Empathy embodies the phrase “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”.
In humans, empathy involves both thinking and feeling. Empathy can help us understand and relate to others. The two main components of empathy are cognitive, understanding what another person is feeling, and affective, experiencing the feelings of others and responding emotionally. It is the ability to recognise how another person is feeling, understand their perspective, and emotionally relate to that person.
Sympathy and compassion are often conflated and confused with empathy, but there are important differences. Empathy creates a feeling of shared experience that is either
positive or negative. In contrast, sympathy is often related to observing a negative experience. Neither empathy nor sympathy require action, but they are possible steps towards compassion.
Empathy can be useful in reducing implicit biases; when we spend more time with diverse groups of people, different from ourselves, we better understand alternate perspectives and can be more empathetic to other people and varying needs. Strengthening our empathy muscles may even reduce inequality among marginalized groups. Perhaps practicing empathy can reduce outgroup derogation observed following mortality reminders.