Cognitive Empathy (A Complete Guide)

In this article, we will discuss Cognitive Empathy. We will do that by initially describing empathy and its types in detail. We will move on to discuss the significance and source of empathy. Finally, we will explain how empathy can be taught. In the end, we shall answer a few questions related to cognitive empathy. 

Cognitive Empathy 

Cognitive empathy refers to an intellectual understanding of someone else’s experience. Being empathic at a cognitive level does not necessarily mean one feels and absorbs their emotions. Rather, it allows us to comprehend and pick out the emotions and thoughts of someone in pain while being distant from them. It is different from emotional empathy in which a person absorbs the feelings of someone and goes through the emotional experience with them. Cognitive empathy is a learnable skill. It can be developed through formal or informal training. 

Empathy

Empathy refers to the ability to understand another person’s feelings and emotions.  An empath is able to comprehend and communicate their concern to other people.  They are also called highly sensitive people. Showing empathy is an important social skill that helps to deepen the connection with other people and resolve conflicts.  It also helps to ease the pain of others and makes them feel less alone in their pain.  Empaths have the ability to identify connections between thoughts,  emotions, and feelings.  They can connect it with people and different situations in order to understand their emotional experience thoroughly.

Types of Empathy

There are two broad types of empathy. These are cognitive and emotional empathy that govern the manner in which we relate to people. 

Cognitive Empathy

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand another person’s perspective. People with such type of empathy can see the world by putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. These people are also able to pick out the feelings and emotions of others. This level of empathy involves an intellectual or cognitive understanding of another person’s emotional experience. Cognitive empathy is also understood as perspective-taking. It helps us in moments when we see someone in pain or being hurt, it enables us to distance ourselves from them in order to see the broader picture. It also helps us to protect ourselves from the pain of others and being overwhelmed.

For example, Imagine you have are a very close friend who worked hard but was unable to get a job. A person with cognitive empathy would be able to pick out the feelings of disappointment and sadness in their friend. They would also be able to imagine themself in their shoes and see the situation from their perspective. Using skills of active listening, this person can communicate their empathy. At the same time, they understand that their friend is talented and would eventually get are a good job soon.

Emotional Empathy

Emotional empathy on the other and means sharing the emotional experience of another person. We see someone in distress and feel their distress and pain along with them. It also includes absorbing the emotions of others and experiencing motivation and willingness to help them in any way to alleviate their pain.

Emotional empathy means we not only understand the situation from a cognitive or intellectual perspective. Rather, we share the emotional experience of someone by going through the same emotions, experience distress in response to their pain, and have compassion for them. People who experience emotional empathy are more likely to help others in need. Emotional empathy helps us in our relationships and health. However, at the same time people who have emotional empathy also absorb the emotions, this can have a negative impact on their mental health as they easily get emotionally and physically exhausted. They need to engage in self-care activities to prevent such situations from happening. 

For example, a person with emotional empathy sees their loved one going through a difficult and painful experience. They see them crying and expressing their sadness through words. In response to this, an emotionally empathic person would also feel sad and teary-eyed. They would experience an urge to solve or fix the problem in any way to reduce the suffering of their loved ones.

Other types of empathy

Apart from cognitive and emotional empathy, there are other types of empathy as well. However, they are not that widely researched. These include affective and somatic empathy. Affective empathy is the ability to pick out the emotions of someone and responding to them in an appropriate manner. Whereas, somatic empathy involves physically experiencing the pain of someone else. For example, if we see someone embarrassed, we blush our develop an uneasy stomach.

Source of Empathy

A frequently asked question is whether empathy is innate or learnable. Studies show that empathy is innate. However, it can also be taught effectively. It would be better to say that empathy is an innate potential that develops and grows over time based on our experiences. Some people are born with impaired empathic ability due to conditions like. autism,  narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. Yet, empathy can be taught at some level through formal training. One needs to motivated and willing for that to happen. 

Significance of Empathy 

Empathy has a unique significance in our lives.It helps us to establish relationships with others. We can also help others, give them advice, or offer any words of encouragement due to our ability to empathize with someone. In a way, we help others in releasing negative energy and offer them positive energy to replace it, with our ability to empathize. 

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” Leo Buscaglia

Our interpersonal dynamics involve balancing relationships at work and at home. Without empathy, we would not be able to be close to other people, establish trust, and maintain our relationships. Similarly, if due to some reason our relationships get strained, we would not be able to repair it, solve conflicts or work in a collaborative manner unless we don’t use and apply our ability to empathize. 

In absence of empathy, we become detached from others and are less productive. It is hard for us to look at situations from multiple perspectives and come up with new ideas. So, relationships with our siblings, parents, friends, coworkers, colleagues, dating relationships, marriages, etc. all require different levels of emotional intelligence and social skills to maintain them.

How Empathy can be taught

“Empathy is a skill like any other human skill. If you get a chance to practice, you can get better at it.” — Professor Simon Baron Cohen

There are different ways through which empathy can be taught. A few of them are stated as follows:

  • Roleplaying. An effective way to teach empathy is through role play.  We can teach listening without interruption, holding back opinions, restraining from responding by practicing with a model. 

“We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know.” —Carl Rogers

The next step is to teach clarification and paraphrasing. This includes restating and paraphrasing to clarify any misunderstanding and showing the person that you care about them. Similarly, learning to identify non-verbal including body language and verbal cues is also quite important. 

  • Practicing placing ourselves in someone else’s shoes and trying to figure out their feelings and thoughts is another way one can learn components of empathy.
  • Daily Meditation practice including positive affirmation and thinking positively about people can help us be more kind and compassionate. 
  • Figuring out and identifying how human beings are similar and linked, can assist us in being tolerant of differences. 
  • Daily practice of mindfulness in everyday chores can assist us in being more grateful towards people in our life.
  • Fiction reading also helps in understanding the fictional characters and their experiences and improve our empathic ability.
  • It is important that one starts practicing all the skills of empathy with other people. This can be done by listening actively to them, figuring their emotions out by using the right words, and mirroring their body language. Furthermore, extending emotional and physical support and even just being silent yet present with a person, can be highly beneficial in expressing empathy. 

FAQs: Cognitive Empathy

Do psychopaths have cognitive empathy?

Yes, psychopaths can have cognitive empathy. They can learn socially correct behaviors and develop skills to read people. However, they may use this information for their personal advantage. Having empathy does not necessarily mean they are compassionate or feel the emotions of others. 

Do narcissists have cognitive empathy?

Yes, narcissists can have cognitive empathy. They can develop skills to read people’s emotions and behavior. However, they may use this information to manipulate others and use it for personal benefit. Having empathy does not necessarily mean they are compassionate or feel the emotions of others. 

What are cognitive and emotional empathy?

Cognitive and emotional empathy are two broad types of empathy. Cognitive empathy is an intellectual understanding of another person’s emotional experience. In contrast, emotional empathy is the capacity to share the emotional experience of another person.

What disorder causes a lack of empathy?

Disorders in which there is a lack or impairment of empathy include autism, narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder. Such people are born with impaired empathy. They can learn cognitive empathy but not necessarily emotional empathy. Personal willingness and motivation might be required to achieve this challenge.

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed Cognitive Empathy. We found that cognitive empathy refers to an intellectual understanding of someone else’s experience. Being empathic at a cognitive level does not necessarily mean one feels and absorbs their emotions. Rather, it allows us to comprehend and pick out the emotions and thoughts of someone in pain while being distant from them. It is different from emotional empathy in which a person absorbs the feelings of someone and goes through the emotional experience with them. Cognitive empathy is a learnable skill. It can be developed through formal or informal training. 

 I hope you found this article interesting. If you have any queries or comments, please state them in the comment section 😊

Citations

https://www.wikihow.com/Teach-Empathy-to-Adults

https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/empathy-types.html#:~:text=Cognitive%20empathy%2C%20also%20known%20as,for%20example%2C%20or%20for%20managers.

[Sassy_Social_Share type="standard"]