Antisocial Personality Disorder DSM-5 301.7 (F60.2)

Antisocial Personality Disorder DSM-5 301.7 (F60.2)

DSM-5 Category: Personality Disorders


APD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) is a DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), diagnosis assigned to individuals who habitually and pervasively disregard or violate the rights and considerations of others without remorse. People with Antisocial Personality Disorder may be habitual criminals, or engage in behavior which would be grounds for criminal arrest and prosecution, or they may engage in behaviors which skirt the edges of the law, or manipulate and hurt others in non-criminal ways which are widely regarded as unethical, immoral, irresponsible, or in violation of social norms and expectations. Those with APD often possess an impaired moral conscience and make decisions driven purely by their own desires without considering the needs or negative effects of their actions on others.  Impulsive and criminal behavior is common.  The terms psychopathy or sociopathy are also used, in some contexts synonymously, in others, sociopath is differentiated from a psychopath, in that a sociopathy is rooted in environmental causes, while psychopathy is genetically based.

The term antisocial may be confusing to the lay public, as the more common definition outside of clinical usage is an individual who is a loner or socially isolated. The literal meaning of the word antisocial can be more descriptive to both the lay public and professionals.  To be anti-social is to be against society: against rules, norms, laws and acceptable behavior. Individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder tend to be charismatic, attractive, and very good at obtaining sympathy from others; for example, describing themselves as the victim of injustice. Some studies suggest that the average intelligence of antisocials is higher than the norm. Antisocials possess a superficial charm, they can be thoughtful and cunning, and have an intuitive ability to rapidly observe and analyze others, determine their needs and preferences, and present it in a manner to facilitate manipulation and exploitation. They are able to harm and use other people in this manner, without remorse, guilt, shame or regret.  It is widely stated that antisocials are without empathy, however this can be disputed, as sadistic antisocials will use empathy to experience their victim's suffering, and derive a fuller pleasure from it (Turvey, 1995). This is depicted in the classic work A Cask of Amontillado by Poe, as the main character entombs another man alive “...then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labours and sat down upon the bones.” (Poe, 1846 ). Some research also suggests that sociopaths and psychopaths do have degrees of empathy, but with an innate ability to switch it off at will. (Meffer, Gazzola, den Boer, Bartells, 2013). This connection to empathy may give hope to future successful treatment as it suggests individuals with APD may be trained.

Symptoms & Criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder

According to the DSM-5, there are four diagnostic criterion, of which Criterion A has seven sub-features.

A. Disregard for and violation of others rights since age 15, as indicated by one of the seven sub features:

  1. Failure to obey laws and norms by engaging in behavior which results in criminal arrest, or would warrant criminal arrest
  2. Lying, deception, and manipulation, for profit or self-amusement,
  3. Impulsive behavior
  4. Irritability and aggression, manifested as frequently assaults others, or engages in fighting
  5. Blatantly disregards safety of self and others,
  6. A pattern of irresponsibility and
  7. Lack of remorse for actions (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)

The other diagnostic Criterion are:

B. The person is at least age 18,

C. Conduct disorder was present by history before age 15

D. and the antisocial behavior does not occur in the context of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013)


The DSM-5 notes that Antisocial Personality Disorder cannot be diagnosed before age 18, so while an adolescent may display antisocial features, prior to age 18, if diagnostic criteria are met, the appropriate diagnosis would be Conduct Disorder (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).


According to the DSM-5, the annual prevalence of Antisocial Personality Disorder is .02% to 3.3.% when the criteria from prior DSM editions are applied (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Risk Factors

The DSM-5 indicates that risk factors for Antisocial Personality Disorder are having a first degree biological relative with APD, and being a male, (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). If Antisocial Personality Disorder is primarily genetic or a product of social learning and other environmental factors has been widely debated by behavioral scientists. There are indicators that Antisocial Personality Disorder is a result of a genetic predisposition in that the individual is born without conscience. There is evidence for neuroanatomical differences in antisocials. A rs-fMRI (resting state functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) study of n=480 adjudicated antisocial offenders showed “uncoupled connections”in areas of the frontal and parietal lobes which are associated with attention, self regulation, the ability to control oneself, and resolve conflicts . It was noted that physiological and anatomical deficits observed in the frontal /parietal areas, as well as the cerebellum, may account for the chronic low arousal, high impulsivity, lack of conscience, callousness, and decision-making problems commonly seen in individuals with APD (Tang, Jiang, Liao, Wang, & Luo, 2013). There is also evidence that environmental factors, such as internalizing messages from antisocial peers or parents are at work in Antisocial Personality Disorder. One possible developmental pathway if there are not appropriate treatment interventions is ODD, or RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) , and CD leading to APD.


The DSM-5 indicates that Antisocial Personality Disorder is comorbid with substance abuse disorder, and other personality disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

Treatment of Antisocial Personality Disorder

The DSM-5 does not specify treatment options for APD (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

The consensus is there is very little in the way of effective treatment for Antisocial Personality Disorder. Individuals with APD may have to be contained by the criminal justice system, through some combination of incapacitation (incarceration), supervision and monitoring (parole, probation, or house arrest), or informal monitoring by local law enforcement to contain their harmful behaviors to others to the greatest extent possible. Some research has shown that individuals with APD do feel degrees of empathy suggesting that at the very least some form of training may be possible (Meffer, Gazzola, den Boer, Bartells, 2013). There are also cases of individuals with APD converting to religion and finding strong conviction within themselves to reform and successfully integrate with society ("Confessions of a Christian Psychopath", 2011). The role of religion and spirituality as a possible treatment for APD is not well studied, and future research is warranted.

Incarceration may not be an effective deterrent to the antisocial individual, as those with APD have difficulty learning from mistakes, are rigid in decision making, and are typically unresponsive to punishment (De Brito, Viding, Kumari, Blackwood, and Sheilagh, 2013). A primary reason that individuals with APD are often non responsive to punishment and deterrence is an inner belief system that views constraints and consequences as a rudimentary function of society, a group which they do not see themselves a part of.  The antisocial may see themselves as existing above or beyond society, and thus their existence need not be confined to society's limitations and restraints; and on the contrary, those limitations and restraints are best utilized when exploited to the full advantage of the individual. As a result, for many with APD, incarceration may only serve to reinforce their primary belief system and have little effect towards future deterrence.  

The DSM- 5 as well as other sources note that individuals with APD may cease behavioral expression of their antisocial belief system in their 40's (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) although this is inconclusive.  Other sources argue that antisocials become too emotionally battered from a long term resisting of society and accumulate physical injuries from a lifestyle of neglect of medical and dental care, untended injuries, and drug and alcohol abuse.  This eventual emotional depletion may result in the antisocial reducing destructive behavior or criminal activity simply due to being no longer physically capable.   But even in this case, the individual will still retain an antisocial belief system in their day to day dealings with others, and may hide their behavior better through practice effects- learning to be more subtle and not draw attention to themselves and risk arrest or other containment. A specific form of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) called CSC (Cognitive Self Change) based on Samenow and Yochelson's seminal work with offenders has documented marginal success at modifying the behavior of violent offenders, both antisocial and otherwise (Barbour, 2013; Powell, & Sadler, n.d. ).

Impact on Functioning

Antisocial Personality Disorder will typically have strong impacts on most areas of functioning. According to the DSM-5, persons with APD may face incarceration as a result of their criminal actions, premature death from violence or accidents, or loss of assets or property from reckless spending (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) or civil forfeiture of assets. Divorce, separation, unemployment, financial dependency on state relief sources, homelessness, anxiety, depression, and suicide rates are all elevated in individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder when compared to the general population (Goldstein, Dawson, Smith, & Grant, 2012). Antisocials also have the potential to cause great harm to those around them, including family, associates, neighbors, and complete strangers, through financial exploitation, theft, emotional abuse, assault, sexual assault, and homicide.

Differential Diagnosis

There are diagnostic rule-outs for the clinician to consider, in the DSM-5, disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as substance abuse disorders should be considered. Even very violent offenders may not be sociopaths, but sociopathy should be considered on a continuum, rather than a dichotomy of present or absent.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (5th Edition). Washington, DC.

Barbour, P. (2013). Criminal Thinking: A cognitive- behavioral therapy approach. ATTC. Retrieved March 4, 2014 from

De Brito, S.A.. Viding,E., Kumari,V., Blackwood, N., Sheilagh (2013) ; Cool and Hot Executive Function Impairments in Violent Offenders with Antisocial Personality Disorder with and without Psychopathy 8(6): e65566. doi:0.1371/journal.pone.0065566 PMCID: PMC3688734

Meffert, Harma, Gazzola, Valeria, den Boer, Johan, Bartels, Arnold, and Keysershttp, Christian (2013) Reduced spontaneous but relatively normal deliberate vicarious representations in psychopathy. Retrieved Nov 2016 from

Goldstein, R.B., Dawson, D.A., Smith, S.W., and Grant, B.F. (2012). Antisocial Behavioral Syndromes and Three-Year Quality of Life Outcomes in United States Adults. Acta Psychiatria Scandinavia 126(2): 10.1111/j.1600-0447.2012.01848.x. 2012. doi: 10.1111/j.1600 0447.2012.01848.x PMCID: PMC3837547 NIHMSID: NIHMS523921

Tang, Y., Jiang, W., Liao, J., Wang, W., and Luo, A. (2013). Identifying Individuals with Antisocial Personality Disorder Using Resting-State fMRI. Plos One. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0060652 PMCID: PMC3625191

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Poe, E. A. (1846). The Cask of Amontillado. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from

Powell, T. and Sadler, C. (n.d.). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment for Inmates: An Outcome Study Castleton State College, Castleton, Vermont Retrieved March 7, 2014, from‎

Confessions of a Christian Psychopath. (2011, November). Retrieved from

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