What Is… Antisocial vs. Asocial

Asocial vs. antisocial - images of keep out sign and angry emoji with fists

In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychological terms. This week’s terms are antisocial and asocial.

For some reason, I have a very clear memory of a moment shortly after my nursing career began. I was at work and was saying something about being antisocial. One of the psychiatrists looked at me and asked if I meant asocial. I looked at him quizzically, not realizing there was a difference. It turns out, there’s a very big difference!

In general conversation, asocial and antisocial are often used synonymously. Merriam-Webster defines asocial as “not social: such as: a) rejecting or lacking the capacity for social interaction, b) antisocial.”

In psychology and psychiatry, however, the terms have distinct meanings. Antisocial behaviour violates the basic rights of others, causing harm or disruption in some way. Asociality involves withdrawing from others, while antisociality involves negative acting out towards others.

So, when people talk about being antisocial, chances are they actually mean asocial. Antisociality probably isn’t a crown that most people actually want to wear.

Antisocial personality disorder

The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) includes a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), which involves a longstanding pattern of inner experiences and behaviour that includes disregard for others, impulsivity, and irresponsibility.  Often there are run-ins with the law. People with this disorder may anger easily and tend to manipulate others. 

symptoms of antisocial personality disorder

Antisocial personality disorder symptoms include:

  • Repeated law-breaking behaviours
  • Deceitfulness
  • Impulsivity
  • Irritability/aggressiveness, often with repeated fights/assaults
  • reckless disregard for own/others’ safety
  • irresponsibility, failure to meet basic obligations
  • lack of remorse

For a diagnosis of ASPD, there must be a consistent pattern of these symptoms over time and across contexts. The general criteria for a personality disorder must also be met. The DSM states that ASPD can’t be diagnosed until age 18, but there is a strong correlation between childhood aggressiveness and antisocial behaviour as a young adult. Factors related to the family of origin have a significant impact on the development of antisociality. Peer groups can also play a role, as can genetics.

ASPD may occur in up to 3% of the population, and it’s six times more common among males than among females.

Sometimes, people will use the term sociopath to refer to someone with ASPD, although sociopath isn’t a diagnostic term in the DSM-5. Psychopathy isn’t in the DSM-5 either, but ASPD would be its closest equivalent. However, not everyone with ASPD is a psychopath, and vice versa. This post on psychopathy looks more closely at that.

Prosocial behaviour

The opposite of antisociality is prosocial behaviour, which involves effective communication and interaction to benefit others. Following socially defined rules, such as the rules of the road, is considered prosocial, benefiting both ourselves and others. Greater empathy is linked to prosocial behaviour. Parental modelling during childhood is an important influence on prosocial behaviour later on.


Asociality can stem from a lack of motivation for, or interest in, social engagement. It’s not a disorder, although it can be present in certain mental disorders. It can also relate to personality; for example, people with high levels of introversion may not experience rewards in social situations, and they may withdraw as a result. However, not everyone who is introverted is asocial. Many introverted people desire social contact, but in a more low-key manner compared to what energizes extraverts.

Asociality can also be an issue in cluster A personality disorders, including paranoid and schizotypal. Schizoid personality disorder in particular is characterized by extreme levels of asociality.

Other mental illnesses can tend to make people asocial during periods of illness. Depression and schizophrenia can reduce the desire for social interaction and motivate people to isolate themselves. People with social anxiety disorder may use avoidance in an attempt to cope with their disorder; they may actually have a strong desire for social connection, but they avoid social situations because of the associated anxiety.

As for myself, I’m capable of prosocial behaviour, but I’m much more comfortable living a fairly asocial existence.

What are your thoughts on antisociality and asociality?


Other personality disorders in the What Is… series

The Psychology Corner: Insights into psychology and psychological tests

The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.

Ashley L. Peterson headshot

Ashley L. Peterson


Ashley is a former mental health nurse and pharmacist and the author of four books.

29 thoughts on “What Is… Antisocial vs. Asocial”

  1. How interseting this was to read. I never even hear of asocial before. I always thought of myself as antisocial (Introverted), but after reading this… I’m so happy to learn I’m not anitsoical at all. I don’t fir that criteria for that, one bit.
    Woot-woot!!!! 🤗

  2. In the UK we used to have Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), which were used to forbid disruptive people from going to certain places or doing certain things to prevent anti-social behaviour without pressing stronger criminal charges e.g. for things like persistent drunkenness or minor acts of violence.

  3. I had never heard the term “asocial” and find that’s the condition I have, not “anti-social”. Although as I’ve gotten closer to 60, I am more aggressive, more angry and less thoughtful about the opinions of others regarding things I do or say. But the therapy people tell me those are traits that people with even mild BPD have, so it’s not unusual for me to be this way. I don’t really like those traits, but as I blogged about recently, nobody seems to really have a therapy model to treat my symptoms. That may be because they (mental health workers) can’t classify what I have exactly. PTSD, BPD, Bipolar II, Dysthymia are all bits and pieces of my picture. And I’m really really asocial. I could never kill anyone though nor do I wish anyone actual harm, I just fantasize a little sometimes about people I dislike for some reason or other getting in bad accidents. And I think that’s normal, isn’t it?

    1. And you’ve got to wonder, is it even a problem to be antisocial when there are so many yucky people out there in world that would probably be better off getting trampled by a herd of wild buffalo…

  4. Until I read your post, I didn’t know there was a difference between asocial and antisocial; I always used them interchangeably.

  5. aguycalledbloke

    A great read Ashley, and a greater correction also. Whilst l will still use selectively social, asocial is a much nicer way of describing it. Of course antisocial behaviour is very different – where Suze works ASBO’s as they are called and l am pretty sure l saw reference to it above are constantly issued to very troublesome individuals who like nothing more than not just causing antisocial behaviour to others but seemingly get a sense of achievement when issued with an ASBO too.

      1. aguycalledbloke

        No of course not, but put it this way if you are a person with a tendency to display anti-social behaviour towards another if not others then you don’t care if you have received an ASBOrder it’s just another one on your file or your record. That’s the problem. Of course it used to be that ASBO’s were not splashed out like smarties, now l have known streets of people making complaints at individuals over the silliest of things on the premise that they hope an ASBO will be issued on their neighbours.

          1. aguycalledbloke

            Oh l know, some neighbours are the pits lmao – a couple of years back, the neighbours behind me had a habit of banging on a full drum kit for 12 hours a day with their windows wide open. I was frantic, l was getting to the point that l may have killed a drummer on the spot lol! i had thought about making a complaint to the council [those who issue warnings against complaints] but instead just went to the neighbours and just asked them to please be more respectful of the neighbourhood, that l was an admirer of drummers, but not for 12 hours a day with the verandah windows open!

            We managed to sort out an acceptable compromise, but someone else would have complained and there is a very good chance the neighbours would have had a noise pollution warning against them – life’s too short – talk to the offender first, if that fails well then have asked for an official complaint.

  6. People throwing the word antisocial around drives me crazy. I had “friends” in college who called me antisocial all the time.They were psychology majors. *eye roll* I have not kept in touch with them, needless to say.

  7. On reading this, it reminds me of the difference in two Introverts of my personal experience (me and my ex). I would lean toward asocial (though not entirely so), and she perhaps more toward antisocial (though not entirely so). Details of course, I decline to discuss on a publicly visible forum.

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