Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is an ongoing pattern of behavior in an adult that involves disregard of social rules and serious violation of the rights of others through aggressive, dishonest, reckless, and irresponsible acts.

What Is Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is one of the 10 different types of personality disorders * that had been classified by mental health experts as of 2015. Like other personality disorders, ASPD refers to a personality style that consists of troubled ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, and it is diagnosed only in adults (although the personality style and the problematic behavior it causes must have been present since adolescence). Of all the personality disorders, ASPD has been the focus of the most research and attention, perhaps because people with ASPD often cause harm to others and have a negative effect on society.

Adults with ASPD engage in aggressiveness or physical assaults, cheating, lying, or other behaviors for which they can get arrested. They are often impulsive * and reckless, and disregard their own safety or the safety of others. People with ASPD tend to be poor planners, and they may ignore financial responsibilities such as paying rent or other bills. They often have poor work records, and many engage in impulsive criminal behavior or spousal abuse. To be diagnosed with ASPD, a person must have had symptoms of conduct disorder * since the age of 15, thus demonstrating a long-standing pattern of antisocial behavior * .

ASPD was first described in the 1800s as a “defect of moral character” and as “moral insanity.” The terms psychopath and sociopath have also been used to describe what was later called antisocial personality disorder. Those people with ASPD seem to lack a conscience and fail to learn from consequences or punishment alone. They may fail to show remorse and may lack sympathy for those they have hurt. People with ASPD may experience most emotions on a shallow level.

What Causes Antisocial Personality Disorder?

Other studies have found differences in the brains of people with ASPD that may contribute to disordered learning and attention. One series of experiments demonstrated that people with antisocial personalities did not experience normal anxiety before being given a shock, and that they did not learn to avoid the shock like other subjects in the experiment did. This result may explain why people with ASPD do not seem to learn from negative consequences or punishment.

Research that separates genetic from environmental factors (such as studies of identical twins * raised in different homes) has shown that genetic factors explain about half of antisocial behavior. Family environment or upbringing plays an important role as well. Experts have speculated that a combination of genetic inheritance and environmental factors lead to most cases of ASPD. In other words, some people seem to have a biological tendency to develop ASPD, and the family environment will determine whether that tendency is fulfilled. People without the biological tendency for ASPD, regardless of the family environment in which they are raised, are not likely to develop ASPD as an adult (although they may have conduct disorder in youth).

How Is Antisocial Personality Disorder Treated?

Treatment of ASPD presents a challenge because those with ASPD are unlikely to consider themselves as having a problem and are therefore unlikely to seek help. Individuals who seek care usually identify other problems such as marriage problems, alcohol or drug abuse, or suicidal thoughts. The courts may require mental health counseling. Behavioral treatments with positive reinforcement, such as those that reward appropriate behavior and have negative consequences for illegal behavior, have been thought to be the most promising. Psychotherapy or cognitive therapy approaches may be helpful.

If individuals lack motivation to change their own behavior, it is unlikely that any meaningful change will take place. Because people with ASPD tend to violate the rights of others, they often encounter the criminal justice system. Although they may be imprisoned, punishment alone usually fails to teach individuals with ASPD to behave differently. Still, ASPD is a serious social problem. Some early interventions may help prevent ASPD from developing in those at risk, such as youth with severe conduct disorders and those who are juvenile offenders.

See also Conduct Disorder • Oppositional Defiant Disorder • Personality and Personality Disorders


Books and Articles

Goodman, Cynthia Lechan, and Barbara Leff. The Everything Guide to Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Professional, Reassuring Advice for Coping with the Disorder—At Work, At Home, and in Your Family. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2011.

McGregor, Jane, and Tim McGregor. The Empathy Trap: Understanding Antisocial Personalities. London, UK: Sheldon Press, 2013.


MedlinePlus. “Antisocial Personality Disorder.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. (accessed June 16, 2015).

Psych Central. “Antisocial Personality Disorder Symptoms.” . (accessed June 15, 2015).


American Psychiatric Association. 1000 Wilson Blvd., Suite 1825, Arlington, VA 22209. Toll-free: 888-35-PSYCH. Website: (accessed June 16, 2015).

Mental Health America. 2000 N. Beauregard St., 6th Floor, Alexandria, VA 22311. Toll-free: 800-969-6642. Website: (accessed August 7, 2015).

* personality disorders are a group of mental health disorders characterized by long-term patterns of behavior that differ from those expected by society. People with personality disorders have patterns of emotional response, impulse control, and perception that differ from those of most people.

* impulsive means acting quickly before thinking about the effect of a certain action or behavior.

* conduct disorder is diagnosed in children and adolescents who have had serious problems with lying, stealing, and aggressive behavior for at least six months.

* antisocial behavior is behavior that differs significantly from the norms of society and is considered harmful to society.

* identical twins are twins produced when a single egg from the mother is fertilized and divides to form two separate embryos of the same sex with nearly identical DNA.

Disclaimer:   This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

(MLA 8th Edition)