Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Cognitive and Emotional Empathy in Relation to Five Paranormal/anomalous Experiences

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Cognitive and Emotional Empathy in Relation to Five Paranormal/anomalous Experiences

Article excerpt

The term empathy refers to sensitivity to, and understanding of, the mental states of others. According to Hogan (1969, p. 308), empathy is "the act of constructing for oneself another person's mental state." The term empathy has been used to refer to two related human abilities: mental perspective taking (cognitive empathy) and the vicarious sharing of emotion (emotional empathy).

Recent research into empathy has emphasized the distinction between the cognitive and emotional components of the construct (Preston & de Waal, 2002). These components assume various definitions. Put simply, however, emotional empathy is commonly regarded as an emotional reaction (e.g., compassion) to another's emotional response (e.g., sadness). This reaction is not dependent on a cognitive understanding of why a person is suffering (Rankin, Kramer, & Miller, 2005), although it may facilitate understanding and action. By contrast, cognitive empathy involves an intellectual or imaginative understanding of another's emotional state, often described as overlapping with the construct of theory of mind (understanding the thoughts and feelings of others) and used interchangeably by some authors (Lawrence, Shaw, Baker, BaronCohen, & David, 2004).

There are few studies on empathy in relation to psychic experiences. There are a number of paranormal/anomalous experiences which seem to be related--even sometimes confused with--empathy. These experiences seem to involve inter-personal traits (i.e., extrasensorial experiences) instead of "intra"-personal characteristics such as out-of-body experiences, premonitions, past-lives recall, or mystical experiences. Many psychic claimants seem to act more empathic than telepathic.

Sanchez (1989) examined empathy and telepathy in natural mother-daughter dyads, consisting of 180 volunteer pairs; the mother served as the receiver, and the child as the sender of telepathic messages. Her results indicated that one form of empathy (personal distress) and diversity were significantly related to telepathy. Telepathy is a controversial paranormal phenomenon, while empathy is based not upon the paranormal but upon sophisticated processing of what is seen and heard in the usual way. The ability to use cognitive and emotional empathy in an integrated way seems important in many circumstances, such as the experiences of healing practitioners or in aura vision experiences.

The experiences of healing practitioners have been the topic of several investigations. Some healers have the empathic ability to feel other people's physical symptoms in their own bodies. An analysis of their cognitive styles indicated that their attention tended to become diffuse, exclusively focused neither externally nor internally, but simultaneously encompassing both the outer and inner environments (Krippner & Achtenberg, 2000).

There also was a tendency for healers to use mental imagery and become absorbed in the process, often to the point of feeling that they were "merging" with the client. The types of imagery reported by the healers included mythic symbols that supported the healers' belief systems, diagnostic information, and treatment process (Cooperstein, 1992). Appelbaum (1993) conjectured that people who benefit most from such healing may have similar or complementary personalities. They, too, may be people who tend to suspend disbelief, who subrnit easily to awe and admiration of others, who are oriented toward having their needs met by others, and who are confident that others have the power to help them (see also Borysenko, 1985).

Some studies suggest that aura vision may be related to cognitive processes involving fantasy proneness (Alvarado & Zingrone, 1987; Wilson & Barber, 1983), absorption, and cognitive-perceptual experiences (Alvarado, 1994; Alvarado & Zingrone, 1987; Parra, 2010a). Jordan (2008) examined whether the auras seen by those who work with aura-reading are an emotional reaction by the aura-reader or an empathetic reaction to the emotions of the person whose "aura" is being seen. …

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