You’re Saying I’m NOT a High-Functioning Sociopath?

Benedict Cumberbatch as BBC Sherlock Holmes tugging up his coat collar as he looks questioningly at something out of frame

You mean my secret is out?


‘Fraid so, Sherlock. There’s a wonderful article on Criminal Elements by a psychologist on why Sherlock is neither a psychopath nor a sociopath like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer (in large part because he does actually care hence the name of this site). I’m going to copy a few quotes below, but you might enjoy reading the entire article. The comments are particularly fun because the commenters engage in a lovely debate about Sherlock’s Meyer-Briggs assessment (INTJ according to an early posting), the divergence between the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character and the Moftiss incarnation of BBC Sherlock (although there’s a terrific little photo from RDJ’s Game of Shadows) which several folks deduce is autistic in some fashion, possibly Asperger’s Syndrome.

However, all are in agreement that Sherlock cares.

But heck, we knew that.

Excerpt from:

Stop Calling Sherlock a Sociopath! Thanks, a Psychologist.

by Maria Konnikova

…So how does Holmes stack up against this picture? And why has he been termed psychopathic so often—and so uncontestedly? The answer to the second question, I’d venture to guess, has something to do with the detective’s apparent coldness and his calculating nature, coupled with his vast intellect.

…But Holmes’s coldness is not the coldness of a psychopath. There are several fundamental differences. First, the psychopath is cold because he is incapable of being otherwise—hence, the element of lacking guilt or remorse. A psychopath doesn’t experience feelings the same way we do.

Holmes’s coldness is nothing of the sort. It’s not that he doesn’t experience any emotion. It’s that he has trained himself to not let emotions cloud his judgment—something that he repeats often to Watson. In The Sign of Four, recall Holmes’s reaction to Mary Morstan: “I think she is one of the most charming young ladies I ever met.” He does find her charming, then. But that’s not all he says. “But love is an emotional thing, and whatever is emotional is opposed to that true cold reason which I place above all things,” Holmes continues. Were Sherlock a psychopath, none of those statements would make any sense whatsoever. Not only would he fail to recognize both Mary’s charm and its potential emotional effect, but he wouldn’t be able to draw the distinction he does between cold reason and hot emotion. Holmes’s coldness is learned. It is deliberate. It is a constant self-correction (he notes Mary is charming, then dismisses it; he’s not actually unaffected in the initial moment, only once he acknowledges it does he cast aside his feeling).

…What’s more, Holmes’s coldness lacks the related elements of no empathy, no remorse, and failure to take responsibility. For empathy, we need look no further than his reaction to Watson’s wound in “The Three Garridebs,” (“You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!”)—or his desire to let certain criminals walk free, if they are largely guiltless in his own judgment. For remorse, consider his guilt at dragging Watson into trouble when the situation is too much (and his apology for startling him into a faint in “The Empty House.”

…Of the listed qualities, the only one that could apply is proneness to boredom. We know that when Holmes is not on a case, he is likely to seek stimulation in other, somewhat less healthy pursuits. But surely that alone is not enough to make a psychopath. (You have to score at least 30 points on Hare’s scale to qualify.)

…But the most compelling evidence is simply this. Sherlock Holmes is not a cold, calculating, self-gratifying machine. He cares for Watson. He cares for Mrs. Hudson. He most certainly has a conscience (and as Hare says, if nothing else, the “hallmark [of a sociopath] is a stunning lack of conscience”). In other words, Holmes has emotions—and attachments—like the rest of us. What he’s better at is controlling them—and only letting them show under very specific circumstances.

—There. I feel better now.

Don’t we all.

Facebook Twitter Email

2 thoughts on “You’re Saying I’m NOT a High-Functioning Sociopath?

  1. tykobrian

    *facepalm* for the LAST time, Sherlock (BBC) is NOT a sociopath and the writers are well aware of it! Here’s what Sherlock showrunner Steven Moffat has to say about this issue, (

    “It’s funny how people are always wanting to prove me wrong on this one. They say: ‘But he’s not a high-functioning sociopath.’ I never said he was! Sherlock Holmes tells people he is. Why would you listen to him? Nobody can define themselves. That’s what he’d like people to think he is. And that’s it–and I think he probably longs to be one. I think he loiters around prisons for the criminally insane, envying them their emotional detachment. He knows emotion is a problem to him. A man who has decided to suppress all his emotions in order to be better at what he does clearly has an awful lot of emotion. That’s a very simple deduction. It clearly is a problem for him. So, in itself, that is an emotional decision.”

    1. JH Watson Post author

      Worse, the DMS has gotten rid of the term “sociopath” and lumped those traits into “psychopath” which is now a spectrum like autism. But you have to admit the line “high-functioning sociopath” is a memorable one and lots of fun.

      Thanks for visiting!

Comments are closed.