The Sociopath is far from your ordinary criminal or villain. Combine a willingness to cross the Moral Event Horizon without a shred of guilt, a keen sense of other people's mental and emotional fault lines and a Lack of Empathy and you have the consummate evildoer.
The Sociopath displays the following:
Lack of Empathy: Utterly ruthless doesn't begin to describe him: except for when trying to appear normal, he is Above Good and Evil and will disregard any social norms, rules and morality in pursuit of his own self-centered goals. The Sociopath will do whatever it takes: lie, cheat, steal, extort, manipulate, or use outright violence without the slightest hesitation, disgust or remorse, and for as little as Pleasure or The Evulz. Murder and violence have no more emotional weight than eating Chinese takeout or some other mundane activity, and he has no concern for the direct or collateral damage he does to other people, being unable to understand why anyone should. Techniques for learning moral behaviour, such as reason, therapy, rehabilitation and behavioural reward/punishment, will not work on him or tend to only make his behaviour even worse by making it easier for him to fake it.
Superficial Charm and Persuasion: The Sociopath is a Machiavellian plotter, and despite his Lack of Empathy he can understand the science of psychology, knowing how emotions and desires influence other people's actions. This allows him to manipulate them using his aforementioned deception skills for the sake of personal gain. Most of his friends, family and colleagues are horrible at noticing they're being manipulated. Expect a Hannibal Lecture if the hero ever confronts the sociopath about the aforementioned manipulations. Overuse of manipulative tactics in media can give the Sociopath a Magnificent Bastard image, hence an example of how Evil Is Cool.
A Grandiose Sense of Self-Worth: If there's a skill that exists, you can bet he believes he can master it in no time at all. He's handsome, intelligent and unbeatable - regardless what anybody else might say. Unlike the Narcissist, however, whose ego is often vulnerable to the opinions of others, The Sociopathknows that he's right no matter what, sometimes even in the event of crushing failure. He was right the first time; he doesn't need to try again a different way. As a result of his actual abilities rarely living up to his own perception of them, The Sociopath is often a Smug Snake, but fancies himself a Magnificent Bastard.
Many of these traits are shared with other disorders, but it's the combination of them all that creates The Sociopath. And, like many other disorders, sociopathy falls on a spectrum. Sociopaths also have varying personalities, levels of intelligence, and interests, which influences how their disorder manifests in everyday life.
The high-functioning Sociopath will usually have better-than-average impulse control for someone with their condition, and may actually appear perfectly normal. They know murder is bad because they're told it's bad — and know murderers who are caught will get in trouble — but the action has no more emotional weight to them than brushing their teeth. They emulate the moral behaviour of society because a failure to do so has negative consequences, and not because Good Feels Good. What You Are in the Dark exposes them for who they are, and they do not consider something wrong if they do not get caught. If killing advances their goals and they can get away with it, they will often do so. And they will often seek positions of respectability within their communities in order to maintain the facade of being just like everybody else.
Alternatively, they may simply possess goals that do not require murder or other criminal activities to achieve; this does not mean they won't strive to achieve those goals at the expense of the happiness of other people.
The low-functioning version is defined mostly by their impulse control being particularly shoddy, or having a personality type that predisposes them to violent behavior. For them, maintaining the facade of "fitting in" is simply impossible, as their violent outbursts make them highly visible. But even a low-functioning Sociopath can be glib and charming, allowing them to accrue loyal followers who perceive their behavior as revolutionary and secretly having a higher purpose. The sociopath will see these followers as useful pawns at best, however, and will not return any of their loyalty in kind. Though they may pretend to when it suits them.
If The Sociopath happens to be a ruler, and is automatically above the law, then expect them to be The Caligula.
If The Sociopath has standards, there's a good chance those standards are either carefully calculated to manipulate others, or incidental to the sociopath's personality type. Often, their lack of emotional investment in any kind of moral code or ideology can strike a person with more typical psychological makeup as Blue and Orange Morality.
The Trope Namer is an old edition of the DSM which used the term to refer to a personality disorder now known as Anti-Social Personality disorder. Though the terms sociopathy and psychopathy are still recognized in some circles, they have no official standing. See Analysis and UsefulNotes.Lack Of Empathy for more detailed information.
Compare Sociopathic Hero, Comedic Sociopathy and Villain Sue. Contrast the Narcissist, who has the grandiose ego and Lack of Empathy, but experiences the full range and intensity of human emotion, and is capable of love — even if it's a very one-sided, selfish kind of love. If a character is considered a Complete Monster, there's a very good chance that this trope applies to them.
Note: Very few fictional sociopaths — even the ones identified as such by the work itself — would be considered as such by a real-life psychiatrist. This is because, as Robert Hare points out in his book Without Conscience, sociopaths by definition are two-dimensional characters, lacking an ability to have anything resembling Character Development. (And also because people who have the full range of human emotions may find it near impossible to conceive of a human being that truly lives without them.) The biggest indication that a fictional character may score high on the psychopath checklist is antisocial behavior (whether violent or nonviolent) coupled with their loyalty or affection to other characters being dubious at best. So if a character has a Morality Pet, Morality Chain, or a deep attachment to a family member or leader that goes beyond simple practicality, it's a good bet this trope doesn't apply to them.
Even before that, his behavior doesn't quite fit; he's more like a violent psychotic with psychopathic tendencies.
Todd Ingram of Scott Pilgrim. He thinks he's better than everyone because he's a rock star and a vegan, he punches a young girl in the face just because she annoyed him, and he cheats on his girlfriend just because he feels like it, yet feels entitled to get in the way of Scott and Ramona's relationship.
Alfie O'Meagan from Nth Man The Ultimate Ninja is a textbook example: he tortures small animals, shamelessly lies and shifts the blame to others, has sudden outbursts of anger and arrogance, and lacks any sympathy or empathy for others. Problem is, he's also a Reality Warper and the most powerful being on Earth.
Sin City has Senator Roark and his Serial Killer son as probably the best examples of sociopaths. There are plenty of crazy people but they show at least some remorse or have emotional attachments here or there.
Lucifer, to no-one's surprise, would be considered a sociopath by human standards. He isn't one (human that is), and neither are many of the comic's other sociopathic characters.
The Juggernaut has killed countless people and caused untold destruction. And he will tell you all about it over a beer.
Lex Luthor is often described as being a sociopath, and he has done many heinous things without remorse. Some of those things being killing his father for startup capital (granted he was a textbook abusive father, too), curing his sister's disease then giving it back to her just because he could, strangling a black belt just because she had the gall to beat him in training, and (implied) letting a biochemist-turned-superhero die to give Superman a Heroic BSOD. Also, his (Post Crisis) motivation for hating Superman? Because he exists, and Luthor doesn't want someone more powerful than he around.
As we find out from Watchmen, The Comedian. Although, interestingly enough, the Comedian is ultimately capable of realizing that what he did was wrong - he admits to doing "bad things" during his Villainous Breakdown to Moloch. Rorschach on the other hand is a Sociopathic Hero.
This is one of the defining traits of Hush from Batman. Unlike Bruce, Thomas had a poor relationship with his parents, to the point that he murdered them both. He thinks Bruce is lucky that someone else killed his parents, and doesn't understand why someone might prefer having parents to having a lot of money. In addition, he knows that Bruce is Batman, and thinks that he does it for fun.
Marvel villain Bullseye, who lives solely to kill people.
It's debatable if Theodore Nott is an example or not in To the Continuation, though, one character does explicitly label him as such, and he seems to agree. However, aside from one murder, which he had a somewhat sympathetic motive for, he doesn't really do anything concretely bad during the story.
In Perfection Is Overrated, Hitomi Kirihara, a Deconstruction of a Jerk Sue, has this as her personality. She sees nothing wrong with using her Mind Control powers to rob and later murder people, and cares for no one other than herself to the point at which when her Child is destroyed, which would normally result in the death of the person she valued most, Hitomi herself dies.
Lampshaded in No Hoper when one of the vampyre students dies in front of Light and he shows no emotion over her death. The other students whine and scream at him and call him a sociopath. Light only agrees and tells them that they're probably right.
Lady Tremaine from Cinderella. You could argue she cares about her daughters, but look closer and you will see she only cares about her daughters' social standing, thus inarguably her own. She is an abusive parent to Cinderella, Drizella and Anastasia alike. Even worse in the direct-to-video sequel Cinderella III: A Twist in Time, where she makes Anastasia into her new Butt Monkey.
Gaston is shown to be this over the course of Beauty and the Beast. He has plenty of superficial charm, as well as a shocking lack of empathy / disregard for other people's feelings and needs. The fact that he is the town hero and has plenty admirers only makes it more scarily realistic.
Jafar from Aladdin was described as "Senor Psychopath" by the Genie, and with good reason too.
The Lion King: The two main villains, Scar and Zira, qualify. They also show great contrast between High Functioning and Low Functioning sociopathy, with the more calculating Scar being the more high-functioning and the deranged Zira being more low-functioning.
Tangled gives us Mother Gothel, perhaps one of the more disturbing animated examples of this trope. So vain and self-centered it drives her to commit the most heinous acts without ever feeling guilty for it, she plays the role of an emotionally abusive parent to Rapunzel shockingly well. Always painting herself as the victim, always guilt-tripping Rapunzel into obedience.. but still resorting to violence to get what she wants. And she has superficial charm all over.
Wreck It Ralph's King Candy, who manipulates and even constructs reasonable arguments for people to listen to him. Also, doesn't care about who he hurts if it means getting what he wants. As Turbo, he got two games unplugged because of his insane jealousy and tried to delete Vanellope out of her game. When this wouldn't work, he redesigns her into a glitch and has her shamed and outcast by the other characters in Sugar Rush after erasing everyone's memories.
Little Sweetheart: Thelma, a nine year old girl who is willing to blackmail, steal, spy and murder her best friend to get her way.
American Psycho: Patrick Bateman. A perfect example. On the starpulse.com article about the most believable sociopaths in film, Bateman scored higher on the APD/sociopathy checklist than Hannibal Lecter and the Joker.
Vincent from Collateral. He's even described as such, in story.
Hans Gruber from Die Hard He is a sociopath and a Diabolical Mastermind. He used to be the leader of the german terrorist group. if you went to the party in the tall building in the Nakatomi Plaza he just might kill you or worst of all he will throw you down the building and you will die.
Catherine Tramell of the Basic Instinct series is a rare example of a female sociopath in popular culture. A charismatic, seductive, narcissistic author, Femme Fatale, pathological liar and Serial Killer, she manipulates and causes the deaths of nearly everyone in the story, including many of her lovers and her own parents, largely for her own personal gain, amusement and to inspire her novels with no real remorse whatsoever. She is even described as such by multiple characters in the films.
Geaer Grimsrud from the film Fargo. A mute, nearly emotionless man with a love of pancakes, he reveals his true colors when he murders a police officer and several innocent people nonchalantly, and later kills an innocent woman for simply making too much noise and shoves his partner into a wood chipper for mouthing off to him. He does all of this without changing his emotionless demeanor whatsoever.
Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. He seems to view people much like cattle, and shows absolutely no remorse or consideration for any of the horrible deeds he performs throughout the movie.
"What's this guy supposed to be, the ultimate badass?"
"I don't think that's how I'd describe him."
"Well, how would you describe him?"
"I guess I'd say he...doesn't have a sense of humor."
Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars certainly qualifies. Lack of Empathy ? Check. Manipulates people like chesspieces and only emitting shallow emotions? Check. Experiences extreme rage and is uplifted when hurting enemies? Check. That's just in the movies. The expanded universe has him being a sociopath even when he was a kid (including murdering his parents and siblings), and is incapable of feeling regret when committing heinous actions and various misdemeanors (including manslaughter when driving like a maniac). His cloning attempts only make his sociopathy even worse.
The Warriors Luthor from the Rouges kills the gang leader Cyrus, and blames it on the Warriors, all because he felt like doing it.
Stoker: Uncle Charlie is one of these in the screenplay, superficially glib, manipulative and charming, but he seems to have a seriously low threshold for physical aggression and beats several people to death with his bare hands or whatever's handy. His affection for his niece is more as an extension of himself than anything else. India seems to be likewise, but she's more of the Hollywood, unnaturally-cool-and-collected variety.
In Conspiracy, Nazis official Reinhard Heydrich shows all of the classic traits: Superficial charm, glibness, personal manipulation, compulsive recklessness ("the secret to enjoying life is to live dangerously," he says), and an utter lack of empathy. Kenneth Branagh came away from the role convinced that inside the man, there was no principle, no passion, and no emotion except for a desire to dominate others. He went so far as to say that Heydrich didn't even seem especially anti-Semitic: The man simply lusted after power, and the fact that said power meant the murders of six million Jews was incidental.
Several songs from the Hip Hop group Gravediggaz are known for their lyrics describing people mentally unstable, or complete sociopathic murderers.
In Trinity, this is the dirty secret of the main branch of the vitakinetic order. Their powers make them intimately aware of the physical and mental health of people in close proximity to them. Quite a few of these healers find being surrounded by so much pain and decay so overwhelming that they voluntarily undergo a process that turns them into sociopaths, just so they can get on with their jobs without being constantly crippled by empathy with their patients.
In D&D, the Neutral Evil alignment is the most close to the Sociopath.
The Order of the Stick: Tarquin is quite the sociopath himself — while his fans like to paint him as leather pants-wearingNoble Demon, that doesn't change the fact that the lives of others mean very little to him. Just look at how he "convinces" his wives to marry him, or how he forced Gannji and Enor to fight to the death because he thought Elan would enjoy it (and seemed confused when Elan wasn't thrilled with the idea). He's also got Lack of Empathy down, as he told Malack (his supposed friend) to stop whining about his dead children and ordered him to work with Nale (who killed said children).
Angel, the Villain Protagonist of The Good Witch, remorselessly torments and ruins the lives of her friends, family, and anybody unfortunate enough to cross her path with her newfound magic powers. There are hints she is a "made sociopath," not originally being so cruel and self-centered but gradually cracking under an intense amount of bullying, but any sympathy that might have been gifted to her has long since passed; for God's sake, she turns people into articles of clothing, and keeps them sentient so that they can desperately try to find anyone to help them and eternally despair over their predicament!
Survival of the Fittest villains can quite frequently be sociopaths, with characters like J.R. Rizzolo and Jacob Starr being prominent examples of these traits. In spin-off The Program, Brigadier General David Adams has all the hallmarks of being one, given he doesn't seem to care at all about the imminent deaths of the students.
The Nostalgia Chick, especially with the "not understanding boundaries" thing. What's wrong with installing cameras in your friend's bedroom?
A much darker example on the site would be the yandere family in Demo Reel. They hold Donnie captive with muscle relaxants under the pretense that they're helping him get better, have No Sense of Personal Space with him (not even the daughter), force him to watch the movies he made when he was little, and worst of all, refuse to believe him when he tells them that his mother killed herself while he was shooting a film.
IN MSF High Forums, Seram Rosenbyme is meant to be one. Whether or not she can stay written as one of these, when she is engaged, is an interesting conflict for the player, and is likely to cause severe character drama in the future.
She does not possess the lack of long-term planning, but DEFINITELY lacks empathy.
Jobe Wilkins of the Whateley Universe. At age fourteen, he's already a threat to everyone who gets in his way. He views his family as opponents. He discovered a new cure for dysentery by experimenting on unwilling prisoners. He provided a way for his father to have mine workers by developing a serum that turned people into big green Ork-like creatures. He has all the empathy of a tarantula. Fortunately, he's not a Karma Houdini.
(NOTE: Must be actually professionally diagnosed with sociopathy.)
Ted Bundy. He raped, tortured and murdered women for several years, including two 12-year-old girls, while appearing to lead an exemplary life. Yes, this sadistic Serial Killer was a member of the Crime Prevention Council, a political staffer, and a volunteer at a suicide hotline - all likely chosen because, why would such a person want to prevent crime and death? The main reason he was so successful as a serial killer was that he, like most sociopaths, was very charming. It also didn't hurt that he was handsome and had a 100-watt smile. He used to get fan mail from women while he was in prison.
Hermann Göring, the Reich Marshal of Nazi Germany and the initial second-in-command to Adolf Hitler. Also the founder of the Gestapo. He was diagnosed as a narcissistic sociopath, and found to have the highest IQ among the Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials. Cruel, corrupt and self-indulgent, he amassed enormous wealth at the expense of his country, during wartime. Neither did he give two shits about any National Socialist ideals - when they asked him why he joined the Nazi movement in the first place, his explanation boiled down to "I did it For the Evulz."
And yet Goring also rescued several Jews and Jewish families from the Nazis, making sure they were able to get out of Germany, mostly because they'd showed him some kindness when he was poor or otherwise in a bad way. And by all accounts he really did love his daughter. His brother was an opponent of the Nazis who used Hermann's name to smuggle Jews out of Germany- Hermann knew about this, and turned a blind eye. He also deeply loved his first wife Karin — enough that he maintained a shrine in her honor after she died.
Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's deputy and SS governor of Bohemia and Moravia, is almost universally seen as this by historians. The man planned the Holocaust with ruthless efficiency (what's more, before the age of 40), was a skilled manipulator, and practically ran a private spy agency to better blackmail political opponents. Kenneth Branagh, who played him in Conspiracy, said he felt that Heydrich wasn't even particularly anti-Semitic: if he had been ordered instead to exterminate tennis players or Eskimos, he would have done so with just as much enthusiasm. One episode from his personal life alone pushes him over the edge here. As a young naval officer, he impregnated his fiancee and then left her. His reason? Any woman who gave herself away so freely was beneath him. It backfired when Admiral Erich Raeder dismissed him for refusing to marry her, only for him to (quickly) withdraw under the protective wing of Heinrich Himmler. He despised everything, his bosses included, and cared only for power.
Robert Hare estimates that around 1% of the population is made up of psychopaths. Other Psychologists have gone even higher, some going as high as 5% of the population (1 in 20 people). Those percentages mostly account for 'functioning sociopaths', meaning people such as grifters, con artists, and shady used car dealers because they're unempathic enough to not be bothered by swindling people but are still affected by stronger social/moral conventions like 'murder is bad', and those who never actively take the opportunity to indulge in criminal activities but still lack empathy, generally emulating the more acceptable behaviour of those around them because on the whole it seems to be the easiest way to achieve their current goals. Violent sociopaths, like Bundy and Dahmer, are much more rare, sitting at perhaps 0.5% of the population.
Jon Ronson, author of the book on which The Men Who Stare at Goats was based, has a book called The Psychopath Test in which he takes a course on diagnosing psychopathic behaviour, and then goes to interview various people who he suspects might be sociopathic to some degree. His ultimate conclusion, summarised in this short talk, is that the situation is probably nowhere near as bad as the above statistics would suggest, that the fear of sociopaths and psychopaths is out of all proportion to the actual risk, and that said fear likely does more harm than all the sociopaths and psychopaths of the world could ever hope to inflict.