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(CASSELS + 2010)

The Role of Culture in Affective Empathy: Cultural and Bicultural Differences

  • Tracy G. Cassels*,
  •  Sherilynn Chan, 
  • Winnie Chung 
  • Susan A. J. Birch
Journal of Cognition and Culture 10 (2010) 309–326

"The concept of ‘empathy’ is multifaceted, with distinct components that influence empathic responding, but which are difficult to quantify for many researchers (e.g., Choplan et al., 1985; Duan and Hill, 1996).

Historically, there has been much debate over the conceptualization and operationalization of empathy (Duan and Hill, 1996; Preston and deWaal, 2002), and although there are still various conceptualizations in the current literature, many (if not most) researchers agree that it is valuable to characterize empathy as consisting of two distinct, but interrelated, components: cognitive and affective. 

Cognitive empathy refers to one’s ability to recognize and identify another person’s feelings (e.g., Davis, 1980; Hoffman, 1977). This is distinct from the affective component in that it focuses exclusively on the cognitive processes and ignores the emotional reactions to others’ feelings." .

Affective empathy, the component of interest herein, refers to one’s emotional responses to another person’s emotion or situation (e.g., Feshbach, 1975; Hoffman, 1977; Eisenberg and Miller, 1987). This does not necessarily require that one feel the same as the other individual, but rather that one’s own emotions are more in line with the other person’s situation than one’s own (Hoffman, 2000). Typically, this involves experiencing emotions that are similar to those of the other person, but at times, affective empathy can manifest in different emotions. 

 For example, if Katie bullies Jennifer, Jennifer may feel fearful. If Anna witnesses the bullying and feels angry, she is displaying affective empathy; although her anger is different from Jennifer’s fear, it is more in line with Jennifer’s situation than her own."