Academic journal article Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research

Empathy in Future Teachers of the Pedagogical and Technological University of Colombia

Academic journal article Journal of New Approaches in Educational Research

Empathy in Future Teachers of the Pedagogical and Technological University of Colombia

Article excerpt


The word 'empathy' appeared in 1880, coined by the German psychologist Theodore Lipps with the term Einfühlung -that is, in-feeling- to refer to the recognition of other people's feelings (Ioannidou & Konstantikaki, 2008). According to Gerdes, Lietz, and Segal (2011), its conceptualization arose both with Lipps and with the psychologist Edward Tichener when investigating the psychological condition or the internal imitation that is experienced as a result of observing other people (Iacoboni, 2008).

This skill allows people to know how others feel, as well as to understand and contextualize their thoughts, emotions, feelings, and actions (Baron-Cohen & Wheelwright, 2004). Therefore, it can be stated that empathy constitutes an affective response to the emotional states and responses generated or expected in other individuals (Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Sadovsky, 2006). Empathy implies recognizing someone else's feelings, identifying their possible causes and sharing the emotional experience of a person from outside (Keen, 2007). In other words, empathy has to do with the adoption of a perspective that implies an imagination exercise aimed at appropriating someone else's thoughts and feelings in a specific situation, which makes possible a better life and coexistence (Davis, 2004; Ioannidou & Konstantikaki, 2008).

Empathy consists of two components: an affective one; and a cognitive one (Andrew, Cooke, & Muncer, 2008; Eisenberg, 2000; Paal & Bereczkei, 2007; Smith, 2006). The affective one refers to the possibility of living other people's emotional experiences. Warmth, sympathy and concern about others consequently appear. In turn, the cognitive component integrates the understanding of these life experiences (Decety & Jackson, 2004) or, expressed differently, it has to do with the ability to interpret situations from our own perspective as well as from that of others (De Waal, 2008). Finally, empathy is significantly related to prosocial behavior both in the affective component and in the cognitive one (Lockwood, Seara-Cardoso, & Viding, 2014).

In short, the difference between affective and cognitive empathy lies in the fact that the former implies a sensation derived from other people's feelings or thoughts, whereas the latter requires understanding other people's thoughts and feelings. These two perspectives are generally intertwined (Kerem, Fishman, & Josselson, 2001), even though they constitute distinct skills both functionally and neurologically (Cavojová, Belovicová, & Sirota, 2011; Eisenberg & Eggum, 2009).

Therefore, social comprehension implies emotional understanding as well as the perception of everybody else's mental states (Cavojová et al., 2011). However, this skill shows differences in individuals from an early age that are reflected in a higher number of quality friendships, better conditions to face and cope with difficult situations, and an improved adaptation to school (Hughes, 2011).

The knowledge of empathy and values additionally contributes to develop empathic skills and, consequently, to their conscious utilization (Gerdes, Segal, Jackson, & Mullins, 2011). That is why empathy plays an essential role in disciplines such as social work, education and, on the whole, all those implying a direct relationship with other individuals (Berg, Raminani, Greer, Harwood, & Safren, 2008; Forrester, Kershaw, Moss, & Hughes, 2008; Green & Christensen, 2006; Mishara et al., 2007). It similarly has a positive impact on suitable moral development (Jollife & Farrington, 2006) and on correct relationships between couples, as well as between parents and children (Busby & Garnder, 2008; Curtner-Smith et al., 2006).

The scientific literature also stresses the importance of empathy as an essential element for most Emotional Intelligence models (Bracket, Rivers, & Salovey, 2011; Joseph & Newman, 2010). …

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