Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Empathy: Cognitive and Affective

Empathy is defined as the ability to perceive someone else's experience. Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, the cousin of actor Sasha, is an avid researcher on empathy and reports that for the most part, women demonstrate empathy to a greater degree than do men.

But did you know there are two kinds of empathy?

Cognitive empathy is the ability to perceive what another person is thinking. "She must be telling herself this was a mistake."

Affective empathy is the ability to sense what another person is emotionally experiencing. "She must be feeling upset about this mistake."

Of course, there's much more to the process of empathy. But should you want to stretch your ability to feel for another person try these tips:

1) Ask yourself what must this person be thinking? This will broaden your cognitive empathy.

2) Same goes for affective empathy - imagine what feelings and emotions might be stirring within another person.

3) If it's hard for you to "be in another person's shoes", ask yourself what YOU might be thinking or feeling if you were in a similar situation.


Anonymous said...

Dr. Deb,
This is very interesting. I, and many I have encountered, feel that one of the symptoms/characteristics of being Bipolar is a higher sensitivity to the emotions of those around us.

Yet, I am also aware of those who are Bipolar and at the other end of the spectrum; lacking total empathy. Perhaps this symptom is more of an anti-social or borderline personality disorder.

One suggestion to those who find it hard to engage with another person is to follow this mindset:
Be interested, not interesting.

kenju said...

Interesting distinction. I, too, think that males are lacking in this department - both sides of it!!

Wanda's Wings said...

I feel that is one thing I have learn in my life is to feel empathy for others. Really even when I might not know the right words to say I can really care and empathize with them.

Angeliki Bogosian said...

This year my resolution was to sharpen up my empathetic skills and I found useful to read books, watch movies and also engage in conversations with others (especially strangers). In all these cases I was trying to focus on how the other people might feel and think.

Ian Lidster said...

Nice bit of explanation my dear friend. Now, what I would like to see is a cessastion of the missuse of the word. Empathy is not the same as sympathy, yet you hear that all the time, including from people who should know better. "I empathize with people who were in Nazi death-camps." No you don't. Unless you were there, too, you have no idea of what it was like. But you can 'sympathize' with them.

Dr. Deb said...

Dear mom,
I agree that attunement can be felt more profoundly in a higher, intensive state.

My hubby is a good cognitive empathizer. He can tell what I'm thinking, but not so much what I'm feelings. That he has to work on a bit more!

Amazing how some can sense another while others cannot.

Wow, what a great new years resolution!

Oh yes, empathize, sympathize. It's not tomato/to-motto.

Xmichra said...

I think women maybe have a bit more experience whenit comes to empathy, simply because the majority are taught to think of others and what they might be feeling or thinking, in order to "groom" for motherhood. Sounds sick and twisted, but really it's something we don't notice and it's good for us in the long run.

basically, we are all primed with the learned instinct to worry, and to ask, and to be aware of others feeling. The hard part is learning that empathy is much different than false sympathy... and it's hard for some to not let empathy rule their own lives.

in my opinion.

Lilly said...

is logical, one must take the place of another to at least somewhat similar thinking, we believe that things should be better especially in health care.

Ely Lilly

TK Kerouac said...

I find I'm more empathetic/sympathetic when I'm genuinely engaged with the person

But if its a tough situation, and the emotions are too much to feel at the time, particular, if I'm out socializing

I can find a way to block out the feelings of that emotion/empathy for the time being

not sure if this is a good skill to have?

Dr. Deb said...

Balance is everything. Too much empathy can keep you from tending to you own needs. Too little empathy, keeps you disconnected from others.

Raine said...

That just said it perfectly- balance. Interesting post