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The meaning of «empathy»

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another's position.[1] Definitions of empathy encompass a broad range of emotional states. Types of empathy include cognitive empathy, emotional (or affective) empathy, and somatic empathy.[2][3]

The English word empathy is derived from the Ancient Greek ἐμπάθεια (empatheia, meaning "physical affection or passion").[4] This, in turn, comes from ἐν (en, "in, at") and πάθος (pathos, "passion" or "suffering").[5] Hermann Lotze and Robert Vischer adapted the term to create the German Einfühlung ("feeling into"). Edward B. Titchener translated Einfühlung into English as "empathy" in 1909.[6][7][8] In modern Greek: εμπάθεια may mean, depending on context, prejudice, malevolence, malice, or hatred.[9]

Empathy definitions encompass a broad range of phenomena, including caring for other people and having a desire to help them; experiencing emotions that match another person's emotions; discerning what another person is thinking or feeling;[10] and making less distinct the differences between the self and the other.[11]

Having empathy can include having the understanding that there are many factors that go into decision making and cognitive thought processes. Past experiences have an influence on the decision making of today. Understanding this allows a person to have empathy for individuals who sometimes make illogical decisions to a problem that most individuals would respond with an obvious response. Broken homes, childhood trauma, lack of parenting and many other factors can influence the connections in the brain which a person uses to make decisions in the future.[12] According to Martin Hoffman everyone is born with the capability of feeling empathy.[13]

Since empathy involves understanding the emotional states of other people, the way it is characterized is derived from the way emotions themselves are characterized. If, for example, emotions are taken to be centrally characterized by bodily feelings, then grasping the bodily feelings of another will be central to empathy. On the other hand, if emotions are more centrally characterized by a combination of beliefs and desires, then grasping these beliefs and desires will be more essential to empathy. The ability to imagine oneself as another person is a sophisticated imaginative process. However, the basic capacity to recognize emotions is probably innate[14] and may be achieved unconsciously. Yet it can be trained[15] and achieved with various degrees of intensity or accuracy.

Empathy necessarily has a "more or less" quality. The paradigm case of an empathic interaction, however, involves a person communicating an accurate recognition of the significance of another person's ongoing intentional actions, associated emotional states, and personal characteristics in a manner that the recognized person can tolerate. Recognitions that are both accurate and tolerable are central features of empathy.[16][17]

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