Empathy is the ability to understand and care about the emotions, thoughts and experiences of others. This is often described as the ability to share an emotion. Empathy is a near universal human characteristic that explains a broad range of behaviors both positive and negative. The following are illustrative examples of empathy.
Affective EmpathyAffective empathy is the ability to recognize and respond appropriately to another's emotional states. For example, feeling bad for someone when they are sick.
Cognitive EmpathyCognitive empathy is the ability to recognize a person's mental state and respond appropriately. For example, a customer service representative who senses that a customer is angry at a situation and not at them personally. This may allow the representative to remain calm, cool and professional.
Somatic EmpathySomatic empathy is the ability to physically mirror what another person is feeling. For example, sympathetic pregnancy whereby a partner feels that they are experiencing some of the symptoms of their pregnant partner such as labour pains. This may be based on mirror neuron responses in the somatic nervous system.
Art & LiteratureEmpathy is a foundational element of the human experience. For example, being able to look at a painting and feel what the artist felt or read a book and feel what the protagonist is feeling.
Social BondsSocial bonds such as romantic love, maternal bonds, paternal bonds, family bonds, friendship and comradeship are known to increase empathy. This is often perceived as one of the benefits of social relationships as an individual feels that others care for them leading to a sense of safety and social fulfillment.
Non-Human EmpathyAnimals demonstrate empathy and it is common for humans to have empathy for animals and nature. For example, a child may have as much empathy for a sick puppy as a sick sibling.
Social BehaviorEmpathy promotes social behavior and altruism such as a child who defends a friend from a bully.
Antisocial BehaviorEmpathy can be a motivating factor in negative behavior. This occurs when an individual has high empathy for one group but little or no empathy for another group. For example, hockey parents who are viciously aggressive towards the referee and children on the other team motivated by empathy for the players on their team.
Leadership StrategyEmpathy can be used as a leadership strategy with techniques such as an abundance mentality. Empathetic people are more likely to be liked and respected by those around them. They may build authentic friendships and broad networks of social connections.
Empathy GapAn empathy gap is the tendency to reflect your emotions on to others. For example, when you're angry you may perceive neutral facial expressions as angry.
Lack of EmpathyEmpathy is naturally present in most people and can be cultivated or neglected over time. For example, some individuals become more empathetic as they age while others may become less empathetic with time. A lack of empathy is associated with a number of disorders including psychopathy and narcissism.
SchadenfreudeSchadenfreude is joy at the failures and misfortune of others. This is the opposite of empathy. Schadenfreude is typically based on negative character traits such as envy or moral smugness. For example, a skier who feels a sense of joy when a faster and more skilled skier breaks their leg. This may be motivated by a bitter sense of envy. Schadenfreude is often a transitory feeling that may progress to sympathy with time.
Artificial EmpathyEmpathy is of interest to artificial intelligence as a means to build interactions that are more pleasing to use. For example, a virtual personal assistant who is sympathetic when you're sick.
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