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  1. #1
    Senior Member alcea rosea's Avatar
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    Question Empathy and Sympathy??

    After reading this thread the issue of empathy and sympathy started to interest me.

    Here are some quotations from that thread about the subject:


    Quote Originally Posted by Victor View Post
    Empathy means you know what he is feeling without feeling it yourself.

    But you are telling us you are feeling it yourself - so you are sympathising rather than empathising.
    Quote Originally Posted by PeaceBaby View Post
    Sorry, incorrect.

    em?pa?thy? ?
    –noun 1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

    sym?pa?thy? ?
    –noun 1. harmony of or agreement in feeling, as between persons or on the part of one person with respect to another.
    2. the harmony of feeling naturally existing between persons of like tastes or opinion or of congenial dispositions.
    3. the fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, esp. in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration.

    'Nuff said.

    Clarification: this post of mine doesn't help wrt the overlap of "feeling other's feelings." I think there are other threads on this topic and I suppose the discussion of the difference should probably move there.
    Quote Originally Posted by jenocyde View Post
    Empathy is when you can objectively identify or understand what a person is going through. You can imagine what they may be going through but your current feelings are not involved.

    Sympathy is when you can actually feel their pain.
    I've understood empathy and sympathy very differently than what you describe here.

    So, explain it to me:
    I think sympathy needs empathy, because how can I feel what other people is feeling if I don't have empathy? And if sympathy is something we are born with then how is it possible that empathy needs to be learned because there cannot be sympathy without empathy. Or can there be sympathy without empathy? But how can we know what other people are feeling (this is sympathy you all say) without knowing what they feel (this is what you all say it's empathy). How can somebody learn to be sympathic without being empahty if not learned empathy?

  2. #2
    half mystic, half skeksis jenocyde's Avatar
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    Goodness, the topic that never dies... hahaha... But since you asked so nicely: it's exactly what is noted above so you can stop reading here if you are convinced. Sorry, this will be lengthy.

    I've never heard of being born with sympathy. Both sympathy and empathy are learned. Empathy (by strict definition) has existed longer, according to sociologists, and exists even in animals - which is why most species are not cannibals. There is no concrete evidence that animals experience sympathy.

    Lest I get my intelligence attacked once again, here are some sources (I tried to include medical, sociological, psychological and philosophical references, but if you still have questions, please PM me):

    Sigmund Freud stated that patient/doctor needed empathy to establish rapport.

    Anna Freud described empathy as a learned talent. A mother watches a newborn child to attain cues and then acts accordingly. This is empathy. Identifying and understanding someone's feelings, without actually having to feel them.

    As Dr. Anton Chekhov noted, "Empathy, as cognitive, permits a detachment that allows the doctor to understand the fear and pain of the patient without experiencing those emotions."

    Talcott Parsons (one of the world's most influential sociologists, from my alma mater - his foundations were dismissed in a previous thread...) called empathy "affective neutrality" in his early model of the doctor–patient relationship.

    In Empathy in Patient Care: Antecedents, Development, Measurement, and Outcomes (Springer Science 2007), Dr. M. Hojat defines empathy as cognitive and sympathy as emotional.

    "The MNS [Mirror Neuron Systems] may relate to sympathy and altruism as well. The cognitive component of an emotion schema, in interaction with its feeling component, may transform empathy to sympathy... This neural activity and its products help the observer to understand and predict the thoughts and feelings of the observed person."
    Langer SK. 1967/1982. Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press

    "Basic empathy depends mainly on neurophysiological response systems that do not require or involve the higher-order cognitive processes involved in sympathy."
    Hoffman ML. 2000. Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press

    " 'Sympathy' and 'empathy' refer to two distinct and complex psychological capacities that have quite distinct meanings. Nevertheless, philosophers and psychologists have had tremendous difficulty keeping the two concepts distinct. Since the classic works by Max Scheler on sympathy and by Edith Stein on empathy, theorists have been trying to define the terms by supposing empathy is merely a type of sympathy... In empathy, the self is the vehicle for understanding, and it never loses its identity. Sympathy, on the other hand, is concerned with communion rather than accuracy, and self-awareness is reduced rather than enhanced. In empathy, one person reaches out for the other person, whereas in sympathy the sympathizer is moved by the other person... To know what something would be like for the other person is empathy. To know what it would be like to be that person is sympathy. In empathy one acts "as if" one were the other person. (Rogers, 1957, p. 3) In sympathy one is the other person. (Macfie, 1959, p. 213). The object of empathy is understanding. The object of sympathy is the other person's well-being. In sum, sympathy is a way of relating."
    Sympathy and empathy
    Irene Switankowsky. Philosophy Today. Celina: Spring 2000. Vol. 44, Iss. 1; pg. 86, 7 pgs

    Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen (who has rewritten the traditional concept of empathy), from Medscape Psychiatry & Mental Health (2005):

    "Medscape: In your writing, you have used the term "theory of mind."[1] Is that synonymous with empathizing?"

    "Dr. Baron-Cohen: It's part of empathy. Theory of mind is being able to put yourself in somebody else's shoes, being able to imagine what's going on in his or her mind. But imagining someone else's thoughts or feelings is only part of empathy. The other part is having [an appropriate] emotional reaction. The distinction is important because a psychopath might be able to figure out somebody else's thoughts quite accurately but wouldn't necessarily have an appropriate emotional response."


    Dr. Baron-Cohen also wrote in "The Empathy Quotient: An Investigation of Adults with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism,
    and Normal Sex Differences", 2004
    "To give an example, if you walk past a homeless person in winter and you are “moved”or “touched” (both interesting metaphors) to want to help them, this would count as sympathy. You may do nothing more.
    ...

    If, however, you experienced an appropriate emotion (e.g., pity) to the homeless person’s emotion (e.g., hopelessness), but you did not experience any desire to take action to alleviate his or her suffering, then this would count as empathy, but not sympathy."

    An appropriate emotional response can be concern, pity or identification. Please note that he does not say that we must feel the same emotion, only an emotion, for it to count as empathy. You can express concern. But again, his research in the field is somewhat new and does most of his research with defining the characteristics in autistic patients. But I think you get the point.

    I think that covers it.

  3. #3
    Blah Orangey's Avatar
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    Hey jenocyde, thanks for this post. I am only familiar with Baron-Cohen's work, since I became interested in the subject of autism not too long ago. I rescind my previous argument, since there seems to be a good body of literature supporting the the definition of empathy without an affective component. Sorry if I came off as caustic before.
    Artes, Scientia, Veritasiness

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    half mystic, half skeksis jenocyde's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Orangey View Post
    Hey jenocyde, thanks for this post. I am only familiar with Baron-Cohen's work, since I became interested in the subject of autism not too long ago. I rescind my previous argument, since there seems to be a good body of literature supporting the the definition of empathy without an affective component. Sorry if I came off as caustic before.
    No sweat. I jump at the chance to share what I know, and can understand your reluctance to accept things at face value. I didn't respond to you on Halla's thread, not because I was offended, but because we usurped it and deviated. Sleep well.

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    movin melodies kiddykat's Avatar
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    OMG, I love the various points of view!

    The distinction is important because a psychopath might be able to figure out somebody else's thoughts quite accurately but wouldn't necessarily have an appropriate emotional response.
    So true.

    I can tell when someone's truly empathizing with me/or sympathizing.. Sympathy without empathy seems 'on the surface' to me.

    The distinction is important, because when dealing with real life situations, there are those who can on some level, tell what it's like to be in our shoes, and gain knowledge for their own self-interest to exploit. Most people who are good at conning others try to be good at this.

    I think that true empathy stems from integrity, which often may/may not show some degree of sympathy.

  6. #6
    Senior Member alcea rosea's Avatar
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    Thanks for your answers people.

    I see that I have understood empathy and sympathy the wrong way around. I have always thought that sympathy is somehow "lighter" than empathy. That's probably due to the fact that sympathy is used in the spoken language (even if Finland) a lot and some people are called sympathic to descibe how they seem to be to the outside. And that sympathic doesn't mean that they would really be sympathic, it's more likely just a synonym to say that somebody is really "nice".

    I see that the psyhcologist aren't agreeing on whether sympathy and empathy are learned or not. I mean there has to be some genes + environmental stuff involved because there is no one without another. I mean, people are shaped both by their genes and the environment.

    So, my interpretation is that empathy is needed to be sympathic. I can see now that I have myself more trouble with dealing with sympathy than dealing with empathy. I think that comment that stated that sympathy is "being" somebody else describes it well. I'm like that and it's terrible most of times. Deep sympathy is really troublesome at least with when seeing violence and negative emotions.

    One question came into my mind concerning this issue:
    Can there be sympathy without empathy?

  7. #7
    & Badger, Ratty and Toad Mole's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jenocyde View Post
    I think that covers it.
    My God, yes.

    All I could add is that empathy is a bit like riding a bike - you can't learn to ride a bike by talking about it - and the only way I know how to learn how to empathise, as against sympathise, is in formal setting - and practice, practice, practice - like learning to read and write or learning to play the piano.

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    Empathy is most important for torturers.

    For the torturer doesn't want to feel the same as their victim. So sympathy is no good for the torturer.

    However the torturer does want to know what their victim is feeling, without feeling it themselves.

    So every good torturer is empathic.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Snow Turtle's Avatar
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    You'll get confusing answers because it hasn't been strictly defined. Some places reverse the definition between the two. My understanding of it after reading difference between threads...:

    Sympathy - I'm sorry to hear that. (I can't imagine what it will be like)
    Empathy - (I've been through it. I understand.)
    Empathy w Sympathy - (I've been through it. I understand.) I'm sorry and I understand.

    Note: Empathy by itself needn't be sorry for the other person, they can just know what is going on. Which moves onto the second point - It's difficult to be 100% empathetic because all experiences are going to be different. You can never truly understand another persons emotion, but you can do a good job of placing yourself in their position.

    Then again is the distinction really that important if people are getting confused? I think the confusion arises from some places practicing the word, and the word origins.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Snow Turtle's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Victor View Post
    So every good torturer is empathic.
    Oh wow... That comment just hit me. That's like the true definition of evil, till now I got the impression that perhaps these people just didn't really understand which is more psychopathic in nature I suppose.

    Can a torturer truly understand without being in their position though?
    It's like imagining what it feels like to have a loved one pass away, even though you have never had one do so. How accurate can it really be?

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