from one group, subculture or individual to another within the same society.” (Goode, 2013). The mass-presentation of deviance is presented and explored in a different way in social constructionism narratives than it is in narratives that take the machinations of the culture more exclusively into account, whether they are positivist or not. Social constructionist interpretations tend to spend more time exploring social and externalized roles that are perpetuated by the object of culture rather than examining the object itself in a social and political setting that focuses on the history of culture as progress or stated objective. There is an implied relation between social constructionism and labeling.

Social constructionism and sociopaths

Sociopaths have an interesting relationship with the rest of society, when it comes to what one may think of as a normal mode of operational interface with others. Concepts like empathy and the golden rule, which most people see as foundational hallmarks of the social contract that allows people to live in close proximity to each other, do not mean much to the sociopath. From a Freudian perspective, this individual has not evolved a separate function of ego that seeks the input, approval, and trust of others as more than a selfish gambit. Therefore, to this sort of deviant perspective, rather than seeing people as independent entities seeking happiness, the sociopath sees people as pawns to be used. The central human attachment of trust and empathy is lacking, perhaps due to childhood impetus, or perhaps a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Many psychologists believe that, “attachment begins at infancy and continues throughout life and there are several innate behavioral control systems that are needed for survival and procreation. The attachment and exploration systems are central in his attachment theory. An infant will first establish a strong attachment with its primary caregiver, who will be the infant's base of exploration” (Lee, 2006). On the other hand, an infant with weak or broken attachment may arguably develop more problems with deviance in the future, having found that they could not trust their first source of attachment.

From a criminological perspective of trying to assess and categorize deviance along the principles of reducing harm to society, sociopathic individuals represent an insidious sort of deviance that seeks to disrupt the foundational framework of trust and mutual regard that keeps society going. A criminological point of view that values social justice imperatives must needs be consider reducing any threat to the total happiness of individuals within the society. Actions which increase total harm o the society are seen to increase entropy and, from the Broken Windows theory, lead to further deviance. sociologically and psychologically as well as in a criminological manner in terms of profiling. “Just as serial murder ‘pulls a large crowd,’ one of the investigative tools often employed to aid in their capture, most broadly known as criminal profiling, has also received a large amount of attention in recent times” (Petherick, 2002). Not all sociopaths are serial murderers, of course, but one must also recognize that all serial murderers, on the other hand, are sociopaths. Any attempt at making a successful profile should arguably start with this logic.

Individuals who are sociopaths represent a potentially dangerous sort of deviance from a criminological perspective, but from a psychological perspective, the picture becomes more complicated in terms of causality, nature vs. nurture, and other points of view which may in fact highlight rehabilitation efforts as being superior to deterrents. In many cases, psychologists and criminology professionals work in tandem, and in cases of sociopathy, it is likely that the deviant individual will be seen in the light of biological, psychological, and social aspects of sociopathic behavior. This sharing of perspectives is recommended in a milieu in which law enforcement, criminal justice professionals, and psychologists work closely together in order to establish the best practices for dealing with sociopathic individuals. “Typically, serial killers have a desire to dominate others. Their targets usually are women and children, whom they can overpower. The murders often are accompanied by sexual assaults; if the defendants are caught, they frequently are found awash in pornography” (Gest, 1984). Gest provides some general rules in this quotation, but it must be remembered that often in real life, as soon as a rule is established, it is broken.

Of course, the stereotype of the sociopath as a lone killer or a secretive serial killer, may be off-base in many cases. Although there have been many recent stories about lone sociopaths in the media, such as the perpetrators of the recent shootings in New Jersey and Colorado, it must be remembered that sociopaths do not always act alone, and in fact, many notorious cult leaders and serial killers were also diagnosed as sociopathic individuals. Sociopaths can be very charismatic, in fact, and attract a group of followers who may commit deviant acts in the name of the sociopath leader, or at the leader’s behest. In some cases, therefore, the total level of harm to society is increased exponentially through the sociopath exerting his/her influence over desperate or vulnerable individuals. This is why, from a criminological perspective, it is important to understand the possible ramifications of deviant sociopathic behavior, not just as it affects the individual perpetrating it and/or his/her victims, but also in terms of how it affects those whom the sociopath has recruited. There are few times that a, “Sociopath would actually appear to be devoid of emotion. Such persons are calculated enough to understand that they need to emote in the right ways to get what they want. While a subtle person’s personality is grounded, a sociopath is a social chameleon, changing effortlessly into whatever form suits their needs. A sociopath sees the world only in terms of superficial appearances” (Myth, 2011). This deviant personality also tends to see the world in a very selfish way.

There are inherent difficulties in profiling sociopaths. That is, in one way, a person could position a sociopathic killer like Ted Bundy, the promising, charming law-student, right at the very center of normality. And in another way, the same person could position Bundy, the secret, sex-crazed, monomaniacal mass-murderer, so far off the scale of normality as to be unrecognizable. This sheds light on the sensitive issue of developing a profile for sociopaths based on a basic assumption of their non-allegiance to the societies in which they want to appear as normal as possible.

In terms of response to sociopathic deviance, the polarization of deterrence and rehabilitation does not have to be reflected in practice, as both perspectives can work in synch. Dependent variables, or course, include the nature of the specific incident of deviant behavior and the level of communication and integration of services between criminal justice and psychological professionals. However, as a blanket policy, it can be stated that even if agencies have different priorities for the individual, they share the goal of reducing the total level of harm to society, by achieving a reduction in deviant behavior, including sociopathic behavior. If sociopathic behavior is allowed to continue, from the Broken Windows theory perspective, it will simply perpetuate itself and the situation will only get worse. The basic premise of this idea is simple and compelling: picture a street where everything is orderly, except for one broken window. If the window is fixed, everything will look perfect. But if it isn’t, and the weeks go on, people will think that this is a suitable place to break windows. “Left untended, it sends a signal: that no one cares about this neighborhood, that it is a safe place to break things, to litter, to vandalize. Those who engage in such behaviors will feel safe here. And once these minor miscreants have become well established, perhaps it will seem a safe enough neighborhood in which to be openly drunk” (Broken, 2002). In the same way, if a sociopath is allowed to keep getting away with deviance, there will be more likely threats of recidivism.

Social control in society regarding deviance is generally thought of in terms of enforcement of rules against or attempting to control behavior. This makes the psycho-sociological theory of labeling perhaps the most important to consider in terms of social control, when it comes to applying social constructionism to the deviance of the sociopathic personality. Thinking of calling someone a sociopath or psychopath as labeling, it seems to be less of a matter of identity doubling as it is an affront to the identity or recognition of individuality at all in the individual (both are dehumanizing terms). It could even be stated that profiling behavior is the type of negative labeling behavior that labeling theory claims supports future deviance. Labeling is a psycho/sociological theory of deviance, and it is also important to consider biological classifications and their implications. “Michael Foucault argues that the panopticon’s architecture and operation were paradigmatic of a nineteenth-century vision of a disciplinary society in which surveillance, monitoring, and control would make undetected deviance impossible. The panopticon operates like a one way mirror” (Anechiarico and Jacobs, 1996). In the future, one has to ask what kind of society one wants to live in.


Overall, for any optimized outcomes to appear, there needs to be more communication between mental health and criminal justice professionals regarding controlling, detecting, and trying to rehabilitate or stop the deviant behavior profile of the sociopathic personality. Some of the most brutal crimes on record have been committed by this personality type. “Serial killers with the nature of their crimes cross both categories due to the violence associated with the crimes, the recidivism of the crimes, and the deviant nature of most serial killers even though the particular deviance varies per killer” (Hall, 2013). As a general issue and point of interest, though, sociopaths are not a recent phenomenon: they seem to have been around before, during, and after industrialization, and even throughout history. Our methods of sociological and psychological as well as criminological inquiry have advanced with society so that at the present we may be better to understand what motivates these people to behave in repeatedly anti-social ways through differential association theory. Basically, “A sociopath sees the world only in terms of superficial appearances. The meaning of any thing comes not from what it is, but what reaction it gets from others. A classic trait of a sociopathic/narcissistic personality is that they don’t perceive other humans as people” (Myth, 2011). If the sociopath doesn’t see another person as a human being, then they become just a tool in his/her hands. For the sociopath, there are no individuals; everyone outside of their own mind represents society, and therefore humans are seen by the sociopath only in terms of their potential use and disposal, rather than their inherent humanity.


Anechiarico and Jacobs (1996). The Pursuit of Absolute Integrity. New York: Thompson.

This is a general book on ethics, useful to the current report for its discussions on various solutions to deviance. This author’s book did not just summarize the points of other people; it added personal comments by the authors.

Gest, P (1984). Theories of Criminology. New York: Perseus

This is a general reference on criminological theory. It is interesting to read because a lot of books reviewed either quote directly from some other text or supply their own paraphrasing, and do not have the same level of open primary sourcing this book does.

Goode, E (2013). Social constructionist theories of deviance.

A resource on both constructionist theory and deviance, this source was specifically chosen for its relevance to the topic. It links theory and deviance in a meaningful way.

Evaluation of the social construction of crime (2013).

This site looks at social constructionism and how it can be used to understand crime and deviance. The attention to detail in referencing in this resource was cogent and showed a thoughtful assimilation of the material from journalistic research methods as well as historical ones.

Hall, H (2013). Social construction of serial murder.

This site makes connections between social constructionism and serial killers. Although it is not explicitly linking sociopathy to the theory, by extension, most serial killers are sociopaths.

This is a resource that challenges the stereotype that sociopaths are lone killers. I found myself asking what the positive as well as negative consequences of their subject matter could be. In terms of critique, this resource is articulate and literate about the methodology and general subject.

What is the difference between a sociopath and a psychopath.

This site clears up some common misconceptions about differences between sociopaths and psychopaths. Other authors are used and paraphrased often in the text. It is interesting to read because a lot of articles reviewed either quote directly from the text or supply their own paraphrasing.

Broken Windows (2002). /wiki/Broken_windows.

This is a general reference site on Broken Windows theory. Although some dispute that Wikipedia can be a valid source, this entry was not recently modified, did not contain dead links, and also, there were no markers of inauthenticity. The review of the theory matched reviews in print sources.

Lee, E. (2006). The Attachment System Throughout the Life Course: Review and Criticisms of Attachment Theory. RIT.

This author looks at attachment theory; this theory is relevant to psychologists trying to understand sociopathy. Overall, this source’s research questions were related to the purpose and were equally literate and articulate, and they followed the general direction of the research well.

Petherick, Wayne (2005). Criminal Profiling: Fact, Fiction, Fantasy, and Fallacy. The Criminal Mind.

This book looks at ways in which to profile deviance, in terms of certain types of sociopaths such as serial killers. The author also supplied personal commentary. Many of the other books are written in a summative form which detracts from analysis because it provides material on a summarizing basis that has already been represented in extant form.