Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

   Home    Conference   Magazine   Empathy Tent   Services    Newsletter   Facebook    Youtube   Contact   Search

Join the International Conference on: How Might We Build a Culture of Empathy and Compassion?

Empathic Design
Empathy Circles

  Restorative Empathy Circles
Empathy Tent

Expert Interviews
Obama on Empathy


    Empathy Tests


Definitions of Empathy Project

Definitions Complied by Anita Nowak In her dissertation,
Introducing A Pedagogy of Empathic Action As Informed By Social Entrepreneurs

Arnold, R.  (2003) An ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of self and others… a sophisticated ability involving attunement, decentring and introspection: an act of thoughtful, heartfelt imagination.
Aquinas, T. (1265-74) Mercy is the heartfelt sympathy for another’s distress, impelling us to succour him if we can.
Baron-Cohen, S. (2003)* Empathy is about spontaneously and naturally tuning into the other person’s thoughts and feelings, whatever these might be.
Batson et al. (1997)  An other-oriented emotional response congruent with another’s perceived welfare.
Berger, D. M. (1987)* 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 oneself in another’s shoes.
Blair & Blair (2009) There are at least three classes of processing, at least partially separable at both the neural and cognitive levels, that can be described as empathy… emotional, cognitive (also known as theory of mind), and motor empathy (where the body postures of others mimic those of the observed individual).
Buber, M. (1923) The transposition of oneself into another being, thus losing one’s own concreteness.
Darwall, S. (1997) Involves something like a sharing of the other’s mental states, frequently, as from her standpoint.
De Waal, F. (2009) “Empathy is an automated response…that requires emotional engagement… Seeing another’s emotion arouses our own emotions, and from there we go on constructing a more advanced understanding of the other’s situation. Bodily connections comes first – understanding follows.
Decety, J. (2004)* A sense of similarity in feelings experienced by the self and the other, without confusion between the two individuals.
Deitch Feshbach, N (1987) A shared emotional response that is contingent upon cognitive factors.
Eisenberg, N. & Fabes, R.A. (1990)* 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.
Gallo, D. (1994) A condition with both a cognitive and affective dimension, it includes the ability accurately to perceive and comprehend the thoughts, feelings and motives of the other to the degree that one can make inferences and predictions consonant with those of the other, while remaining oneself.
Goldman, A. (1993)* The ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand her emotions and feelings.
Goleman, D. (2006) Sensing another’s emotions... In today’s psychology, the word ‘empathy’ is used in three distinct senses: knowing another person’s feelings; feeling what that person feels; and responding compassionately to another’s distress.
Goodman, D. (2000)  Identifying with the situation and feelings of another person. The capacity to share in the emotional life of another, as well as the ability to imagine the way the world looks from another’s vantage point.
Gordon, M. (2005) The ability to identify and to respond appropriately to the feelings and perspectives of others
Goubert, L. et al (2009) A sense of knowing the personal experience of another person… a cognitive appreciation that is accompanied by both affective and behavioral responses.
Greenson, R. R. (1960)* To empathize means to share, to experience the feelings of another person.
H.H. The Dalai Lama (1999) Compassion is understood mainly in terms of empathy – namely, our ability to enter into and, to some extent, share others’ suffering.
Hatfield, E. et al.
(2009) True empathy requires three distinct skills: the ability to share the other person’s feelings, the cognitive ability to intuit what another person is feeling, and a ‘socially beneficial’ intention to respond compassionately to that person’s distress.
Haynes, L. A.
& Avery, A. W.
(1979) The ability to recognize and understand another person’s perceptions and feelings, and to accurately convey that understanding through an accepting response.
Hoffman, M. (2000)* An affective response more appropriate to another’s situation than one’s own.
Hume, D. (1739-40) Sympathy is a propensity…to receive by communication [another’s] inclinations and sentiments, however different from, or contrary to our own.
Ickes, W. (1997)*  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.
Ignatieff, M. (1999)  The human capability of imagining the pain and degradation done to other human beings as if it were our own.
Kohn, A. (1990) The inclination to imagine life as the other, rather than discrete experiences of the other.
Kohut, H. et l. (1984)* The capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.
Kristjánsson, K.  (2004) Sometimes, ‘to empathize with someone’ means having the capacity to discern/understand another’s psychological states… In another and stronger sense, however, ‘to empathize with someone’ means identifying with another’s emotional set-up… In other words, the empathizer has the relevant feelings; he does not merely discern them or imagine what they would feel like.
Lampert, K. (2005)* Empathy 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.
Lipps, T. (1903) The psychological state of imaginatively projecting oneself into another’s situation.
Louie, B. (2005) An other-oriented perspective congruent with another’s sociocultural values, political ideology, and historical context.
Nussbaum, M. (2010) A capacity for ‘positional thinking,’ the ability to see the world from another creature’s viewpoint.
Phillips, L. C. (2003) Together, the qualities of care within the experiences of identification and imagination create empathy.
Pink, D. H. (2004) The ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and to intuit what that person is feeling.
Rifkin, J. (2010) Empathy is felt and reasoned simultaneously. It is a quantum experience…. Empathy allows us to stretch our sensibility with another so that we can cohere in larger social units. To empathize is to civilize. To civilize is to empathize.
Rogers, C. R. (1959)* 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.
Schafer, R. (1959)* The inner experience of sharing in and comprehending the momentary psychological state of another person. Schertz, M. (2007) The mediation of emotional information involving systemic communicative processes operating between relational subjects.
Schonert-Reichl, K. A. (2005) An individual’s emotional responsiveness to the emotional experiences of another.
Schopenhauer, A. (1840) In feeling compassion for another, I suffer directly with him, I feel his woe just as I ordinarily feel only my own; and, likewise, I directly desire his weal in the same way I otherwise desire my own…At every moment we remain clearly conscious that he is the sufferer, not we; and it is precisely in his person, not in our, that we feel the suffering, to our own grief and sorrow. We suffer with him and hence in him; we feel his pain as his, and do not imagine that it is ours.
Schwartz, W. (2002)* 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.
Sherman, N. (1998) Empathy enables us to enter another’s world sufficiently to identify with that person so that other emotions, such as compassion or pity, have a chance to grab hold… Through an act of imagination and simulation we appreciate, however fleetingly, something of what another experiences, sees, fears, and desires. We recenter ourselves on that other, seeing through his or her eyes.
Slote, J. D. (2009)  Involves having the feelings of another (involuntarily)aroused in ourselves, as when we see one another.
Smith, A. (1759) Sympathy is a process that allows the minds of men to become mirrors to one another.
Spiro, H. S. (1992)   The feeling that persons or objects arouse in us as projections of our feelings and thoughts. It is evident when “I and you” becomes “I am you,” or at least “I might be
Stein, E. (1964) The experiences of being led by the foreign consciousness… and the givenness of foreign subjects and their experiences.
4 I contend that Schopenhauer used the word compassion to describe the phenomenon of empathy.
5 I contend that Smith used the word sympathy to describe the phenomenon of empathy.
Titchener, E.  (1924) The process of humanizing objects, of reading or feeling ourselves into them.
Toranzo, N. C. (1998)  A multidimensional construct that involves the dynamic interplay of perception, social cognition, and affect.
Trout, J. D.  (2009) Empathy is the capacity to accurately understand the position of others – to feel that ‘this could happen to me.’
Watson, J.C
&Greenberg, L. S.
(2009) Neuroscientists define empathy as a ‘complex form of psychological inference that enables us to understand the personal experiences of another person through cognitive, evaluative and affective processes.
Wikipedia (2011)* The capacity to recognize and, to some extent, sharefeelings (such as sadness or happiness) that are being experienced by another semi-sentient being.
 * References with an asterisk were sourced from, on July 13, 2010.