A study of the etiology of sociopathic behavior

Dis Nerv Syst. 1974 Sep;35(9):432-5.


The purpose of this study is to attempt to indicate a possible process by which a sociopathic personality emerges. It is contended that sociopathic behavior can be understood in relation to the emergence of the self and the concomitant ability to take the role of the other. For the purposes of this study the sociopath is conceptualized as one who is deficient in role-taking ability, that is, he is unable to judge his own behavior from the viewpoint of another person. The socialization process is considered crucial in the emergence of the self and the ability to take the role of the other. Adequate socialization is that which take place under conditions of primary relations between the socializing agents and the person(s) being socialized. It is assumed therefore that socialization which occurs under conditions of secondary relations is inadequate. Socialization marked by secondary relations characteristically occurs within institutions. This study specifically focuses on the relationship between childhood institutionalization and sociopathic behavior in later life. The samples consisted of 50 sociopaths and 59 non-sociopaths (32 paranoid schizophrenics and 27 psychoneurotics) randomly drawn from the resident male caucasian population of the New Hampshire Hospital. Although age was not consciously controlled, each of the samples had similar age distributions with the majority of the patients falling between the ages of 20 and 34. The major hypothesis was: the incidence of early institutionalization (before the age of 16) among the sociopaths will be significantly higher than for mental patients diagnosed other than sociopathic. The data were classified as follows: institutionalization was divided into two types; orphanages and "other residential institutions" solely responsible for the care of the child. The findings indicate that there is a statistically significant association between early institutionalization and sociopathic behavior in later life. The incidence of institutionalization was consistently higher for the sociopaths than for the total non-sociopathic sample and for each sub-set of that sample. The findings of this study seem to support the theoretical assumption that childhood socialization that takes place under conditions of secondary relations between the child and the socializing agents will be ineffective for the development of a self with adequate role-taking ability. Sociopathic behavior may be a consequence of such socialization experiences.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / etiology*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / therapy
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Institutionalization* / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Neurotic Disorders / therapy
  • Orphanages
  • Residential Facilities
  • Schizophrenia / therapy
  • Socialization