Definitions Disagreements

Disagreements about Definitions
Papers on empathy generally start off by saying there is disagreement about definitions of Empathy.

Problems in Brief about the Definitions of Empathy
  1. The definition changes over time
  2. Empathy Is not one phenomena but multiple distinct but related phenomena 
  3. Different disciplines have different definitions (medicine, philosophy, psychology, counselling, neuroscience, etc)
  4.  Each phenomena can be called something else beside empathy
    1. ie. 'empathic concern' can be called 'sympathy.'
    2. 'empathic distress' is called 'personal distress'.

  5. The phenomena can be canceling each other out.
    1. 'empathic distress'/sympathy can block empathy
    2. 'empathic distress'  can block empathy

"Students of empathy can seem a cantankerous lot. Although they typically agree that empathy is important, they often disagree about why it is important, about what effects it has, about where it comes from, and even about what it is. The term empathy is currently applied to more than a half-dozen phenomena. 

These phenomena are related to one another, but they are not elements, aspects, facets, or components of a single thing that is empathy, as one might say that an attitude has cognitive, affective, and behavioral components. Rather, each is a conceptually distinct, stand-alone psychological state. Further, each of those states has been called by names other than empathy. Opportunities for disagreement abound. "
Full article at (Batson 2011)

Friends or foes: Is empathy necessary for moral behavior?
Jean Decety and Jason M. Cowell 
(Decety + 2015)
"Empathy is currently used to refer to more than a handful of distinct phenomena (Batson, 2009). These numerous definitions make it difficult to keep track of which process or mental state the term “empathy” is being used to refer to in any given discussion (Coplan, 2011). Differentiating these conceptualizations is vital, as each refers to distinct psychological processes that vary in their social, cognitive, and underlying neural mechanisms."

Theresa Wiseman (1996)
"Empathy is a tern widely used and written about in nursing and, as such, its meaning and application has become blurred. "
"that confusion of the construct has implications for teaching and learning"

(Elliott + 2018) 
"There is no single, consensual definition of empathy (Bohart & Greenberg, 1997; Duan & Hill, 1996; Batson, 2009; Pedersen, 2009), a problem that has grown worse as interest in empathy has spread to other fields"

Which Factors Shape Our Empathy?
JULY 31, 2017
"But first, what is empathy
While the dictionary definition is ready available, the GGSC’s definition of empathy is based on science. Each scientific discipline has its own approach to studying empathy. 
Neuroscientists, for example, might examine which neural circuits get activated and how people respond to empathy-eliciting stimuli. 
Psychologists might elicit empathy by presenting images, videos, or sounds of other people’s emotions, inviting people to read emotionally intense vignettes, or placing study participants in real-life social situations. Then researchers can ask: 
This kind of work has generated two flavors of empathy.

  • Do participants mirror other’s expressions?
  •  Do they withdraw, approach and help, or remain unmoved?
  •  Are there limits to empathy?
  •  Can empathy be strengthened, or expanded?"
The first is called affective empathy, and refers to the inner feelings that arise and the subtle copying of expressions that happens when we see others express emotion. 
The second is cognitive empathy, which is how we understand what other people’s emotions mean and why they typically occur."

"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."
(VIGNEMONT 2006)   Frederique De Vignemont and Tania Singer, "The Empathic Brain: How, When and Why? Trends in Cognitive Sciences 10 (2006): 435

"Since its inception, the sense of the term "empathy" has wandered. As a result, defining empathy is difficult and somewhat arbitrary. Still, a core formation can be reached by looking closely at etymology, and by focusing on conceptual differences between empathy and closely related terms, primarily sympathy."
(Barnes +1997) Empathy and Analogy: The Concept of Empathy, Allison Barnes and Paul Thagard

"How empathy has been defined and conceptualized has evolved throughout time by various disciplines and through various lenses. "
(Nowak 2011

"The complicated history of empathy shows how ambiguous this concept is. Despite the faults which were attributed to it, it can nonetheless be considered very important for the philosophy of the twentieth century." 
(Nowak 2011

"Although everyone agrees that empathy is important, there is much disagreement about how empathy is defined and how the condition of empathy is developed in counseling relationships. "
(PEDERSEN + 2008)

"To assess the effectiveness of empathy, it is necessary to define what authors mean when using the term ‘empathy’.  Although many authors experience difficulties in giving a clear definition, a number of core elements can be identified." 
(Derksen + 2013 (Effectiveness of empathy ingeneral practice: a systematic review, Frans Derksen, Jozien Bensing and Antoine Lagro-Janssen, 2013)

"Unfortunately, the literature has been confounded by definitional controversy. The essence of this disagreement is the extent to which either cognitive processes or affective experiences formulate the empathic response. "
(Pecukonis 1990(p. 60) Pecukonis, E. V. "A Cognitive/Affective Empathy Training Program as a Function of Ego Development in Aggressive Adolescent Females."Adolescence, 25/97 (1990): 59-76.

"An overview of how empathy has been understood by researchers in their respective fields indicates that there is more disagreement than agreement about the main definitions of empathy, if it is a cognitive or emotional process or if it has multiple components (Duan and Hill 1996). 
(RASOAL + 2011) Duan, C. and Hill, C. E. 1996. The current state of empathy research. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 43: 261–274. [CrossRef][Web of Science ®][CSA])."

"I note with a certain envy that my difficulty in describing the process of psychological comprehension adequately does not exist for many psychologists. Faced with my problem, the expression "empathy" readily occurs to their minds and flows from their pens. Indeed this expression sounds so full of meaning that people willingly overlook its ambiguity. To speak of empathy has on occasion been as senseless as to discuss sitting in a box without distinguishing whether one means a compartment in a theater, the driver's seat or a big case. The word empathy sometimes means one thing, sometimes another, until it does not mean anything (p. 356)".
(Reik 1948)   Reik, T. (1948). Listening with the third ear: The inner experience of  psychoanalysl. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.

"Despite the plethora of empathy research that has emerged in the fifty years since Reik's comments, there continues to exist much confusion about the empathic process and how it operates in the therapeutic encounter
    (Duan & Hill, 1996; (DUAN + 1996)
      Gladstein, 1983; 
      Moore, 1990;  (The origins and development of empathy. Motivation and Emotion. )
        Sexton Cg Whiston, 1994).
         Indeed, Sharma (1992) suggests that the confusions surrounding the meaning of empathy "are due in large measure to the inherent difficulties in defining the  term" (p. 377) and certainly a range of definitions exist in the literature (Duam & Hill, 1996; Gelso & Carter, 1985; Sharma, 1992). 

        Since there is little consensus as to exactly what constitutes empathy, research attempting to explain its role in therapeutic process often misses the mark. Duan and Hill(1996) claim that this very "lack of specification and organization of different views of empathy has led to theoretical confusion, methodological difficulties, inconsistent findings, and neglected areas of research in the field" (p. 269). 

        lndeed, "the study of empathy has a long and checkered history in psychology," (Moore, 1990, p. 75) and that history continues to evolve. Echoing the comments of Jacobs and Williarns (1983), one wonders, "why is it that we cannot study clinical concepts in a meaningful way?" (p. 80).  
        (Sharon Myers 1999), EMPATHY: IS THAT WHAT I HEAR YOU SAYING?

        "Definitions of empathy have been semantically vague or confusing. As a result, conceptualisations and measurement techniques for empathy vary greatly from study to study—so much so that it has been difficult to  engage in meaningful comparisons or make significant conclusions about how we define and measure empathy. "  
         (GERDES + 2010)  Conceptualising and Measuring  Empathy 

        "In spite of so much compelling research on the value of empathy, definitions and conceptualizations vary greatly. The diversity of definitions and measurement devices makes comparisons between empathy studies challenging 
        (Gerdes, 2011; Gerdes, Segal, & Lietz, 2010)."
        In: Developing the Social Empathy Index: An Exploratory Factor Analysis  (Segal+ 2012)"

        "Although the volume of the research on empathy is sizable, the product appears weak. The research is characterized by conflicting constructs, problems with measurement, and lack of systematic replications of various promising research evidence.   In addition, only limited content areas have been covered, and many important factors that may affect empathy have not been examined."
         (DUAN + 1996)

        "As will become apparent in this book the literature lacks a concise definition or approach to measuring empathy and little has changed in the last 10 years. The ambiguity in empathy literature make it a difficult concept to understand and study. Yet, philosophers, researchers, and clinicians  all agree that empathy is a crucial skill to effective human interactions. In addiction, despite the lack of a clear definition of empathy there is some evidence that empathy can be identified in others and taught as a skill.  "
        (FERNANDEZ 2002)

        "The inescapable conclusion from a review of the literature on the development of empathy is that a comprehensive, coherent, and widely accepted definition is direly needed. A glaring example of this problem is that most of the literature on the development of empathy, despite spanning more than one hundred years, begins with each author's justification for their own idiosyncratic definition of empathy. 

        The differentiation's between constructs (e.g., empathy and sympathy and personal distress and emotional contagion) that have been outlined in this chapter are not agreed upon by all who conduct research on the development of empathy. However, most do seem to agree that there is a difference between empathy and sympathy, and each author seems to have a different explanation of the differences." L. Marshall p. 51 in 
        (FERNANDEZ 2002)

        "A review of the literature indicates that there is more disagreement than agreement among researchers about the definition of empathy. 
        (Hojat 2006)  Empathy in Patient CareMohammadreza Hojat

        "Although we all have an understanding of what empathy means, there is no general agreement on a definition sufficient for scientific inquiry. The main problem in constructing a widely accepted definition of empathy arises from the debate about whether empathy involves recognizing emotion or experiencing it, or both."
        (RENIERS +2011) QCAE 

        "The concept empathy has had a difficult history, marked by disagreement and discrepancy. Although it has been studied for hundreds of years, with contributions from philosophy, theology, developmental psychology, social and personality psychology, ethology, and neuroscience, the field suffers from a lack of consensus regarding the nature of the phenomenon. Despite this disagreement, the empirical data on empathy are very consistent, across a wide range of species"
        (PRESTON + 2002) (Preston, De Waal) 

        "Empathy, sympathy and compassion are defined and conceptualised in many different ways in the literature and the terms are used interchangeably in research reports and in everyday speech.  This conceptual and semantic confusion has practical implications for clinical practice, research and medical education. Empathy, sympathy and compassion also share elements with other forms of pro-social behaviour such as generosity, kindness and patient-centredness. There is a need for conceptual clarity if doctors are to respond to the calls to provide more ‘compassionate care’.  
        (JEFFREY 2016)  Empathy, sympathy and compassion in healthcare: Is there a problem? Is there a difference? Does it matter?

        "Words that describe human social relationships and subjective emotions may be difficult to define. Empathy, sympathy and compassion are often confused with each other and with a number of other processes involving sharing in another person’s feelings especially of distress or suffering."(JEFFREY 2016) Empathy, sympathy and compassion in healthcare: Is there a problem? Is there a difference? Does it matter?

        ‘When it comes to ‘‘empathy’’ the waters of terminological confusion run deep indeed’’ 
        Maxwell B. Professional Ethics Education Studies in Compassionate Empathy. New York: Springer, 2008.

        "Distinguishing between empathy and similar interpersonal actions such as sympathy, pity, identification, and self-transposal is a difficult task.  To further add to the confusion, these terms are often used interchangeably, both in the literature and in common conversation." 
        (DAVIS 2016)

        In Their Shoes: Examining the Issue of Empathy and Its Place in the Treatment of Offenders 
        September 30, 2002 
        by Yolanda Fernandez
        "As will become apparent in this book the literature lacks a concise definition or approach to measuring empathy and little has changed in the last 10 years. The ambiguity in the empathy literature  makes it a difficult concept to understand and study. Yet, philosophers, researcher, and clinicians all agree that empathy is a crucial skill to effective human interactions.  "