Theorists and Definition
Empathy has many different definitions. These definitions encompass a broad range, from caring for other people and having a desire to help them, to experiencing emotions that match another person's emotions, to knowing what the other person is thinking or feeling, to blurring the line between self and other. Below are definitions of empathy:
- Daniel Batson: "A motivation oriented towards the other."
- D. M. Berger: "The capacity to know emotionally what another is experiencing from within the frame of reference of that other person, the capacity to sample the feelings of another or to put one's self in another's shoes."
- Jean Decety: "A sense of similarity in feelings experienced by the self and the other, without confusion between the two individuals."
- Frans de Waal: "The capacity to (a) be affected by and share the emotional state of another, (b) assess the reasons for the other's state, and (c) identify with the other, adopting his or her perspective. This deﬁnition extends beyond what exists in many animals, but the term "empathy" … applies even if only criterion (a) is met."
- Nancy Eisenberg: "An affective response that stems from the apprehension or comprehension of another's emotional state or condition, and that is similar to what the other person is feeling or would be expected to feel."
- Edith Stein: "Empathy cannot be forced to occur but can be facilitated by good listening skills, self awareness, and self confidence that will demonstrate empathatic willingness by clinicians."
- Alvin Goldman: "The ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand her emotions and feelings."
- Martin Hoffman: any process where the attended perception of the object's state generates a state in the subject that is more applicable to the object's state or situation than to the subject's own prior state or situation.
- William Ickes: A complex form of psychological inference in which observation, memory, knowledge, and reasoning are combined to yield insights into the thoughts and feelings of others.
- Heinz Kohut: Empathy is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person
- Harry Prosen: "an emotional understanding which allows one as a therapist to resonate with one's patients in depth emotionally, so that it influences the therapeutic approach and alliance with the patient"
- Carl Rogers: To perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person, but without ever losing the "as if" condition. Thus, it means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he senses it and to perceive the causes thereof as he perceives them, but without ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth.
- Marshall Rosenberg: "Empathic connection is an understanding of the heart in which we see the beauty in the other person, the divine energy in the other person, the life that's alive in them."
- Roy Schafer: Empathy involves the inner experience of sharing in and comprehending the momentary psychological state of another person.
- Wynn Schwartz: We recognize others as empathic when we feel that they have accurately acted on or somehow acknowledged in stated or unstated fashion our values or motivations, our knowledge, and our skills or competence, but especially as they appear to recognize the significance of our actions in a manner that we can tolerate their being recognized.
- Edith Stein: Empathy is the experience of foreign consciousness in general.
- Simon Baron-Cohen (2003): Empathy is about spontaneously and naturally tuning into the other person's thoughts and feelings, whatever these might be.
- Khen Lampert (2005): " is what happens to us when we leave our own bodies...and find ourselves either momentarily or for a longer period of time in the mind of the other. We observe reality through her eyes, feel her emotions, share in her pain."
Since empathy involves understanding the emotional states of other people, the way it is characterized is derivative of 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 and may be achieved unconsciously. Yet it can be trained and achieved with various degrees of intensity or accuracy.
The human capacity to recognize the bodily feelings of another is related to one's imitative capacities and seems to be grounded in the innate capacity to associate the bodily movements and facial expressions one sees in another with the proprioceptive feelings of producing those corresponding movements or expressions oneself. Humans seem to make the same immediate connection between the tone of voice and other vocal expressions and inner feeling.
Empathy is distinct from sympathy, pity, and emotional contagion. Sympathy or empathic concern is the feeling of compassion or concern for another, the wish to see them better off or happier. Pity is feeling that another is in trouble and in need of help as they cannot fix their problems themselves, often described as "feeling sorry" for someone. Emotional contagion is when a person (especially an infant or a member of a mob) imitatively "catches" the emotions that others are showing without necessarily recognizing this is happening.
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“One definition of man is an intelligence served by organs.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)