Empathy Definition

  One of the most important personality attributes is empathy.   A high level of empathy may lead to significant altruism and helping behavior.  A lack of empathy could lead to a lack of helping behavior or rude and insensitive comments.  It is important to define empathy and gain an understanding of the meaning of empathy.  What is empathy?  Below is a brief empathy definition:

Empathy is a vicarious emotional experience in which you feel and understand what another person feels.

        Empathy is not simply perspective taking.   Although being able to see things from another person's perspective may result in the emotional experience of empathy, it is possible to adopt another person's perspective without experiencing empathy.       
  If you are experiencing empathy, you feel happy when you observe a person expressing happiness and understand the person's happiness.  If you are experiencing empathy, you feel sad when you observe a person expressing sadness and understand the person's sadness.  Thus, the above definition suggests that there are two elements of empathy: perspective taking (understanding what another person feels), and vicarious emotion (feeling what another person feels).

Empathy vs. Sympathy

Although sympathy and empathy are similar emotional responses, one could feel sympathy without experiencing empathy. Empathy, but not sympathy, may also require that one understands the person's feelings.  Thus, if you feel sad when another person feels sad, but you do not understand why the person is feeling sad, the emotional response could be labeled as sympathy rather than empathy.