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Obama on Empathy


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Definition of Empathy

Empathy is most often defined by the metaphors of 'standing in someone else's shoes' or 'seeing through someone else's eyes'. After combining and synthesizing the different ways the word is used, here are the four basic aspects of empathy that I have come up with. One way to think of it is as the 'Wheel of Empathy' and the "Feel of Empathy".  There are 4 major spokes to the wheel but we can keep adding more and more to become more and more 'granular' in describing the process. The wheel is more the model of empathy and how it works, while the feel of empathy is looking at if from the personal felt experience of it.

1. Self-Empathy

  • Sensory awareness of our own internal feelings and internal state.

  • Turning your attention inwards into your inner visceral feelings.

  • Getting connected with yourself.

  • Becoming self aware of what is happening inside ourselves without judgments.

  • Listening to your inner feelings and experiences.

  • Facilitating inner dialog between different feelings.

  • Labeling your inner experiences, feelings and needs.

  • Translating inner judgments into feelings and needs.

  •  When we are heard by someone else, it actually helps us feel into our own self more deeply. This is the essence of much of therapy. Having good friends listen to us has the same effect

  • Anything that reduces stress and raises the level of Oxytocin in our bodies helps. Meditation, mindfulness practices, focusing, yoga, aikido and the arts, for example, are a few of the many ways to foster self-empathy.

2. Mirrored Empathy

  • Emotional empathy of others via mirror neurons - reflecting others in ourselves and ourselves being reflected by others.

  • With mirror neuron, the same neurons in our brain fire when we do an action and see the same action happening in someone else.

  • This is also called emotional or affective empathy. 

  • Emotional contagion is when we catch the emotions of others.  The “process in which a person or group influences the behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotional states and behavioral attitudes” (Schoenewolf 49-61).

  • Empathic (active) listening and physical mirroring exercises can help foster this.

3. Imaginative Empathy

  • Perspective and role taking of others.

  • This is based on the sense of self-awareness, when we recognize ourselves as separate beings.  We can imagine being someone else or imagine being another person, animal, object, etc. and take on the role of that.

  • “imagining yourself as”  (other-perspective) versus “imagining yourself in”  (self-perspective) 

4. Empathic Arising, Creativity,  Action  

  • I'm starting to like the term Empathic Creativity and Empathic Arising for this.

  • Once connection is created, taking creative action together.

  • There's a quality to the action which is very connected and has a deep resonance.

  • It's responding in an appropriate way to the other by holding their needs, values, feelings, (common humanity) etc. in mind in the action process.

  • Empathy is when the blocks to action are removed, that do not exclude.

  • Until an adequate level of self, mirrored and imaginative empathy are in place, empathic action may be blocked.

  • Also looking for creative ways to resolve conflict.

  • Our minds are like a puzzle solving machine, through Self-Empathy, Mirrored Empathy and Imaginative Empathy we see ourselves reflected in others and they in us. Our minds automatically try to solve the puzzle of organizing our shared experience, which is Empathic Creativity.

5. The Feel of Empathy

  • The wheel of empathy represents a model of empathy. Another way of defining it is what does it feel like to you  as a sensed body feeling? Warm, relaxed, open?

  • Metaphors of Empathy: Also what is empathy like as a metaphor? Metaphors can carry an emotional or sensory quality of the experience.  For me, empathy is like a  cornucopia (horn of plenty), I can feel a wide variety of rich feelings, sensations, nourishment and experiences that come from other people through empathy. My life feels enriched. My life would be like a barren desert (lonely, monotone, sterile, monotonous, etc.) without empathy.

How does compassion relate to empathy?
Just like with empathy, there are many definitions of compassion and it can get confusing. There seems to be 2 major ways it's defined. 

  • One, it is a sub category of the empathic experience. It is empathy applied to suffering. A feeling into the suffering of someone, often with a sense of deep presence and consoling. Also with a desire to alleviate the suffering. This is the definition I use.

  • Two, it is seen as form of sympathy.  First we empathize with someone, feel their suffering, but then a secondary feelings comes up where we feel sorry for them.  This is more of a patronizing looking down on the person approach.

 We can empathize with all the different motions, sensations and feelings that someone may have; joy, sadness, caring, fear, loneliness, creativity, connection, grief, excitement, boredom, pain, suffering, etc. etc.  Compassion is the name applied to what happens when we empathize with pain and suffering. This can also be called empathic concern by some.  It follows the same process as empathy. So compassion is a subset of the empathic process and there is the wheel and feel of compassion.

1. Self-Compassion
  Feeling compassion for your own pain and suffering. (self consoling)

2. Mirrored Compassion
 Via mirror neurons, feeling someone's suffering. When we see someone in pain our own pain neurons fire.

3. Imaginative or Cognitive Compassion
This is based on the sense of self-awareness, when we recognize ourselves as separate beings.  We can imagine the suffering someone is going through from their perspective.

4. Compassionate Action
The desire and action to alleviate the suffering, often with consoling. Some call it empathic concern.

5. Feel of Compassion.
Feeling: What does compassion feel like as a sensation in your body. Warm, comforting, safe, etc?
Metaphor: What is your metaphor of compassion?  I have heard it described as being like putting out a fire. The fire in your house or wanting to put out the fire in someone else's house. (See Thubten Chodron)


Empathy Circles Prezi
 Lidewij Niezink created this Prezi of the basic outline the stages of empathy we work with in our Empathy Circles.


More Definitions


Carl Rogers

 Empathic: An Unappreciated Way Of Being

Carl Rogers on Empathy - Part 1A

EARLY DEFINITIONS: The state of empathy, or being empathic, is 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. If this "as if" quality is lost, then the state is one of identification. (pp. 210—211. See also Rogers, 1957.)

A CURRENT DEFINITION: With this conceptual background, let me attempt a description of empathy that would seem satisfactory to me today. I would no longer be terming it a "state of empathy," because I believe it to be a process, rather than a state. Perhaps I can capture that quality.

An empathic way of being with another person has several facets. It means entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it. It involves being sensitive, moment by moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person, to the fear or rage or tenderness or confusion or whatever that he or she is experiencing. It means temporarily living in the other's life, moving about in it delicately without making judgements; it means sensing meanings of which he or she is scarcely aware, but not trying to uncover totally unconscious feelings, since this would he too threatening. It includes communicating your sensings of the person's world as you look with fresh and unfrightened eyes at elements of which he or she is fearful. It means frequently checking with the person as to the accuracy of your sensings, and being guided by the responses you receive. You are a confident companion to the person in his or her inner world. By pointing to the possible meanings in the flow of another person's experiencing, you help the other to focus on this useful type of referent, to experience the meanings more fully, and to move forward in the experiencing.

To be with another in this way means that for the time being, you lay aside your own views and values in order to enter another's world without prejudice. In some sense it means that you lay aside your self; this can only be done by persons who are secure enough in themselves that they know they will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and that they can comfortably return to their own world when they wish.

Perhaps this description makes clear that being empathic is a complex, demanding, and strong - yet also a subtle and gentle - way of being.

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. 




The first quality is empathy. Many people believe that this is the single quality which is most important in all forms of therapeutic listening. It means getting inside the world of the person who comes for therapy (usually called the client, though some people not in this group prefer other words such as patient or consulter) so that that person feels accepted and understood. Two things are important about this:

  •  (1) that the empathy be accurate, and

  • (2) that the empathy be made known to the client.
    Both of these are learnable skills, and they do make a huge difference to the relationship between client and counselor or therapist.

The second quality is genuineness. If empathy is about listening to the client, genuineness is about listening to myself - really tuning in to myself and being aware of all that is going on inside myself. It means being open to my own experience, not shutting off any of it. And again it means letting this out in such a way that the client can get the benefit of it. Genuineness is harder than empathy because it implies a lot of self-knowledge, which can really only be obtained by going through one's own therapy in quite a full and deep way. It is only a fully-functioning person (Rogers' word for the person who has completed at least the major part of their therapy) who can be totally genuine.

The third quality is non-possessive warmth. It means that the client can feel received in a human way, which is not threatening. In such an atmosphere trust can develop, and the person can feel able to open up to their own experiences and their own feelings.


Daniel Batson
8 Definitions of Empathy
(from The Social Neuroscience of Empathy, These Things Called Empathy,
Daniel Batson)
"The term empathy is currently applied to more than a half-dozen phenomena.

1. Knowing another persons internal state, Including thoughts and feelings
2. Adopting the posture or matching the neural responses of an observed other
3. Coming to feel as another person feels
4. Intuiting or projecting oneself into another's situation
5. Imagining how another is thinking and feeling
6. Imagining how one would think and feel in the other's place
7. Feeling distress at witnessing another person's suffering
8. Feeling for another person who is suffering  (empathic concern)  An other-oriented emotional response elicited by and congruent with the perceived welfare of someone in need. Includes feeling sympathy, compassion, tenderness and the like (i.e. feeling for the other, and not feeling as the other)"

Dan Batson delivers an address on "empathy-altruism hypothesis" at the 2007 Autonomy Singularity Creativity Conference.
He mentions his definitions starting at 10:00.

Daniel Batson: Eight Definitions of Empathy

Dan Batson is Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas. His main research interests are in prosocial emotion, motivation, and behavior. He has conducted a number of experiments on empathy, on perspective taking, and on various forms of prosocial motivation.

His chapter titled, '
These Things Called Empathy', in the book, 'The Social Neuroscience of Empathy', explores 8 ways the word and concept of empathy is used.
Sub Conference: Science


Dan Batson & Edwin Rutsch: Definitions of Empathy
I had an hour long conversation with Dan and we walked though his definitions step by step.



Frans de Waal
Author of 'The Age of Empathy' 


This definition by Frans De Waal uses the metaphor of the Russian Doll. Empathy is a layered process that parallels the evolutionary layers of the brain. The most basic functions of the brain are found in many animals, then there are ever more higher layers that integrate with each other. The top layers are animals that have self-awareness like humans, dolphins, elephants, chimpanzees, etc.

What exactly is empathy?
"Empathy: 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 I employ the term "empathy" even if only the first criterion is met as I believe all of these elements are evolutionarily connected...."more.

The Antiquity of Empathy - Frans B. M. de Waal
    "The Russian doll model of multilayered empathy. The doll's inner core consists of the perception-action mechanism (PAM) that underlies state-matching and emotional contagion.

Built around this hard-wired socioaffective basis, the doll's outer layers include sympathetic concern and targeted helping. The complexity of empathy grows with increasing perspective-taking capacities, which depend on prefrontal neural functioning, yet remain fundamentally connected to the PAM.

 A few large-brained species show all of the doll's layers,
 but most show only the inner ones."


Empathy: Its ultimate and proximate bases
"Preston, Stephanie D. and de Waal, Frans B. M. (2000) Empathy: Its ultimate and proximate bases.

The empathy literature is characterized by debate regarding the nature of the phenomenon. We propose a unified theory of empathy, divided into ultimate and proximate levels, grounded in the emotional link between individuals. On an ultimate level, emotional linkage supports group alarm, vicariousness of emotions, mother-infant responsiveness, and the modeling of competitors and predators; these exist across species and greatly effect reproductive success. Proximately, emotional linkage arises from a direct mapping of another's behavioral state onto a subject's behavioral representations, which activate responses in the subject. This ultimate and proximate account parsimoniously explains different phylogenetic and ontogenetic levels of empathy."

Term Definition Self-other distinction? State matching? Implications for helping? Synonyms
Emotional contagion Similar emotion is aroused in the subject as a direct result of perceiving the emotion of the object. Lacking Yes None Personal distress,
 Vicarious emotion, emotional transfer
Sympathy Subject feels "sorry for" the object as a result of perceiving the distress of the object. Intact No Depends on the costs and benefits of the situation.  
Empathy Subject has a similar emotional state to an object as a result of the accurate perception of the object's situation or predicament. Intact Yes Increasing with familiarity/similarity of object and salience of display.  
Cognitive empathy Subject has represented the state of the object as a result of the accurate perception of the object's situation or predicament, without necessary state matching beyond the level of representation. Intact Partial, because it can be arrived at in a "top-down" fashion, involving emotional circuits to a lesser extent. Likely, because it is more likely to be invoked for familiar/similar objects. True empathy,
Prosocial behaviors Actions taken to reduce the distress of an object. Depends Not necessarily Inherent Helping, succorance

TABLE 1: Usage of terminology by most current researchers divided into main variables of classification.

Figure 1: In order to unify the various perspectives, empathy needs to be construed broadly to include all processes that rely on the emotional linkage between individuals.


Greater Good Science Center

Compassion & Empathy  at Greater Good Science Center Wiki
"Strict dictionary definitions have a hard time separating the feelings of empathy, sympathy, compassion, and pity. Often these words are used to define each other. However research on the concepts has begun to pull them apart.

  • Empathy is considered a mirroring or vicarious experience of another's emotions, whether they be sorrow or joy. 
  • Sympathy  on the other hand, is a feeling of sorrow associated specifically with the suffering or need of another. These are examples of fellow-feeling, and they require a certain degree of equality in situation or circumstances.  (more on sympathy)
  • Pity  which regards its object not only as suffering, but weak, and hence as inferior. 
  • Compassion is much like sympathy in that it stems from the suffering of another, but it also includes the need or desire to alleviate suffering" (Eisenberg, 2002).


Paul Ekman
Daniel Golman credits Paul Ekman for his model of empathy which is three parts; cognitive empathy, emotional empathy and empathic concern. You can see my interview with Paul where we discussed his definitions.

  • "Since I got to know the Dali Lama 11 years ago I became interested in compassion

    • it differs from emotions

    • this got me interested in empathy

      • which is a bit of a minefield

      • I don't consider myself an expert on empathy

      • I never studied empathy per se.

      • I have to think about it to write about compassion

    • There are two kinds of empathy

      • Cognitive

        •  I appreciate how others are feeling, but I don't feel it.

      • Affective

        • can and do feel in my body what others are feeling

    • empathy is broader than compassion - compassion is with suffering

      • if I feel your joy, you're not suffering but that's an empathetic response

      • if I feel your anger, and I join you in your anger, is it empathetic

    • Compassion is a subset of both the Cognitive and Affective parts of empathy

      • focused on trying to deal with the suffering of another person

      • Compassion is a much more narrower slice from the world of empathy "

Daniel Goleman

Goleman points to the three types of empathy in the self-awareness domain.
 (I heard somewhere that he based this on the work of Paul Ekman. )

1. cognitive empathy. “This is about being able to understand how the other person thinks. Leaders who are good at this are able to express things in a way that impacts people, that reaches people effectively. 
2. emotional empathy
3. empathic concern

Different Kinds of Empathy  

June 12, 2007  - Three Kinds of Empathy: Cognitive, Emotional, Compassionate
"Being cool in crisis seems essential for our being able to think clearly. But what if keeping cool makes you too cold to care? In other words, must we sacrifice empathy to stay calm? That’s the dilemma facing those who are preparing top teams to handle the next Katrina-like catastrophe we might face. Which gets me to Paul Ekman, a world expert on emotions and our ability to read and respond to them in others. Paul and I had along conversation recently, in which he described three very different ways to sense another person’s feelings."

Tania Singer
From Emotional Contagion through Empathy to Compassion

from Tania Singer - Breaking the Wall between People @Falling Walls 2010
This is a definition and model by Tania Singer. Starts in this video clip at around 2:50 min.

  • Emotional Contagion

    • babies crying contagion

    • baby laughing contagion - [video]

    • eye pupil measurements of emotions - are also contagious

      • see someone that is sad, you mirror it.

    • unconsciously

    • this is not yet empathy

  • Empathy

    • self other distinction

    • differentiating my pain and your pain.

    • people think empathy is a good thing,

    •  if you have too much empathy, like in caregiver profession, this can be a problem

    • you can burnout

    • you can turn it into compassion

  • Compassion

    • you can turn it into sympathy, compassion, concern for the other

    • a real motivation for the welfare for the other

    • a concern for the other

    • a warm feeling

  • Theory of Mind (TOM) - there are different routes into the brain/mind of another person

    • Theory of Mind - a cognitive perspective taking

    • not an affective root into the other but a cognitive route.

    • Psychopaths for example have (TOM)

      • good at manipulating others, know the others needs and beliefs are

      • but they lack empathy



Marshall Rosenberg

From Marshall Rosenberg's book "Non-Violent Communication"
"Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.  Instead of offering empathy, we often have a strong urge to give advice or reassurance and to explain our own position or feeling.  Empathy, however, calls upon us to empty our mind and listen to others with our whole being. 

In nonviolent communication, no matter what words others may use to express themselves, we simply listen for their observations, feelings, needs, and requests.  Then we may wish to reflect back, paraphrasing what we have understood.  We stay with empathy, allowing others the opportunity to fully express themselves before we turn our attention to solutions or requests for relief.

We need empathy to give empathy.  When we sense ourselves being defensive or unable to empathize, we need to (A) stop, breathe, give ourselves empathy, (B) screamed nonviolently, or (C) take time out."


Question: "What is the Definition for Empathy?"

Marshall Rosenberg: "Empathy, I would say is presence. Pure presence to what is alive in a person at this moment, bringing nothing in from the past. The more you know a person, the harder empathy is. The more you have studied psychology, the harder empathy really is. Because you can bring no thinking in from the past. If you surf, you'd be better at empathy because you will have built into your body what it is about. Being present and getting in with the energy that is coming through you in the present. It is not a mental understanding."

Question: "Is it speaking from the heart?"

Rosenberg: "What? Empathy? In empathy, you don't speak at all. You speak with the eyes. You speak with the body. If you say any words at all, it's because you are not sure you are with the person. So you may say some words. But the words are not empathy. Empathy is when the other person feels the connection to with what's alive in you."


Various Definitions

Empathy on the Edge (IDEO)
The definition of empathy is the ability to be aware of, understanding of, and sensitive to another person’s feelings and thoughts without having had the same experience. As human-centered designers, we consciously work to understand the experience of our clients and their customers. "

Current Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Debates on Empathy
This edition of the Emotion Review - January 2012 was focused on defining empathy.  "A central question of this special section is how cognitive and affective dimensions do or do not cooperate in empathy."

"Empathy is a social feeling that consists in feelingly grasping or retracing the present, future, or past emotional state of the other; thus, empathy is also called a vicarious emotion"

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

An Article by Grovert van Ginkel: Practice Empathy. Reviews many definitions

Greater Good Science Center - The Terms of Empathy
What does "empathy" mean exactly, and how is it different from sympathy or other emotional experiences? Some scientists differ in how they use the term. Below is a list of definitions of empathy and related terms

  • Emotional contagion:

  • Empathy:

  • Sympathy

  • Cognitive empathy

We found 42 dictionaries with English definitions that include the word empathy

Empathy is the capacity to recognize or understand another's state of mind or emotion. It is often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes", or to in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself. Empathy does not necessarily imply compassion, or empathic concern because this capacity can be present in context of compassionate or cruel behavior... (extensive article)
"an understanding of and identification with the emotions of another person
Both empathy and the related word sympathy come from the Greek word pathos, "emotion." To say you empathize with someone is to say you feel their pain or emotions. If you are empathetic, you "put yourself in someone's place" and try to understand exactly how they feel. As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mocking Bird, "You don't truly know a man unless you have walked a mile in his shoes." That is empathy.
- Because she was once destitute herself, she has great empathy for the homeless. (compassion, sympathy)
- As a nurse, she does more than offer medical care; she provides empathy and comfort as well. (understanding, compassion)
- Experiencing the death of a close friend has allowed me to be more empathetic with other grieving people. (understanding) adjective
- He seems like a cold and heartless man; he has no empathy for others. (compassion, sympathy)"
"1. understanding of another's feelings: the ability to identify with and understand somebody else's feelings or difficulties
2. attribution of feelings to an object: the transfer of somebody's own feelings and emotions to an object such as a painting"
"Greek empatheia, literally, passion, from empathēs emotional, from em- + pathos feelings, emotion - more at pathos  Date:1850
1: the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it
2: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner ; also : the capacity for this"
'Etymology: A twentieth-century borrowing of Ancient Greek ἐμπάθεια (empatheia), literally passion (formed from εν- en-, in, at + πάθος pathos feeling), coined by Rudolf Lotze to translate German Einfühlung. The modern Greek word εμπάθεια has an opposite meaning denoting strong negative feelings and prejudice against someone.

  • 1. the intellectual identification of the thoughts, feelings, or state of another person

  • 2. capacity to understand another person's point of view or the result of such understanding'
'the ability to imagine oneself in another's place and understand the other's feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. It is a term coined in the early 20th century, equivalent to the German Einfühlung and modeled on "sympathy." The term is used with special (but not exclusive) reference to aesthetic experience. The most obvious example, perhaps, is that of the actor or singer who genuinely feels the part he is performing. With other works of art, a spectator may, by a kind of introjection, feel himself involved in what he observes or contemplates. The use of empathy is an important part of the counseling technique developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers.'

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
'1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
2. the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.
Origin:  1900-05; < Gk empátheia affection, equiv. to em- em- 2 + path- (base of páschein to suffer) + -eia -ia; present meaning translates German - Einfühlung'
1. understanding of another's feelings: the ability to identify with and understand somebody else's feelings or difficulties
2. attribution of feelings to an object: the transfer of somebody's own feelings and emotions to an object such as a painting
Identifying oneself completely with an object or person, sometimes even to the point of responding physically, as when, watching a baseball player swing at a pitch, one feels one's own muscles flex.
1. the intellectual identification of the thoughts, feelings, or state of another person
2. capacity to understand another person's point of view or the result of such understanding
Etymology: A twentieth-century borrowing of Ancient Greek á (empatheia), literally "passion" (formed from - en-, "in, at" + pathos "feeling"), coined by w:Rudolf Lotze, Rudolf Lotze to translate German Einfíhlung. The modern Greek word has an opposite meaning denoting strong negative feelings and prejudice against someone.
concord, accord, harmony, symphony, agreement, sympathy, union, unison, unity, unanimity, league, friendship, alliance, understanding, conciliation;
antonym: Discord
1903, translation of Ger. Einfühlung (from ein "in" + Fühlung "feeling"), coined 1858 by Ger. philosopher Rudolf Lotze (1817-81) from Gk. empatheia "passion," from en- "in" + pathos "feeling" (see pathos). A term from a theory of art appreciation. Empathize (v.) was coined 1924; empathic (adj.) is from 1909.

EMPATHIEA-"Empathy literally means the power of understanding things outside ourselves after the Greek empatheia, but has come to imply a reliance on inner feeling"

 feeling into another individuals emotional state (einfuhlung)" Lipps 1903 -
"empathy involves resonating with other peoples unconscious affect" - feeling vibrations?

On Empathy: By: Dr. Sam Vaknin - The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1999 edition) defines empathy as:
"The ability to imagine oneself in an other's place and understand the other's feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. It is a term coined in the early 20th century, equivalent to the German Einfühlung and modeled on "sympathy." The term is used with special (but not exclusive) reference to aesthetic experience. The most obvious example, perhaps, is that of the actor or singer who genuinely feels the part he is performing. With other works of art, a spectator may, by a kind of introjection, feel himself involved in what he observes or contemplates. The use of empathy is an important part of the counseling technique developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers."

Wikipedia: Theorists and their definitions

A motivation oriented towards the other.   Daniel Batson

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.    D. M. Berger

A sense of similarity in feelings experienced by the self and the other, without confusion between the two individuals.  Jean Decety

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.   Nancy Eisenberg

 To empathize means to share, to experience the feelings of another person.   R. R. Greenson

 The ability to put oneself into the mental shoes of another person to understand her emotions and feelings. Alvin Goldman

An affective response more appropriate to another's situation than one's own. Martin Hoffman

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.  William Ickes

Empathy is the capacity to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person.  Heinz Kohut

Empathy involves the inner experience of sharing in and comprehending the momentary psychological state of another person.  Roy Schafer

"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." Wynn Schwartz

Empathy is the experience of foreign consciousness in general.  Edith Stein

In popular usage the idea refers to the emotional resonance between two people, when, like strings tuned to the same frequency, each responds in perfect sympathy to the other and each reinforces the responses of the other. A good example of this occurs in the statement: "Aleatoric concert music, like jazz, demands a strong empathy between performer and listener" (Houkom, p. 10).

Empathy is about spontaneously and naturally tuning into the other person's thoughts and feelings, whatever these might be [...]There are two major elements to empathy. The first is the cognitive component: Understanding the others feelings and the ability to take their perspective [...] the second element to empathy is the affective component. This is an observers appropriate emotional response to another person's emotional state.  Simon Baron-Cohen (2003):


"[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.." Khen Lampert (2005):  



Definitions of Compassion

Paul Ekman
Keynote Address 2
 - Paul Ekman
@ 2012-07-(19-22) - The Science of Compassion Origins, Measures and Interventions

Outline: Charles Darwin. "We are.. impelled to relieve the sufferings of another, in order that our own painful feelings may be at the same time relieved. The mere sight of suffering, independently of love, would suffice to call up in us vivid recollections and associations. "


Dali Lama, "In the human mind, seeing someone bleeding and dying makes you uncomfortable. This is the seed of compassion... We are thus impelled to relieve sufferings of another, in order that our own painful feelings may be at  the same time relieved..."


Four types of Compassion (typology in terms of the Target)

  • 1. Familial Compassion - Root or Seed

    • Is it an emotion?  Doesn't think so.

  • 2. Familiars Compassion - friends, neighbors, work associate.

    • Darwin: " many a civilized man, or even boy, who never before risked his life for another, but full of courage and sympathy, has disregarded the instinct of self preservation and plunged at once into a torrent to save a drowning man, though as stranger"

  • 3.  Stranger Compassion

    • some or all strangers (global compassion)

    • based on similarities in appearance, culture

    • "..a savage will risk his own life to same that of a member of the same community, but will be wholly indifferent about a stranger: a young and timid mother urged by the maternal instinct will, without a movement's hesitation, run the greatest danger for her own infant, but not of the mere fellow creature."

    • Why stranger compassion is not an emotion?

    • What produces stranger compassion without training?

      • chance

      • upbringing

      • genetic

      • previous incarnation

  • 4. Sentient Compassion

    • Darwin. "Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions….This virtue [concern for lower animals], one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they extend to all sentient beings."  (Darwin’s views on human compassion)

  • Different typologies possibilities

  • Darwin: " (Compassion is of).. high importance to all those animals which aid and defend one another, it will have been increased through natural selection; for those communities, which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring."



Thupten Jinpa

 "Nature, Origins & Developments of Compassion: from a Buddhist Understanding" Thupten Jinpa,
@ 2012-07-(19-22) - The Science of Compassion Origins, Measures and Interventions



6:30 What is compassion?

  • (karuna) traditional buddhism: compassion is a mental state - endowed with a sense of concern - that focuses on another being and wishes for that being to be relieved of suffering.

    • Affective or emotional component - a feeling of concern

    • Cognitive component -  perception of other's suffering

    • Motivational component - wishing to  see that suffering relieved

  • Modern researchers on compassion speak of three elements of compassion

    • 1. noticing other’s suffering

    • 2 empathically feeling the person’s pain

    • 3. acting to ease the suffering -  (this is less in the Buddhist tradition)

  • multifaceted process and not a basic emotion

  • higher order level

10:24  a sense of caring - we instinctively posses

11:45 What compassion is not?

  • look at multiple models

  • we don’t have all the constructs

  • look at all the models of compassion

  • compassion not pity (near enemy)

  • compassion not attachment  (self regard)

  • compassion is not the same as empathic feeling of other’s pain

13:45 There is a lot of muddlement between empathy, compassion, altruism. need greater clarity. at least for theoretical constructs

  • compassion is not conditional

  • compassion is not self-regarding

15:30 Buddhist compassion cultivation practice

  • cultivating deeper sensitivity to nature of suffering, casual dynamics,

  • cultivating equanimity - common humanity

  • cultivating others as dear - need to be able to make a connection

  • cultivating interconnectedness

  • cultivating gratitude

  • “in the field of equanimity, with loving kindness as moisture, the seed of compassion grows into a tree of true altruism.”

22:00  capacity to feel for others is inborn

  • sentient creatures feel pain

  • with training can widen compassion

  • heart of compassion is to relieve others suffering

  • highest form of compassion -

24:30 Don’t get too attached to definitions and constructs

  • seems 3 kinds of altruism definition

    • psychologists, buddhist, philosophers

      • motivation is important feature

    • neuroscientists,  biologist, Zoologists

      • defined independently of motivation

26:50 List of questions

  • does empathy always arises through the empathy route ?

  • compassion fatigue/ empathy fatigue?


Erika Rosenberg
Watch interview with Erika Rosenberg on the meaning & cultivation of compassion

  • You studied with Paul Ekman and have done Contemplative Practices. What is Compassion?

    • truly connecting with the condition of another, whatever that condition may be.

    • Buddhism says suffering, she sees it going beyond that. (like empathy)

    • suffering with another's pain, connecting with it and offering to help relieve the suffering

    • my definition as a mother and mindfulness practitioner

    • Science just starting to study this

  • Compassion is connecting with the suffering of others. How is that distinct from empathy?

    • compassion is not a slice through time, it's a process, it emerges

    • you can feel at a movement compassionate

    • the quality of mind and heart of compassion is

      • connecting to the other  - their suffering

        • Buddhism talks about feeling the others suffering to be motivated to alleviate it.

        • somehow you have to feel it yourself.

        • shared feeling of empathy is part of the development of compassion.

        • once you can do it, it can happen quickly.

        • then you don't need a long time of sympathy and empathy to get to the compassion state.

      • wish to do something about it. ease their burden

    • Buddhism - feel the sadness - bitter sweet.

      • Sadness is beautiful 

  • 5:45 You want to be honest about sorrow - needs to be present in compassion? Can you take it too far and fall into the sorrow trap?

    • the near enemy and far enemy of

      • loving kindness

      • equanimity

      • sympathetic or empathetic joy

    • the near enemy masquerades as that state but is not it.

    • the far enemy is it's opposite

      • compassion 

        • near > grief - get stuck in it,

        • far > cruelty

  • 7:00 Immeasurable?

    • when you cultivate compassion or loving kindness it has a limitless quality

    • Opens you up to the mystery of the universe?

    • right and you can't have to much of it.

    • don't want to confuses it with notion of compassion burnout

      • they're talking about the near enemy

      • or you could say it's empathy burnout

      • stuck in the stage of sharing the feeling and not move into helping.

  • 8:30 How do you measure it?

    • scales and questionnaires - have some place but are of limited value

      • self reporting has difficulty capturing this complex process

    • can only approximate it from different angles

      • I think  it is immeasurable

    • What is compassion supposed to do?  What does it work against?

      • measure if there's more reaching out

      • or a reduction of negative responses

    • Can look at states of compassion descriptively

      • we map the territory

      • create tools

  • 11:30 Are we looking at the right areas? how do we know that's compassion?

    • we don't know.

    • create behavioral tests in the mix

    • what would compassion as a construct, as a theory look like?

    • do tests

      • are people acting compassionately?

      • implicate association tests

      • etc.

      • we can't measure it like we can blood pressure, etc

      • we want multiple indicators


Krista Tippett
Reconnecting with compassion.  Compassion -- beyond tolerance; a spiritual technology, kindness, curiosity, a path to becoming one human race Nancy

  • Krista Tippett is journalist
  • Says the word compassion has problems
    • work compassion is hollowed out and suspect in field of journalism
    • seen as a squishy Kumbayah thing
    • seen as potentially depressing
    • compassion translated into pity
  • Compassion in the news is
    • feel good pieces
    • heroic people
    • happy endings
    • self sacrifice
    • notion of compassion has  been deadened by idealistic images
  • 1:20 - Words matter - they shape our world, how we see ourselves
    • in 60's we responded to diversity with tolerance
    • tolerance - more  of a cerebral sense
    • compassion is a worthy successor
      • could change us
    • what is it?
      • kind
      • curious
      • can be synonymous with empathy
      • the harder work with forgiveness and reconciliation
      • presence
        • generosity,
        • see  beauty in other
      • mystery
    • seeks physicality
    • tenderness
    • our  culture - driven,, aggressive
  • 8:00 the power of stories
  • Science - Einstein talking about compassion
  • Final definition of compassion - a spiritual technology.
  • future of humanity needs this technology


What is empathy? - CogSai


What is Empathy? - by Seung Chan Lim
Empathy is an explanatory principle for our potential to experience an event where we feel as if we are embodying or understanding the experience of an other and its related meanings from the context and vantage point of that other.

Others to Sort

Qualitatively it is an active process of desiring to know the full, present and
changing awareness of another person, of reaching out to receive his words and
signs into experienced meaning that matches at least those aspects of his
awareness that are most important to him at the moment. It is an experiencing of
the consciousness behind another's outward communication, but with continuous
awareness and this consciousness is originating and proceeding in the other.
(Barrett-Lennard,1962:143-144 )