Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target Article

The sociobiology of sociopathy: An integrated evolutionary model

Linda Mealeya1

a1 Department of Psychology, College of St. Benedict, St. Joseph, MN 56374. Electronic mail:


Sociopaths are “outstanding” members of society in two senses: politically, they draw our attention because of the inordinate amount of crime they commit, and psychologically, they hold our fascination because most ofus cannot fathom the cold, detached way they repeatedly harm and manipulate others. Proximate explanations from behavior genetics, child development, personality theory, learning theory, and social psychology describe a complex interaction of genetic and physiological risk factors with demographic and micro environmental variables that predispose a portion of the population to chronic antisocial behavior. More recent, evolutionary and game theoretic models have tried to present an ultimate explanation of sociopathy as the expression of a frequency-dependent life strategy which is selected, in dynamic equilibrium, in response to certain varying environmental circumstances. This paper tries to integrate the proximate, developmental models with the ultimate, evolutionary ones, suggesting that two developmentally different etiologies of sociopathy emerge from two different evolutionary mechanisms. Social strategies for minimizing the incidence of sociopathic behavior in modern society should consider the two different etiologies and the factors that contribute to them.