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(Vignemont 2006)

Frederique de Vignemont and Tania Singer 
"What is empathy and how do we empathize: the shared network hypothesis 
Before suggesting some answers to the how, the when and the why of empathy, we attempt to shed light on what empathy means. There are probably nearly as many definitions of empathy as people working on the topic. 

There are two main trends:
  •  some argue for a broad definition of empathy as an understanding of another person’s feelings, affect sharing or as ‘an affective response more appropriate to another’s situation than one’s own’. So defined, empathy subsumes phenomena such as emotional contagion, sympathy, personal distress or even cognitive perspective-taking. However, this definition does not enable precise claims to be made about the nature of empathy or its automaticity because one can always reply that it depends on the level of empathy.
  • Others, ourselves included, prefer to narrow down the concept of empathy. There is empathy if:
    •  (i) one is in an affective state;
    •  (ii) this state is isomorphic to another person’s affective state; 
    • (iii) this state is elicited by the observation or imagination of another person’s affective state; 
    • (iv) one knows that the  other person is the source of one’s own affective state."