Empathy: a review of the concept

Benjamin Cuff, Sarah J. Brown, Laura Taylor, Douglas Howat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

340 Citations (Scopus)
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The inconsistent definition of empathy has had a negative impact on both research and practice. The aim of this article 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 43 discrete definitions, 8 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-153
Number of pages10
JournalEmotion Review
Issue number2
Early online date1 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2016


  • affective empathy
  • cognitive empathy
  • definition
  • empathy
  • empathy assessment


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