Aug 8 2012 10:30am

Stop Calling Sherlock a Sociopath! Thanks, a Psychologist.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock HolmesI’d like to get something off my chest. It’s been bugging me for a very, very long time. Sherlock Holmes is not a sociopath. He is not even a “high-functioning sociopath,” as the otherwise truly excellent BBC Sherlock has styled him (I take the words straight from Benedict Cumberbatch’s mouth). There. I’ve said it.

When Cumberbatch calls himself a sociopath, he is responding to a taunt from a police officer: Psychopath! “Do your research,” his Holmes urges. “Don’t call a person a psychopath when what he really is is a sociopath.”

I love the series. I love Cumberbatch. I really do. And while I understand completely how effective the exchange is—how snappy it sounds, how intelligent and witty it makes Holmes seem—it makes me cringe. First of all, psychopaths and sociopaths are the exact same thing. There is no difference. Whatsoever. Psychopathy is the term used in modern clinical literature, while sociopathy is a term that was coined by G. E. Partridge in 1930 to emphasize the disorder’s social transgressions and that has since fallen out of use. That the two have become so mixed up in popular usage is a shame, and that Sherlock perpetuates the confusion all the more so. And second of all, no actual psychopath—or sociopath, if you (or Holmes) will—would ever admit to his psychopathy.

According to Robert Hare, creator of the standard diagnostic tool for psychopathic personality disorder and one of the world’s leading experts on the topic, psychopathy is characterized by four major factors, or groups of traits: the interpersonal, the affective, the lifestyle, and the antisocial. Into the first bucket fall such traits as glibness and superficiality, grandiosity, pathological deception, and manipulative cunning; into the second, characteristics like lack of guilt or remorse, shallow affect, lack of empathy, and a failure to accept responsibility for actions; the third, proneness to boredom, a parasitic lifestyle, and a lack of long-term goals coupled with impulsivity; and the fourth, poor control of behavior, childhood problems, breaking of parole (or other conditional release), and criminal versatility. Oh, and there are two other traits that don’t fall into any category but are important nonetheless: sexual promiscuity and numerous short-term relationships.

So how does Holmes stack up against this picture? And why has he been termed psychopathic so often—and so uncontestedly? The answer to the second question, I’d venture to guess, has something to do with the detective’s apparent coldness and his calculating nature, coupled with his vast intellect. So before we begin to tackle the other issues, let’s address those.

Ted BundyFirst, coldness. Indeed, that seems to mesh with “shallow affect, lack of empathy.” But Holmes’s coldness is not the coldness of a psychopath. There are several fundamental differences. First, the psychopath is cold because he is incapable of being otherwise—hence, the element of lacking guilt or remorse. A psychopath doesn’t experience feelings the same way we do. The things that excite us, trouble us, make us happy do virtually nothing for him. In fact, psychopaths are often used in studies of emotion for that precise reason. We can compare their reactions to non-psychopathic reactions (both behaviorally and neurally) to learn more about how and why emotion affects us—and why the sociopath is as he is.

Holmes’s coldness is nothing of the sort. It’s not that he doesn’t experience any emotion. It’s that he has trained himself to not let emotions cloud his judgment—something that he repeats often to Watson. In The Sign of Four, recall Holmes’s reaction to Mary Morstan: “I think she is one of the most charming young ladies I ever met.” He does find her charming, then. But that’s not all he says. “But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things,” Holmes continues. Were Sherlock a psychopath, none of those statements would make any sense whatsoever. Not only would he fail to recognize both Mary’s charm and its potential emotional effect, but he wouldn’t be able to draw the distinction he does between cold reason and hot emotion. Holmes’s coldness is learned. It is deliberate. It is a constant self-correction (he notes Mary is charming, then dismisses it; he’s not actually unaffected in the initial moment, only once he acknowledges it does he cast aside his feeling).

Jeffrey DahmerWhat’s more, Holmes’s coldness lacks the related elements of no empathy, no remorse, and failure to take responsibility. For empathy, we need look no further than his reaction to Watson’s wound in “The Three Garridebs,” (“You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!”)—or his desire to let certain criminals walk free, if they are largely guiltless in his own judgment. For remorse, consider his guilt at dragging Watson into trouble when the situation is too much (and his apology for startling him into a faint in “The Empty House.” Witness: “I owe you a thousand apologies. I had no idea that you would be so affected.” A sociopath does not apologize). For responsibility, think of the multiple times Holmes admits of error whenever one is made, as, for instance, in the “Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax,” when he tells Watson, “Should you care to add the case to your annals, my dear Watson, it can only be as an example of that temporary eclipse to which even the best-balanced mind may be exposed.”

So much for affect. And what of intelligence, that other contributing factor? That one is easy. Simply put, intelligence has nothing whatsoever to do with sociopathy. That, too, is a common myth. As Hare puts it, “Some psychopaths are bright, others less so.” And numerous studies have shown that the correlation between standard measures of intelligence and levels of psychopathy are, at best, incredibly small. That settles that.

How about those other dimensions of the psychopathic individual? On the interpersonal dimension, we can dismiss pathological deception out of hand. As for glibness and superficiality, that, too, is not something we associate with Holmes. Holmes may be quite witty and often ironic, but he is neither shallow nor insincere. And manipulatively cunning? Holmes is clever, to be sure, but he does not deceive for personal gratification—or purely for the expense of others. To do so would be, well, psychopathic.

Moving on to lifestyle, it becomes clear that Holmes drifts even further from the psychopathic picture. Of the listed qualities, the only one that could apply is proneness to boredom. We know that when Holmes is not on a case, he is likely to seek stimulation in other, somewhat less healthy pursuits. But surely that alone is not enough to make a psychopath. (You have to score at least 30 points on Hare’s scale to qualify.)

Robert Downey, JuniorFor, alone it would be. We’ve already dealt with the affect dimension—and as for the final two, they are so far from the Sherlock Holmes persona that they hardly bear mention. Flagrant violation of societal rules, like poor behavioral control, delinquency, and parole violations? We don’t know much about Holmes’s childhood, true, but he has no such ungovernable impulses as an adult. He can be accused of indoor firearm use, but not much more. As for sexual promiscuity and numerous short-term relationships? That honor is far more likely to go to the good Dr. Watson, the self-proclaimed conqueror of females over many nations and three separate continents.

But the most compelling evidence is simply this. Sherlock Holmes is not a cold, calculating, self-gratifying machine. He cares for Watson. He cares for Mrs. Hudson. He most certainly has a conscience (and as Hare says, if nothing else, the “hallmark [of a sociopath] is a stunning lack of conscience”). In other words, Holmes has emotions—and attachments—like the rest of us. What he’s better at is controlling them—and only letting them show under very specific circumstances.

So let me say it one more time, just to get it out of my system: Sherlock Holmes is not any kind of sociopath. Not even close.

There. I feel better now.

Maria Konnikova is a psychologist and writer living in New York City. Her first book, Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes, will be published by Viking/Penguin in January 2013. She is currently completing her first novel.

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1. Will Burns
Of course Sherlock Holmes is not a sociopath, nor a psychopath. He's a classic INTJ personality type on the MBTI, which explains his behaviors succinctly.
2. neindanke
Nice article. Don't fault the actor/character, though. That's more than likely the fault of the writers.

@Will Burns Never saw the MBTI stuff as legit. Seems way to hoaky and general to really be of any use. I put it in the same catagory as any other systemic method of testing and catagorizing personalities.

Any comment on that from the author?
Maria Konnikova
3. Maria_Konnikova
@neindanke Yes, clearly the wonderful Mr. Cumberbatch shouldn't be blamed for his lines!

@neindanke @Will Burnes: I have to agree with @neindanke's skepticism here. General "personality" scales don't tend to have very much predictive validity at all.
Resa Haile
4. Resa_Haile
Maria, wonderful article. I am always defending Holmes as not sociopathic online (it seems).

Even Steven Moffat, who wrote the episode in which the line appears, said: "He's not a psychopath, he's not a sociopath ... he's a man who chooses to be the way he is because he thinks it makes him better. It's a monastic decision. He takes himself out of touch with his sexuality, out of touch with his emotions in order to make himself better." (

I always took it to be just what you say, a snappy comeback to the insult of being called a psychopath.
Maria Konnikova
5. Maria_Konnikova
Thanks, Resa! I appreciate it. And thank you for that link to the Moffat interview.
Karen L
6. changisme
This is a very nice article! I totally agree that Sherlock Holmes in the hands of Conan Doyle is not a sociopath, but I think B. C. portrayal in Sherlock, the TV series are is more sociopathic (even beside his explicit mentioning of the disorder).

As do you, I love the show very much. Nevertheless, it did not show his effort to control his more human emotions, and he had human heads in his fridge, and in the episode about the serial killer who ask people to poison themselves, he was even excited when more victims appeared.

There is just one deviation, he seems to care a great deal about the companionship of Watson! So from that, one could argue that even in B. C.'s portrayal, Sherlock is not a COMPLETE stereotypical sociopath.
7. guest
Why do you keep mentioning Cumberbatch as the reason why Sherlock says that offhanded line? The line isn't straight from his mouth, it's straight from his characters mouth. He doesn't call himself a sociopath, the character he potrays does. Besides, he's "just" the actor, writers wrote the lines.

Clearly the show in it's entirety doesn't portray Sherlock as a sociopath, the whole story is about his emotional growth. So the article seems rather pointless.
Christopher Morgan

My guess would be that the reason that she mentions Cumberbatch is that he is the face of the show. I'm sure that the author knows the difference between an actor and a character in a show. The point I believe she is trying to make is that with that seemingly flippant and witty retort, the viewership at large, has begun to see Sherlock as a "high-functioning sociopath" instead of a brilliant man that has willfully shut off the parts that most of us consider essential to being human.

She also shows that Sherlock doesn't need emotional growth. He is already a perfectly mature and formed adult male. Yes he has his quirks, but throughout he cares for John, Mrs. Hudson, and you could probably make an argument for Lestrade as well. SO the story isn't about "emotional growth", it's about two, long-suffering friends that go on some pretty fun adventures.

The article is showing how "a high functioning sociopath" is an incorrect way of interpreting the chracter of Holmes and an improper reading of Cumberbatch's Holmes in particular.
9. matt B.
Totally agree with changisme

The issue I have with this article is that while you're dealing with a line from the current TV show, the evidence you use is all from the novels and short stories.

At the risk of going completely post modern, it seems to me that Moffat's Sherlock Holmes is a different character than Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. They share many qualities, but there are a number of differences as well.

I agree that Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is definitely not a psychopath -- as your evidence demonstrates that Holmes has clearly cultivated his behaviors.

That said, Moffat's Sherlock has demonstrated many more psychopathic tendencies than his literary predecessor. And Moffat's comments not withstanding, his actions within the context of the series suggests that much of this behavior is not simply the result of cultivated affect (unless he's specifically cultivating anti-social and anti-empathetic behaviors). At this point, it really appears that Sherlock (versus Holmes) was largely "born this way."

Does that mean Moffat's Sherlock is a psychopath? No. But I think a strong case could be made that he is autistic in a way that Conan Doyle's Holmes was not.

And Sherlock clearly feels that in both legal (in addition to the guns, he has no issue with breaking and entering, impersonating officials, hacking, assualt beyond self defense, and strongly hinted drug use) and interpersonal relations (see, as one example, his experimenting on/psychologically torturing his best friend in the Baskerville episode) he can operate by his own rules outside the boundaries of social norms, .
10. yenny
In a later episode of Sherlock (The Hounds of Baskerville), John speculates that Sherlock has Asperger's. I think that's a more likely explanation for his behavior on the show than psychopathy. But I do have to agree with some of the other posters here who say that Arthur Conan Doyle's original Holmes and Moffat & Gatiss's Sherlock are not identical characters.
11. Nobody
In response to matt B, most of the things you mention in the last paragraph of your post Conan Doyle's Holmes engages in. He breaks into houses on multiple occasions, is known to use drugs (cocaine), impersonates officials (a clergyman in the final story), and hacking is close enough in concept to breaking and entering to be no different. As for the psychological "torturing" of Watson, he engages in similar behavior all throughout the literature, misleading Watson in order to draw out criminals more than a few times. Conan Doyle's Holmes and Moffat's Holmes both seem to operate outside of societal norms in generally the same way.

I agree that some of Conan Doyle's Holmes personality is cultivated but much of it seems to be 'natural'. I think both the literary Holmes and Moffat's Holmes more clearly align with Schizoid personality disorder. Take a look and tell me what you think.
12. Holmes fan
Excellent article! At the time the first series came out Cumberbatch said in interviews he based the characterization on someone who is autistic. Since the second series came out, I've seen him mention that Sherlock is psychopathic. And Moffat has said both that Sherlock is and is not a psychopath - makes for confusion. Personally, I think that Cumberbatch was more direct when he said he played the character as autistic, but I think the actors, writers, and producers don't want Sherlock pigeonholed as any one thing and therefore they have been all over the place in their comments, making it sound as though they don't actually know what a psychopath is.

I personally think Aspergers is the best explantion for both the negative and positive characteristics of both Conan Doyle's Holmes as well as Moffat's Sherlock. The extreme visual and spatial ability, the lecture mode of talking, the amazing ability to observe others yet without necessarily "getting" the nuances of tone and facial expression, the high degree of knowledge in specialized areas while having huge gaps of knowledge in others, the ability to hyperfocus so well, cataloging and listing things.... I could go on and on. Of course, Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character (albeit based a lot on a real physician), so you can't necessarily diagnose him. Still, whatever we think of the character traits, Moffat, Gatiss, and Cumberbatch did a fantastic job with Sherlock.

I'm so glad you wrote this, because I often get frustrated with the misconceptions about psychopaths/sociopaths that I see from reviewers, in interviews, and others.
13. Wolf
You're missing the point of Sherlock.... And you are gravely underestimating the intelligence of the main fanbase of Sherlock as well as the writers.

Firstly, like other people have said, there are different kinds of Sherlock Holmes (and the other characters of each version as well). All are slightly different. You can't group their personalities into one, nor can you mention one and take quotes or examples of another.

Also, he was talking to Anderson. He does everything in his power to mock him. There's a good chance he said that just to make Anderson feel stupid because it's clear Anderson wouldn't be bright enough to know the difference.

Sherlock nor the writers are stupid. They all know plenty well what Sherlock would be or not be. The writers put plenty of things in there for an educated fan to figure out from small little things to stuff that is huge (such as the secret to how Sherlock survived his jump) In no way was the writers intending people to actually think Sherlock was a sociopath or anything. And in no way do most proper fans think he is in anyway.

Therefore the whole point of your article is a bit long winded and unnecessary.
14. Matilda
Really nice article !
I'm a huge fan of Sherlock since I'm a kid and the show is just perfect to me. Ayway I'm french and I was translating your article in french (hey of course) for fun, to practice english. Would you authorize me to post the french version on my blog after?
Of course you'll be credited and linked, and everything. So just let me know :) I feel that it's just unfair that nonspoken people could not get your point.
15. Another Holmes Fan
Thanks for this!!!! Even as a joke, taking psychopaths/sociopaths so glibly got on my nerves a bit.
16. We already knew this
I think you missed the point entirely.

Read over Wolf's comment.

I know you have a book coming out but majority of the fandom already knew this. We KNOW he's not a sociopath. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the writers at all but the point of the sociopathic claim was not to actually convince the audience that Sherlock Holmes is a sociopath or an example of anything close. That's why we see him throughout the show from John's perspective and that's why Moriarty made those quips about his heart (aka emotions). The POINT was to show that he's not. The self diagnosis is a tool to keep people distant and to excuse Sherlock's behavior, which would be seen as too far outside social norms under regular circumstances.

The fandom knows this already. There are always plenty of casual fans when shows get popular but this material isn't exactly attractive to MTV regulars. This is a very educated group and you're not breaking new ground. We've broken this down before.

As for the article itself, you didn't take those words “high-functioning sociopath,”out of Ben's mouth. You took them from the script. That's not the same thing and shouldn't be referenced as such. As it's been pointed out, that was put there on purpose. Not because the writers don't know the difference.

As for psychopaths and sociopaths being the axact same thing, I'd love more than a throwback to a leading researcher and his single opinion on the matter to back up such a claim. If anything was that easy than the sciences would be quite different in general. One person does not decide how people are diagnosed. We wouldn't have more than one expert if that was the case. That said, it's only furthering the point of this article which fans already know. So it feels pointless as someone from inside the fandom. Maybe it would be helpful to someone who is not or has only heard about the show in passing.

I question how well you know the series because of this, "Holmes may be quite witty and often ironic, but he is neither shallow nor insincere. And manipulatively cunning? Holmes is clever, to be sure,
but he does not deceive for personal gratification—or purely for the
expense of others. To do so would be, well, psychopathic."
Have you seen the show? All of it? Have you watched interviews with the writers? It really doesn't seem like much research was done before this statement was made.

As everyone has established, he's not sociopathic but he does do these things. It doesn't mean it's proof of any sort, but just because it's also an indicator doesn't mean you can claim that he doesn't exhibit this behavior to prove your point.

"We’ve already dealt with the affect dimension—and as for the final two, they are so far from the Sherlock Holmes persona that they hardly bear mention. Flagrant violation of societal rules, like poor behavioral control, delinquency, and parole violations? We don’t know much about Holmes’s childhood, true, but he has no such ungovernable impulses as an adult. He can be accused of indoor firearm use, but not much more."

17. Cieloan
Thanks for this! While I do think that many actual fans of Conan Doyle's work are already aware of this, I've run into my fair share of casual readers (and now viewers) that did not share my opinion.

As for Wolf and We Already Knew This, I'm not entirely sure what the point of your comments was, since you're basically just saying that, since you already knew/agreed with the core concept of the article, it shouldn't have been written. Which, while partly accurate, accusing someone of wasting your time by writing a blog post about something they're interested in is insulting.

And specifically @ We Already Knew This
You sound like a troll. Either that, or your utter lack of understanding of psychology and low reading comprehension are impressive, and I commend you.
Laura K. Curtis
18. LauraKCurtis
I think what makes Sherlock so fascinating to so many people through iteration after iteration is simply that we cannot categorize him. I've heard people say all kinds of things both about his possible psychological damage and his realism or lack thereof over the years of being a fan, and none of them ring entirely true. If we could say "oh, he's a sociopath" or "oh, he has Asperger's" or "oh, he's autistic," we could dismiss the character and go on about our merry ways. What makes him intriguing is precisely that we cannot.

I wonder whether the writers might not have been having a bit of a laugh up their sleeves with the "sociopath" comment--likely they've also heard Sherlock called that entirely too many times, and were having a bit of a giggle.

Still, this latest version of Sherlock (along with the RDJ version) have introduced a whole new population to the classic detective, and I think it's completely worthwhile to invite those new people into the conversation that many of us have been having for years...what is Sherlock, and what is he not?
19. Knatalie
Okay hi there, we need to have a talk.
Because, see, yeah. I agree, Sherlock isn't a psychopath!
But that's when I stop agreeing.
I want to write a big long explanation but honestly I am so, so goddamn angry right now. Here's the short of it:
1) I'm a psychopath. Medically diagnosed, all nice and shiny on my file, four opinions behind it.
2) and hold onto your hat here, you dumb fuck - I have feelings!111!!! I'm not an axe murderer!!!!!!!
20. Anonymous
Agreeing with Knatalie. Although I'm not angry, I do enjoy seeing these tired old cliches trotted out by people by people who evidently have no idea what they're talking about, regardless of their qualifications.

No sociopath will admit they are one? (By all means, call my doctor, revoke my ASPD diagnosis then!) There is considered to be no difference between psychopaths and sociopaths? Seriously now? As far as I am aware, this position is held by some, but not all. It's hardly settled as an issue.

It's empathy we're incapable of feeling, but we can indeed experience emotion. Are these emotions more shallow in comparison to those experienced by neurotypicals? Sure, seems to be that way, but it does not then follow that we are devoid of emotion.
Clare 2e
21. clare2e
I'm not reading where she says that the definition includes not having feelings or emotions or necessarily being an axe murderer (although we talk about those folks plenty here, too). I think you've made your feelings evident : )
22. Milo
I’ve seen a lot of people, mainly people with psychology degrees or who are taking psychology in university, cringing over Sherlock’s claim that he’s a “sociopath”.
I agree.
But here’s the thing: The show does not confirm this to be true. In fact, it proves it is false.
Sherlock fancies himself a sociopath. He’s self-diagnosed, and well all know how often self-diagnoses are wrong. He lies to himself about practically everything he is, and he tries very hard to detach himself from his emotions as much as possible, though he’s not always successful.
He “thinks” he’s a sociopath - but that, in itself, isn’t true. There’s doublethink going on there, because he knows he’s not and he sees it as a weakness, as a disadvantage.
Sherlock, the character, claims he is a sociopath. However, “Sherlock”, the show, does not. It actually seems that, in places, the show goes out of its way to prove he’s not.
“I will burn you. I will burn the heart out of you.”
“I’ve been reliably informed that I don’t have one.”
“Oh, but we both know that’s not quite true.”
24. Reid Harison
Very good article. I just watched the last two runs of Sherlock and my first impression as a psychologist was that the character is a psychopath. From what we learn in the show he does fit a large degree of the criteria for psychopathy on the Hare checklist:

Here is what I would score him for based on observation of the series. Ideally you would have time to interview and follow up for case histories as well, so it may be biased toward non-psychopathy, that is, reflect a lower score based on incomplete information.

glib & superficial charm (2), grandiose self worth (2), need for stimulation (2), pathological lying (2), cunning/manipulative (2), lack of remorse or guilt (1), shallow affect (2), callousness/lack of empathy (2), parasitic lifestyle (2), poor behavioral control (2), sexual promiscuity (0), early behavioral problems (0), lack of realistic long-term goals (1), impulsiveness (2), irresponsibility (2), failure to accept responsibility (0), short-term marital relationships (0), juvenile delinquency (0), revocation of conditional release (2), criminal versatility (2)

Total score: 28

30 is the cutoff rate for psychopathy. However, it is worth pointing out that many were zeros by default simply because it does not say if he was, for example, a juvenile delinquent or let us know one way or the other in respect to relationships. That is the issue with doing this checklist without getting additional background information. So he gets the benefit of the doubt and he still looks like he is a psychopath.

@ WeAlreadyKnewThis "As for psychopaths and sociopaths being the axact same thing, I'd love more than a throwback to a leading researcher and his single opinion on the matter to back up such a claim." Everyone saying this is correct. Sociopath is an antiquated term that is today synonymous with psychopath. However, there are groups that tend to still use sociopath with their own definitions.

I do think that there are many misunderstandings of what a psychopath is. The belief echoed in the article and discussion is that because he does have some care, emotion, or that he is perhaps doing "good" he is not a psychopath. None of those things exclude psychopathy. For example, in the article: "He cares for Watson. He cares for Mrs. Hudson." Many psychopaths seem to be extremely caring, loving to specific individuals - and they do feel those emotions toward those specific persons, items, or whatever they may be. Shallow affect only means that they don't experience emotions the same way a non-psychopath would - not that they feel nothing at all, ever.

I have met psychopaths who experience guilt as well. Specifically, I've interviewed incarcerated psychopaths who don't express any guilt over their murders but do express guilt for leaving their friends, family, 'gang' or whomever out in the wild. The 'normal' individual would feel guilty for a murder - even a justifiable one. This is why people often require therapy after a justified homicide (police shootings, war vets, etc.). Even when they know it to be right, they feel guilt and remorse. Conversely, a psychopath might have ideas of right and wrong, but not consistently feel the emotional weight behind it. And the key is not consistently - because in some cases, they do. In others they just do not.


"1) I'm a psychopath. Medically diagnosed, all nice and shiny on my file, four opinions behind it.

2) and hold onto your hat here, you dumb fuck - I have feelings!111!!! I'm not an axe murderer!!!!!!! "

This is why a good example of why people misunderstand psychopathy. They will assume an individual is not a psychopath if they have emotions and don't kill people with an axe. Psychopaths do indeed have all of the same emotions we do (although experienced differently and at different levels). Thus, if we encounter a psychopath acting emotionally (without knowing they are a psychopath) we rarely look at all of the other criteria.

"Oh, Sherlock cried. He must not be a psychopath. He made a sacrifice for someone. That's not what a psychopath would do," we say. That is one reason people do not recognize psychopaths in the wild. Many psychopaths live among us and they never do anything that would make them stand out. As a field, psychology has based almost all of its research of psychopathy on criminal populations. So we assume "axe murderer" and if the person doesn't seem like a dangerous criminal we assume that they do not fit the criteria.

@Anonymous "No sociopath will admit they are one? (By all means, call my doctor, revoke my ASPD diagnosis then!) There is considered to be no difference between psychopaths and sociopaths?

This is another confusing issue. Having ASPD does not make you a psychopath or a sociopath. Most psychopaths do fit the criteria for ASPD, but most with ASPD do not score high enough on the PCI for psychopathy. In a way, ASPD would tell us even more because it has quite a bit deal more research behind it. This is why ASPD is in the DSM, but psychopathy is just based on a checklist invented by Robert Hare. However, Sherlock could be diagnosed with ASPD and probably a few other DSM illnesses as well. As far Sherlock and ASPD:

1. Doesn't conform to social norms
2. Lying, deception, conning
3. Aggressiveness indicated by repeated fights

Actually he pretty much fits all of the ASPD requirements. The only thing missing is if he has a childhood history of incidents (which is important for the diagnosis). From the series Sherlock I guess we don't really know.
Alex Sweeney
25. MiaoShou
If you're very clever and obsessive, it's easy to get bored - if you can't do the thing you're obsessed with. And when it's crime, you're waiting for somebody else to make the first move, so there are bound to be occasions when boredom sets in.

I don't think there's anything wrong with Sherlock Holmes, neither in the original stories nor in the TV series. He's just a highly intelligent individual. Research has proven that gifted children think in different ways to the norm - surely that must, then, be true for the adults they become?

I think he was just winding Anderson up. I mean - who could resist? :D
26. Calion
As has been mentioned above, I think you are making a large mistake in conflating Doyle's Holmes with "Sherlock"'s Holmes. They are two different though related characters. It's pretty clear that Doyle's Holmes is not a sociopath. The question is, is "Sherlock" a sociopath? I think you're right and he's not, but by using quotes from the books to prove your point you have muddied the issue and failed to prove your case.
27. Jeroen
Weird, you'd think a psychologist who criticizes this, would be aware that it's called ASPD instead of psychopathy.
Teddy Pierson
28. TeddyP
I often feel everyone is a sociopath at times.
29. DrPizza
Wait, so a sociopath is not even able to learn the cues that warrant society's "charming" designation, and hence recognize that some people are charming?

Recognizing that someone is charming surely does not require _appreciating_ them as charming.

Similarly, surely, a psychopath can recognize that a situation is one which warrants an apology, and provide said apology without meaning it, if he recognizes that it's beneficial to do so.

The way you describe psychopaths, they're not merely lacking in empathy; they're utterly oblivious to the world around them. For unintelligent psychopaths, perhaps that is so, but surely the intelligent ones are able to fake it as and when useful.
31. anonymous
I regret to inform you that you are wrong. I know that this was written well before this post and so I will forgive you, but the third season of BBC Sherlock reveals that he truly is a sociopath. To elaborate on this, a sociopath is well known for deceit. ***SPOILER*** in the final episode of the third season Sherlock has a relationship with someone and proposes to them as a way of using them to enter the office where they worked. This is all, goodbye.
32. Anonymous
Have you ever given thought to the fact that maybe the currently-known facts and basis of the foundation of what is "facts" as sociopaths could varibly be considered skewed and distorted by the basis of using what could easily be considered as "low functioning" sociopaths. All of what is currently known about sociopaths is culled from prisoners and those without the ability to self control their behaviors such as those brought in for evaluation or otherwise given intake for such uncontrollable behaviors.

Someone is rarely diagnosed with something unless it becomes a problem. So if a "high functioning" sociopath doesn't act out, is able to produce a likeness of empathy and isn't outwardly self important - are they still a sociopath because they don't fit the given standards of what defines it?

It's normal to understand that there is a type of "sliding scale" or levels of other mental disorders but it's not specifically for sociopaths, apparently.
33. Claire L
According to an interview with writer Steven Moffat, Sherlock just wants people to think he's a sociopath. Apparently the writers know that he's not one, it's just Sherlock's wish to be emotionless, which he wants everyone to believe him capable of. Here's a link to the article:

Here's what the author, Denise Martin, says, quoting Moffat:

"As Moffat puts it, that’s merely Sherlock 'bullshitting.' 'He always is. He doesn’t think that at all. He doesn’t think any of those things, but he wants to think that he does, just as he wants to think he’s a high-functioning sociopath,' says Moffat. 'He’s not a sociopath, nor is he high-functioning. He’d really like to be a sociopath. But he’s so fucking not. The wonderful drama of Sherlock Holmes is that he’s aspiring to this extraordinary standard. He is at root an absolutely ordinary man with a very, very big brain. He’s repressed his emotions, his passions, his desires, in order to make his brain work better — in itself, a very emotional decision, and it does suggest that he must be very emotional if he thinks emotions get in the way. I just think Sherlock Holmes must be bursting!'
34. Dirk Pitt
Sociopathy, according to Hare, is indicative of having asense of morality and a well-developed conscience, but the sense ofright and wrong is not that of the parent culture.
35. Jade
Funny. I always interpreted it as Sherlock being in denial. He wants to beleive he's completely immune to "sentiment," which he believes to be a weakness when, clearly, his actions in the show suggest otherwise. That's the irony.
36. Arran daniel
Although what you're saying may be correct correct, consider this.
Psychopath is a term generally used to describe the antagonist of a story, Sherlock (in the BBC series) see's himself as a hero, even if he denies it. So perhaps you could think of it as him preferring not to be described by that term. As a narcissist how people see and describe him is important. This would conform to that.
37. Kenza
You are wrong, psychopath and sociopath are not the same person AT ALL. English is not my first language but I will try my best: a psychopath can be well integrated in the society, generally he is a successful leader and no one sees the monster behind the smile because he hides well his negative traits in society but removes his mask for a small group of people who see the monster behind the mask, no one will believe them if they talk about the real personality of the psychopath because a psychopath is often so charming (actually manipulative); on the other hand, a sociopath is totally MARGINAL, he utterly hates the company of others and doesn't look for it at all, he has no social interactions, he is generally not successful in his job as well as he has no social skills and often works alone. This main point about their behaviors in society is yet something that differentiates them even though they share other similarities - a sociopath has no social skills, a psychopath uses his social skills to manipulate others.
38. jonny
Get a fuckin' life!
39. Zack
S03E03! In your face, Maria!
40. More Proof?
Can you provide more evidence that psychopaths & sociopaths are the same thing. I find lots of articles in the fields of psychology, sociology and criminology that document how the two are different. There is even audio of Robert Hare (who you reference) defining the difference between the two. I'm not trying to be snarky, but other than your article, I cannot find any expert article that seems to support your claim that they are not different. So I'd like to see that evidience.
41. Sarah Fisher
I read somewhere that Moffat (Sherlock writer) said Sherlock's "sociopathy" is used by Sherlock as an excuse to not have to deal with things that bore him, such as emotion.
42. Anonymous

Your presentation of psychopathy is simplistic, and incomplete. Frankly, it is simply a way to sensationalize a medical condition, creating something of a "scientifically" justified "boogeyman/monster/demon." I'm sure this presentation does you well, with a domain name like "Criminal Element." I have little taste for self-serving propaganda.

Nontheless, your argument that Holmes’ does not display psychopathic tendencies rests on many false ideas. Such as your portrayal that psychopaths cannot care for another person. A small number of people may get the sociopath’s love and loyalty. While this can, indeed, be swiftly removed and those outside this trusted circle are not cared for at all it is still love. This can, for example, very much explain Holmes’ affection for Watson, and his uncaring attitude towards others. Other examples abound, and I trust a simple cursory reading would be sufficient to find it. I’ve included a link up top for readers interested in the actual inner worlds of these people. Now, I'm not saying that Holmes' does display psychopathic traits.. I've not seen the show, so I can't comment.

But I found this blog entry while searching for information on psychopathy, and decided to post information to the contrary. This sort of thing is, frankly, why I am distrustful of many claims by psychologists. A condition like psychopathy is fairly rare to begin with, and those high-functioning individuals who don't come into contact with the law and mandated psychotherepy sessions will be all but entirely unknown to therepeutic professionals.The few that you see, having disturbing criminal backgrounds, distort your perception of the condition it would seem.

Not to mention, there is more concensus and consistency in old occult writings from the Victorian age than in this modern "science."
43. tykobrian
Here's what Sherlock showrunner Steven Moffat has to say about this issue, (

"It’s funny how people are always wanting to prove me wrong on this one. They say: ‘But he’s not a high-functioning sociopath.’ I never said he was! Sherlock Holmes tells people he is. Why would you listen to him? Nobody can define themselves. That’s what he’d like people to think he is. And that’s it–and I think he probably longs to be one. I think he loiters around prisons for the criminally insane, envying them their emotional detachment. He knows emotion is a problem to him. A man who has decided to suppress all his emotions in order to be better at what he does clearly has an awful lot of emotion. That’s a very simple deduction. It clearly is a problem for him. So, in itself, that is an emotional decision."
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