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.
Consummate Deception Skills: Not just any ordinary good liar, The Sociopath is good enough to fool any Living Lie Detectors in the cast, can pass any polygraph with flying colors and fool even you, the audience. Many crime dramas and thrillers have The Reveal that the crying victim or seemingly-insane defendant was really The Sociopath pulling the wool over the eyes of everyone involved and only the hero witnesses the truth in the last private moment or Hannibal Lecturebetween him and the sociopath. Alternatively, showing a villain beat a Living Lie Detector is a way to show The Sociopath in a setting where psychiatric terms aren't common descriptors. This is related to their lack of empathy - they don't feel guilty about lying so of course they don't react negatively.
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 Sociopath knows 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 is named following an old edition of the DSM which used the term to refer to what is now classed as Antisocial 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 the character.
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.
Let's not forget that, in the comics at least, he also knowingly violates his vegan code, the very thing he gets his sense of superiority from.
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.
Somehow ever farther into this territory within the Marvel Universe is Carnage, who feels absolutely no empathy for anyone or anything. And to top it off he's an extremely insane psychopath who takes delight in murder. The "Minimum Carnage" story arc reveals that the symbiote he's bonded with is even worse, but appears to have a soft spot for its host as it kept Kassidy alive after the Sentry ripped him in half and left him in space.
Terra (the first one from 1980's) from Teen Titans fits this trope to a T. She absolutely hated the Teen Titans, and gladly betrayed them in a story-arc which is still famous today, known as the "Judas Contact."
The Joker is often considered as the best Batman villain. He's also the most monstrous and dangerous of the lot. Aside from committing almost every villainous act that a human can pull off either to prove a sadistic point or For the Evulz, The Joker is also known for having no redeemable qualities whatsoever. He once severely beat Robin with a crow bar even though he didn't need to, and permanently disabled Barbra Gordon just to make the Commissioner crack. He tried to kill Harley Quinn once because he was starting to remember what it was like to care and didn't like it, he only failed cause Poison Ivy found her and nursed her back to health.
But that's not all, The Joker is so egocentric and uncaring that when he finds out that Harley Quinn (the only woman who genuinely loves and cares for him, mind you) has captured and is about to kill Batman, he beats her, keeps towering over her until she next to a window where he then slaps her with a swordfish, knocking her out of the window, doesn't go down there to see if she's ok, and then proceeded to release Batman from Harley's trap. And all of that happened simply because his ego was too big to let anyone else (even his own lover) kill Bats.
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.
Uxie from Poké Wars shows all the signs. Utterly incapable of feeling remorse. Treats everyone around him as little more than disposable lab equipment. Hell, he casually orders genocide with the ease that someone would order a pizza.
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 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.
Frozen has a very good, if not perfect, example of this trope in Prince Hans. He, for most of the movie, is shown being a nice person who is always willing to help. It's not until Anna needs his love and they are alone that the reveal is made, and its just as shocking to the audience as it is to Anna. Hans has from the beginning been trying to gain the throne of Arendelle and is willing to kill anyone who gets in his way (namely Elsa and Anna) while looking like a gentle and noble person to characters and audience.
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. He also seems to be incapable of leading a functional adult life independently of others. 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.
Butch Cavendish from The Lone Ranger, who's primary motivation is to fulfill his own selfish desires and murders anyone who so much as annoys him.
Daniel Lugo has exactly zero redeeming characteristics in Pain and Gain, and feels no remorse for any of his actions.
Agent Kruger from Elysium is explicitly described as a human rights violator, with multiple accounts of murder and rape, whom he gleefully lives up to in the film itself. He really gets his jollies out of messing with people in the most horrible of ways and when he finds out that Max has the codes to overturn the system on the station itself, Kruger intends on stealing them and turning Elysium into his own private little hell.
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.
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!
Tarquin is quite the sociopath — while his fans like to paint him as a leather pants-wearingNoble Demon, that doesn't change the fact that the lives of others mean very little to him. Note 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" actually, it turns out, vampire minions and ordered him to work with Nale (who killed said children). And then he stabbed Nale, who was also his son, to death afterwards. It's quite evident that he sees everyone around him as plot devices, nothing more, nothing less. Which said, he apparently felt some kind of real friendship with Malack, he feels some kind of compulsion to bring order to the world, and even he pales beside...
Xykon, the comic's Big Bad. At no point does Xykon show any feeling for another being that isn't merely practical (and sometimes not even then). He either has little ability or no desire to control his impulses, possibly because unlike Tarquin he has the raw magical power to cow anyone into obedience or kill those who would oppose him, and is well-aware of it, so he never really needed to rely so much on manipulation. His motivation for committing evil can largely be summed up with "Why not?". He's easily bored and destroying the lives of others is his only method of alleviating the boredom. He's been like this since he was a child, when his pet dog died and he first awakened his magical power by raising it as an undead, then used it to torture and kill animals. As a teenager, he murdered his family in cold blood, simply because he knew he could. He is also far more cunning and manipulative than one might think; when sufficiently motivated, he can play others like a fiddle, such as when he tricked Redcloak into killing his brother. To top it all off, he is very charming and funny, as even Redcloak admits.
Some fans of Menage A 3 have referred to international lingerie model Senna as a borderline sociopath. She's certainly a narcissist, being vain, self-centered, and delusional; she also shows few signs of empathy, lies on a whim, possesses casual charm, and pursues all sorts of thrills. Given the nature of the comic, she's a fairless harmless comedy version at worst, though, and she does show flashes of some kind of fondness for Gary, along with deep and long-lasting feelings towards Sandra (though admittedly the feeling there is poorly-concealed hatred).
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 "It Amused Me" - i.e. he did it only to indulge in a decadent lifestyle. When his sentence was proclaimed said he had no regrets... he lived like king for over 10 years and that's all that mattered to him.
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.