What Is Antisocial Personality Disorder? - Symptoms, Treatment & Causes

Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

We often hear the term 'psychopath' and 'antisocial' thrown around a lot, but what do they really mean? I hear people being called antisocial because they don't want to go out or be around other people. Let's learn how the term 'Antisocial Personality Disorder' is used in psychology.

There is an unfortunate trend in psychology where clinical terms are stolen and misused by lay people. You probably have used some in the last week when describing a bad driver (moron, idiot, retard). One such term is antisocial, which is better described as rejecting the rules and regulations others understand implicitly.

What Is a Personality Disorder?

Personality disorders are enduring patterns of behavior and thoughts that deviate from typical human behavior and cause some form of distress or disability after the age of 18. A personality disorder is a less than efficient or sometimes damaging way of interacting with people and events. It is an unhealthy way to interpret and see the world. A person also must be older than 18 since most adolescents or children do not have a set personality.

ASPD - Symptoms and Diagnosis

Antisocial Personality Disorder, sometimes shortened to ASPD, is a pervasive pattern of behavior and thoughts which regularly disregard and violate the rights of others that begins in early childhood or adolescence and continues to adulthood. Deceit and manipulation are the cornerstones of this disorder. This is the person who has no problem stealing, lying, cheating, or taking advantage of others. Often the thought process of people with this disorder centers on the idea that they are the only ones who matter. 'You take care of yourself' is the law of their land.

For someone to be diagnosed with ASPD, he or she must meet at least three criteria from the following, which also must occur prior to the age of 15:

  • Failure to conform to social expectations and behaviors with respect to the law, repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest
  • Deception, repeatedly lying, use of aliases, or conning others for pleasure or profit
  • Noted impulsivity and a failure to plan ahead
  • Irritability and/or aggressiveness which may result in several physical fights or assaults
  • Disregard for safety of self and others
  • Failure to conform to social responsibilities, including failures to maintain consistent work and failure to honor financial obligations
  • Lack of remorse, use of rationalizing or indifference to hurt, mistreat, or steal from others

Another common issue seen with those with ASPD is in the realm of emotions. While not part of the diagnostic criteria, many antisocial individuals lack or have little empathy or sympathy. Other emotions, such as anger and happiness, are typically short-lived and are experienced due to unusual reasons. An antisocial person will feel anger over having something taken away, but feel none when they are injured by another. They may feel happy about conning someone out of money, but not when they spend the money.

The drug culture is often controlled by antisocial individuals


This personality disorder is regarded as one of the most difficult to treat because people with the disorder do not experience the typical distress and problems faced by others with psychological disorders. There is no known effective treatment for ASPD. The ability to lie, deceive, and not feel bad about it can get them further ahead in life. Furthermore, in their own minds they do not suffer from a disorder and will attempt to manipulate the therapy sessions to their benefit. A large percentage of people with severe ASPD end up in prison, but those with milder cases and higher intelligences end up in professions that favor a lack of remorse combined with a level of ruthlessness in business or politics.

Treatment for individuals with severe cases often occurs during an incarceration. Their tactics, which were useful in the world they used to live in, are now getting them into trouble inside a facility. The tactic that works best is appealing to their self-centeredness and personal interests with behavioral modifications. For example, an inmate who fought with other inmates regularly was placed in isolation. To keep the inmate from returning to isolation, a punishment, the therapist suggested changing how he interacts with the other inmates. It became in the inmate's best interests to walk away from the fight (or not start it) so he could avoid the punishment of having his 'freedom' taken away (he is still incarcerated, but solitary is 'prison' in prison).

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