The Empathy Spectrum. Are there Six Types of empathy?

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How many types of empathy are there?
Empathy. 22%  22%  [ 4 ]
Empathy and Sympathy. 11%  11%  [ 2 ]
Empathy, Sympathy, Compassion, and Cognitive Empathy. 6%  6%  [ 1 ]
Empathy, Sympathy, Compassion, Cognitive Empathy, and Affective/Emotional Empathy. 0%  0%  [ 0 ]
Empathy, Sympathy, Compassion, Cognitive Empathy, Affective/Emotional Empathy, and Emotional Contagion 33%  33%  [ 6 ]
Empathy, Sympathy, and Compassion. 11%  11%  [ 2 ]
Other, Please Comment. 17%  17%  [ 3 ]
Total votes : 18

aghogday
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19 Dec 2012, 6:45 am

The first type of empathy most humans experience is emotional contagion, the earliest type of empathy that infants experience when they share laughter/giggling with other infants. It requires no cognitive understanding to share, and is understood as an innate trait in humans.

Then there is cognitive empathy that develops out of this emotional contagion when a child meets normal developmental milestones. One developmental marker of it is when a child exhibits the ability to tell a lie, to avoid a negative consequence such as the anticipation of punishment. That requires the child to take a basic perspective of another individual separate from self, usually a parent or caregiver, in expectation of what they will do next; per this example of the potential of a punishing action. The lie usually requires verbal communication, but taking on the perspective of others through cognitive empathy does not necessarily require verbal communication.

Complex emotions develop in most children and identification of those emotions in oneself leads to the cognitive understanding of the emotional states of others with a result of most individuals identifying and sharing those complex emotional feelings with others through what is described by some as emotional or affective empathy.

Then there is the potential in most that one will develop the ability for a sympathetic concern for the distress of others, when cognitively recognized and shared. Pity is not a requirement for this sympathetic concern. The two are often confused in conversation.

Compassion is a stronger emotional component that can motivate one to take action to alleviate another individual's distress, when cognitively recognized. It usually results from the cognitive recognition and sharing of the perspective and/or emotions of others, but one can experience a positive emotional drive to take compassionate action for others in distress, without strongly sharing the negative emotions of another in distress. Cognitive recognition of the distress of others remains a requirement.

So, from a developmental standpoint there is emotional contagion, cognitive empathy, affective/emotional empathy, sympathy, and compassion. In all stages there are different potential levels of expression and action of each described aspect, ranging from a giggle of an infant to a heroic act of laying one's life down for another.

But, to put things in perspective of those described more severely impacted by symptoms on the spectrum and described as emotionally indifferent to others from young childhood, some don't experience that emotional contagion that results in a group of infants giggling together in unison.

There is a whole spectrum of what could be described as potential deficits or lacks of empathy. Most people use the words empathy, sympathy, and compassion to describe most of this phenomenon, sometimes interchangeably, except in the case of infants that are usually described as laughing or giggling instead of experiencing emotional contagion:).

Interestingly a lack of sympathetic concern or compassionate action is not considered a significant enough psychological impairment to be listed in a disorder. Which makes sense because the attributes are generated and controlled strongly by the expectation of culture and gender roles.

Some people on the spectrum can be impaired in cognitive and affective/emotional empathy and still express sympathetic concern for others as well as compassionate action as long as distress is cognitively recognized through some type of perception, and there is enough emotional motivation to take action.

And, there is the potential that some of these individuals with these described impairments of empathy experienced all aspects fully until the cultural environment took some of it away. That potential exists for almost anyone, even Mother Teresa, as described in her words, but the cognitive recognition of distress, sympathetic concern, and compassionate action remained for her as it does for some others. But, no one suggested she lacked empathy, even though she described she lost the ability to feel it, to the degree she had before.



Dillogic
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19 Dec 2012, 7:13 am

That's a pretty good breakdown.

I personally prefer using simply empathy and sympathy, as you can explain much of it with those two. Empathy equating to innately knowing what others are feeling by looking at them without any overt explanation regarding their mind-state (a child crying wouldn't exhibit a response until you know why they're crying), whereas sympathy is understanding after it's been explained to you (you know they're crying because they're lost. You can then appropriately deal with the situation and comfort them with appropriate words, i.e., we'll find your parents). I can say I lack empathy here.

My experience:

I lack what you call cognitive empathy. I have absolutely no idea what someone will do next until I see it in each individual occurrence (even if they're the same each time. I just can't see what a person will think or do from their perspective. It's literally impossible).

I lacked what you call emotional contagion as a child; as did my nephew (I had the ability to view him personally). Both of us were speech delayed, though both are what you'd call Asperger's (Gillberg's).

I had and have affective, sympathy and compassion as a child and adult (which seems to be intact in all of those with an ASD).



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19 Dec 2012, 10:21 am

I still don't understand what empathy actually is. If it means ''treat others how you would want to be treated'' then that is just false because this world would be so much better if everyone really were like that. If it means ''the opposite from selfishness'' then that is false too because I believe that humans can be selfish. I also believe that people only have empathy when they want to, where as empathy seems to rule my cognitive style, because I feel I have too much empathy that it makes me become anxious, both socially and emotionally.

Yestersday I went into a shop with my friend, and we went up to the customer service desk where my aunt works. We had a little chat to her, but then the phone rang on the customer service desk, and when my aunt picked it up, my friend was still talking to her. My aunt said, in a reluctant voice, ''er...hello...good morning...customer services...how many I help...you?'' because she felt awkward because my friend was still talking, and my friend then suddenly went awkwardly quiet, and although I wasn't the one talking at all, I actually got a shock of awkwardness in me because I could feel how awkward they both felt. And this happens a lot with me. I always find myself feeling other people's thoughts or emotions. It's worse when somebody else does something embarrassing, because I feel embarrassed for them.

Does that sound like I've got one of these empathies you described?


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littlelily613
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19 Dec 2012, 1:35 pm

I do lack empathy, but not in a psychopathic kind of way. I have sympathy, and that is about it. I know the difference between right and wrong, and when bad things happen, I feel bad. As for empathy and considering what the other person would think, I am completely incapable of doing that.


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19 Dec 2012, 1:59 pm

I have big issues with the empathy/sympathy debate. Mostly because the people who generally say folk with ASD don't understand empathy, don't actually understand it themselves. To them, empathy is understanding the world from their standpoint and understanding the way THEY feel about it. If we don't do that, perfectly, we lack empathy. But the reality is the opposite, surely? We have a different way of thinking to other people. They are not, apparently, able to understand that. Clearly that makes them lacking in empathy.

People who think they lack empathy, stop and think as to whether you have ever understood the perspective of someone else on this forum, and been able to relate to something they've said. If you can do this, you can empathise. Just because your perception of the world doesn't match the outside world's expectations of what you OUGHT to feel or think doesn't make you lacking in empathy. It makes them lacking in understanding. It's just common sense that someone with ASD would more easily empathise with someone else with ASD, because there are more similarities in brain function and therefore experiences and thought processes.

Do not let the outside world convince you otherwise :P. They just like to sculpt us into their ideal shapes and sizes, and we really don't need to accept it.

As for myself, I am capable of both empathy and sympathy. I have more problem with empathy towards the kind of people mentioned in my first paragraph, though. Generally these are people whose thought processes are so alien from my own that I wouldn't know where to begin. So in their case, if bad stuff happened to them, I could sympathise with them quite easily. I couldn't empathise, though, unless I'd been through it, or similar myself.

But that IS the difference between empathy and sympathy, so you know, whatever.



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19 Dec 2012, 2:01 pm

I don't lack empathy and sympathy completely, but I lack most of the cognitive empathy (knowing what other people are thinking or feeling) and some of the affective empathy (feeling something when I have found out what they are feeling). As an eggsample, I feel nothing when I find out that I have hurt someone's feelings. I lack both empathy and sympathy in this case. But I feel bad when I cause someone to get physically hurt, like fall and get hurt by tripping over my foot. It is hard for other people to hurt my feelings. I don't recall any instances of this happening.

I don't think that NTs have much empathy with me either, like knowing what I am thinking or feeling even when I am giving off non-verbal cues. As an eggsample, I only stare at people in their eyes when I am eggstremely bored with what they are saying to me. Staring at them seems to block out the noise of their talking, so my brain does it automatically when I am bored. But they think that I am interested and engaged with them, because I am making a lot of eye contact with them. Interpreted through their social model, that is the correct interpretation, but I don't act according to that model, so the interpretation is incorrect.



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19 Dec 2012, 2:27 pm

Quote:
I have big issues with the empathy/sympathy debate. Mostly because the people who generally say folk with ASD don't understand empathy, don't actually understand it themselves. To them, empathy is understanding the world from their standpoint and understanding the way THEY feel about it. If we don't do that, perfectly, we lack empathy. But the reality is the opposite, surely? We have a different way of thinking to other people. They are not, apparently, able to understand that. Clearly that makes them lacking in empathy.

People who think they lack empathy, stop and think as to whether you have ever understood the perspective of someone else on this forum, and been able to relate to something they've said. If you can do this, you can empathise. Just because your perception of the world doesn't match the outside world's expectations of what you OUGHT to feel or think doesn't make you lacking in empathy. It makes them lacking in understanding. It's just common sense that someone with ASD would more easily empathise with someone else with ASD, because there are more similarities in brain function and therefore experiences and thought processes.

Do not let the outside world convince you otherwise . They just like to sculpt us into their ideal shapes and sizes, and we really don't need to accept it.


This is why I get so irked when I find threads on here saying about NTs, Aspies and empathy. The post you wrote was good, it described the way I see empathy too, and I agree 100 percent. But so many people (Aspies or not) still believe that Aspies lack empathy and NTs don't, and it makes the meaning of the word ''empathy'' sound so complicated.

Aspies get bullied and misunderstood, yet still continue to believe that NTs have empathy (all 6 types or whatever). I believe that people have selective empathy, and can only show or feel empathy when they want with who they want. Most NT people don't seem to feel empathy for people outside the norm. Well, they even pick on each other.

Also I know a lot of NTs that criticise. Like my uncle was criticising my dad because my dad likes football and my uncle don't (they are both NTs). My uncle seems to think that just because he don't like something, it means it is really bad and nobody else should like it. Also I often hear of arguments between couples, relatives or friends that are based around the phrase ''but you never stopped to think how others might have been feeling!''

And NTs are meant to have all 6 types of empathy, they say? :?


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btbnnyr
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19 Dec 2012, 2:32 pm

I don't have this emotional contagion, but I feel emotional arousal in the presence of people, and it is uncomfortable for me to around people for long, even if I am not interacting with them.



seaturtleisland
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19 Dec 2012, 5:08 pm

I might be the opposite case of what many Aspies will describe. I have cognitive empathy but I don't have affective empathy nor do I have emotional contagion. I can still be concerned about others and have sympathy and compassion but I don't share the feelings. I recongize cognitively when people are hurting and even though I can't feel it and imagine it I believe it must hurt so I want to help. Social pressure may also motivate me at times though. Sometimes I'm genuinely sympathetic but other times I just show fake compassion because it's what's expected. It really depends on the situation.

I have no trouble predicting people's actions. That's where cognitive empathy comes in. I can recognize other people's emotional states but I can't share in them.



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19 Dec 2012, 5:13 pm

Good gosh. Why take such a simple concept and complicate it beyond all reasonable understanding?

Overly complicating concepts just makes them impractical to grasp and apply. The more complex you make something, the less people care to understand it.


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aghogday
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19 Dec 2012, 6:24 pm

Dillogic wrote:
That's a pretty good breakdown.

I personally prefer using simply empathy and sympathy, as you can explain much of it with those two. Empathy equating to innately knowing what others are feeling by looking at them without any overt explanation regarding their mind-state (a child crying wouldn't exhibit a response until you know why they're crying), whereas sympathy is understanding after it's been explained to you (you know they're crying because they're lost. You can then appropriately deal with the situation and comfort them with appropriate words, i.e., we'll find your parents). I can say I lack empathy here.

My experience:

I lack what you call cognitive empathy. I have absolutely no idea what someone will do next until I see it in each individual occurrence (even if they're the same each time. I just can't see what a person will think or do from their perspective. It's literally impossible).

I lacked what you call emotional contagion as a child; as did my nephew (I had the ability to view him personally). Both of us were speech delayed, though both are what you'd call Asperger's (Gillberg's).

I had and have affective, sympathy and compassion as a child and adult (which seems to be intact in all of those with an ASD).


In the DSMIV, technically, there is no mandatory requirement for significant clinical impairments in either social or emotional reciprocity or Non verbal communication. A person could be diagnosed with only difficulties in developing and maintaining friendships and not sharing their interests with others in the social interaction section. So, technically at this point, it would be incorrect for a professional that uses that diagnostic manual to suggest that every one diagnosed with an ASD has a lack empathy.

Even results from research associated with Simon Baron Cohen's AQ test bears this out as there is a bell curve with some diagnosed with an ASD scoring below 20 on that test where the Max. score is 50. And while it is suggested that approximately 80% of individuals that already have an ASD score into the predictive ASD range of scores in the test, 20% don't, so the AQ test,used alone, is almost useless as a diagnostic test and was never designed as such, because it predicts a 4% risk of an ASD as opposed to a 1% risk in real life.

Dr. Jon Brock, an Autism research Scientist from Australia, provides the general math for this addressing a similar issue, in the linked article below, if one is interesting in the math behind these results. According to the author of the Aspie Quiz, that has discussed the issue here on the Wrong Planet website, his Aspie quiz has a similar percentage rate of accuracy among those actually diagnosed.

So, both tests, the AQ test and the Aspie Quiz, while providing a potential 400% increase in predictive risk of someone undiagnosed as potentially diagnosable with an ASD, that 4% risk, using either or both tests, alone, as a diagnostic measure, is predictive of a 96% risk that the tests used as a diagnostic measure, that neither test was designed for, is incorrect.

http://crackingtheenigma.blogspot.com/2 ... utism.html

Simon Baron Cohen has never suggested that all people with ASD's lack empathy; his own AQ test research bears that out as not the case. However some with ASD's do report on a subjective level that they feel no affective empathy, in Adulthood, when they witness others in distress. This is only one area of empathy measured, and a subjective report.

The chances of someone feeling absolutely no affective empathy is a relative issue to what that person has felt in life before; they might not feel it for a person, but instead feel it for an animal, or even an inanimate object. And if they have describing their emotions in words, because of Alexithymia, that makes the whole issue almost impossible to fully determine from anecdotal reports as to whether or not they are capable of "feeling" ANY type of what might be described as empathy.

I think a main issue of contention for some, is one of semantics, over what the phrase "a lack of empathy" means. A lack of empathy is an associated element specific to one non-mandatory criterion in the DSMIV-TR with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Social-emotional reciprocity. This is comparable to a restricted narrow interest as a criterion element specific to another non-mandatory criterion. So currently by diagnostic requirements as well as self reports not all individuals on the spectrum have either of these two traits.

And I don't think there is anyone with reputable credentials, since the DSMIV has been in existence, that has qualified the " a lack of empathy" statement to suggest that all people on the spectrum have a complete lack of empathy.

Unfortunately some people take the phrase "a lack of empathy" as equated in a literal sense with all people on the spectrum as having zero empathy. This empathy stuff is way too complicated to go into the details for the general public, but it would help at this point if there was a qualification that individuals on the spectrum "may have impairments in empathy", rather than an unqualified statement like people with Autism have "a lack of empathy".

That's not much different in a general sense, than suggesting that "nerds" lack common sense, that has been a common observation and stereotype that has been described for decades, but "common sense" pretty much falls under the broad spectrum of empathy, and nerds are at least associated "in a way" with the spectrum, since 1994, in the US. Simon Baron Cohen has gone to a great deal of trouble to define this thing called "common sense" in finer detail, that some of those that have fuller measures of it, may be able to take for granted.



aghogday
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19 Dec 2012, 6:32 pm

MrXxx wrote:
Good gosh. Why take such a simple concept and complicate it beyond all reasonable understanding?

Overly complicating concepts just makes them impractical to grasp and apply. The more complex you make something, the less people care to understand it.


It is not a simple concept for some people; and can be extremely difficult for some people to understand that have difficulty identifying and describing their emotions in words. Some of us have an easier time in understanding it if we break it down in parts and attempt to describe it. I'm better able to do that with input from others.



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19 Dec 2012, 6:41 pm

aghogday wrote:
MrXxx wrote:
Good gosh. Why take such a simple concept and complicate it beyond all reasonable understanding?

Overly complicating concepts just makes them impractical to grasp and apply. The more complex you make something, the less people care to understand it.


It is not a simple concept for some people; and can be extremely difficult for some people to understand that have difficulty identifying and describing their emotions in words. Some of us have an easier time in understanding it if we break it down in parts and attempt to describe it. I'm better able to do that with input from others.


I know. It's just me, and I'm sure some others. We're all different. To each our own. :shrug:

It wasn't meant to be a criticism. :wink:


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19 Dec 2012, 6:54 pm

I would say there are just three kinds of empathy:

To feel what others are feeling, when you know what they are feeling. To literally share their emotion. Emotional contagion is a subset of this, even though the emotions of the other person are deciphered innately, not logically. Some might prefer to call this sympathy, but sympathy and empathy are generally very poorly distinguished concepts.

To care about what others are feeling, and possibly want to do something about it, despite not sharing the emotion yourself.

To recognize that others are feeling a certain way, but not care or feel the same emotion. This is a prerequisite for the other two.



aghogday
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19 Dec 2012, 7:10 pm

seaturtleisland wrote:
I might be the opposite case of what many Aspies will describe. I have cognitive empathy but I don't have affective empathy nor do I have emotional contagion. I can still be concerned about others and have sympathy and compassion but I don't share the feelings. I recongize cognitively when people are hurting and even though I can't feel it and imagine it I believe it must hurt so I want to help. Social pressure may also motivate me at times though. Sometimes I'm genuinely sympathetic but other times I just show fake compassion because it's what's expected. It really depends on the situation.

I have no trouble predicting people's actions. That's where cognitive empathy comes in. I can recognize other people's emotional states but I can't share in them.


Your description may not be the typical response for some on the spectrum, describing how they experience empathy in life, online, but it is far from the only response like this.

Some people on the spectrum that do indeed feel little to no affective empathy, and have developed a good measure of cognitive empathy for adaptation to this difference, can also still recognize distress in others without sharing their feelings, express sympathetic concern, and potentially a compassionate expression or action to alleviate another individual's discomfort or distress. Your personal description supports people that experience life similarly.

In my opinion for some a stereotype that might suggest that everyone on the spectrum has poor cognitive empathy and intense affective empathy is just as potentially harmful to the psychological well being of some on the spectrum, as the suggestion that there is a zero degree of empathy among all on the spectrum.

A growing stereotype associated with Simon Baron Cohen's research is that good cognitive empathy and a deficit in affective empathy, is what makes a psychopath/sociopath. An impairment and/or lack of "feeling" affective/emotional empathy alone, does not make any named DSMIV disorder on it's own. It is only one trait of many associated with some disorders, and Simon Baron Cohen has not suggested otherwise, in his books and research.

Stopping and helping someone change a tire on the side of the road, is something most people will not do, but for those that do, it is a wonderful expression of compassion for another human being. It doesn't necessarily require that a person shares the other person's emotional distress. And perhaps the fact that one does not share the distress as strongly as others, is part of what makes it easier for some to offer help.

A law enforcement officer, a nurse, a combat veteran, or a doctor, can provide a great deal of sympathetic concern and/or compassionate action for others without strongly sharing their emotions of distress; if they could not regulate that affective/emotional empathy, I have no idea how they could do that job for decades.

Here is a good article for those that might not experience much affective empathy, maintaining compassionate action for others, affirm the potential benefits of compassion over the experience of strongly sharing the emotions of distress of others through affective empathy.

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/201 ... on-burnout



aghogday
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19 Dec 2012, 7:19 pm

MrXxx wrote:
aghogday wrote:
MrXxx wrote:
Good gosh. Why take such a simple concept and complicate it beyond all reasonable understanding?

Overly complicating concepts just makes them impractical to grasp and apply. The more complex you make something, the less people care to understand it.


It is not a simple concept for some people; and can be extremely difficult for some people to understand that have difficulty identifying and describing their emotions in words. Some of us have an easier time in understanding it if we break it down in parts and attempt to describe it. I'm better able to do that with input from others.


I know. It's just me, and I'm sure some others. We're all different. To each our own. :shrug:

It wasn't meant to be a criticism. :wink:


No problem, I didn't perceive it as a criticism, just a question from someone with a different perspective.:).