Paper - Empathy: A Review of the Concept

Paper - Empathy: A Review of the Concept

The inconsistent definition of empathy has had a negative impact on both research and
practice. The aim of this paper is to review and critically appraise a range of definitions of
empathy and, through considered analysis, to develop a new conceptualisation. From the
examination of forty-three discrete definitions, eight themes relating to the nature of empathy emerged: ‘Distinguishing Empathy from Other Concepts’; ‘Cognitive or Affective’;
‘Congruent or Incongruent’; ‘Subject to Other Stimuli’; ‘Self-other Distinction or
Merging’; ‘Trait or State Influences’; ‘Has a Behavioural Outcome’; and ‘Automatic or
Controlled’ The relevance and validity of each theme is assessed and a new
conceptualisation of empathy is offered. The benefits of employing a more consistent and
complete definition of empathy are discussed.