Societal norms set the standards for individual behavior in terms of how we interact with others. Respect, empathy and conscience are all built-in to these norms. And while social standards play a large role in personality development, individuals who are labeled sociopathic are antisocial as far as societal norms go.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), a sociopath is someone who has an antisocial personality disorder. This is someone who is completely self-serving, has little to no regard for others' feelings, and has no use for societal rules of conduct. Emotionally, a sociopath experiences no remorse or regret for wrongdoing. As a result, it's difficult for someone with this disorder to maintain ongoing relationships.
The DSM-IV defines antisocial personality disorder as "...a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood." While someone may exhibit questionable behaviors at times, a personality disorder isn't apparent unless these behaviors are carried out on a consistent basis over a long period of time. Physical aggression and abusive behaviors---either physical or sexual---are characteristic of someone with this disorder.
Antisocial personality disorder can be caused by genetic and environmental factors, including having parents who were sociopaths or enduring an abusive childhood. Statistically, men are more likely to become antisocial than women, with 3 percent of men and 1 percent of women affected by it. People with an alcoholic parent are also at a higher risk of acquiring antisocial behavior traits. Setting fires and exhibiting cruelty to animals are characteristics of children inclined to develop these traits.
Psychoanalytic theory attributes a sociopath's behavior to an underdeveloped ego caused by parental rejection during childhood. When basic needs for security and love remain unmet, a person's sense of "conscience" is stunted. Ego represents a person's sense of right and wrong and affects his ability to control his impulses. In the case of antisocial behavior, a weak ego means the weaker "id" portion of a person's psyche is directing his actions. The id has a childlike nature, meaning selfishness and immediate gratification become the person's primary motivations.
Personality traits found in a sociopathic person are much like other traits, meaning they determine how a person interacts with the world around her. Sociopaths are often charming and personable, but this behavior typically serves their need to manipulate others. Rather than considering the rights and feeling of others, the antisocial individual views people as objects, or rather as a means to an end. It's not uncommon for them to engage in pathological lying, promiscuity, drug use and compulsive gambling.