Definers‎ > ‎

(Baron-Cohen 2011)

"Empathy occurs when we suspend our single-minded focus of attention and instead adopt a double-minded foucus of attention. When our attention lapses into single focus, empathy has been turned off. When we shift our attention to dual focus empathy has been turned on. Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and to respond to there thought or feelings with an appropriate emotion. Empathy makes the other person feel valued, enabling them to feel that their thoughts and feelings have been heard."

Zero Degrees of Empathy,  Simon Baron-Cohen

"Q: Your definition is more robust and involves more parts: you delineate 
  • a cognitive aspect, 
  • an emotional aspect, and then, perhaps most importantly, 
  • the engaging in socially appropriate behavior relating to those cognitive and affective components.
 I think this is going to be hard for most lay readers to keep in their minds as they read your work, and that because of the differences between your definition of empathy and the lay definition, that your book will be misunderstood. What would you say to readers who are defining empathy differently?

S. My definition of empathy is not that complex, and readers can keep in mind the idea that a single word (empathy) might be an umbrella term for a number of different component processes. In that respect, it is not much different to other psychological terms. For example, the term ‘language’ covers a number of different sub-systems (syntax, semantics, pragmatics, lexicon) as does the term ‘memory’ (long-term, short-term, episodic, semantic).

So I don’t worry about the ability of the reader to hold my definition of empathy in mind. But you are right that different theorists may have different definitions of empathy. I don’t suggest mine is the only one, but it is one I find useful."

"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 observer's appropriate emotional response to another person's emotional state".
 Baron-Cohen, Simon 2003. The essential difference: the truth about the male and female brain. Basic Book.