Interpersonal Sensitivity: Theory and Measurement

By Judith A. Hall; Frank J. Bernieri | Go to book overview

2
Affective Empathy
Sandra H. Losoya
Nancy Eisenberg
Arizona State University

Empathy has long been thought to contribute to individuals' Abilities to understand, predict, experience, and relate to others' behaviors, feelings, attitudes, and intentions. Moreover, there are theoretical and empirical reasons to believe that empathy is a major contributor to moral development (Hoffman, 1990), altruistic and prosocial behavior (Batson, 1991, 1998; Eisenberg & Strayer, 1987; Eisenberg & Fabes, 1991, 1998; Roberts & Strayer, 1996), emotional intelligence (Davies, Stankov, & Roberts, 1998; Salovey & Mayer, 1990), social competence (Eisenberg & Fabes, 1992; Eisenberg, Fabes, Murphy, et al., 1996; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987; Saarni, 1990), interpersonal forgiving (McCullough, Worthington, & Rachal, 1997), and low levels of aggression toward others (Feshbach, 1978; Miller & Eisenberg, 1988). Thus, empathy, broadly defined, is a construct (and competency) that contributes to, or can be seen as an aspect of, interpersonal sensitivity and social competence.

The purpose of this chapter is to examine the conceptualization and operationalization of affective empathy-related responding as it is often used in contemporary research in developmental and social psychology. We begin with definitional and conceptual issues related to research on empathy. We then briefly review work on the relation of this multidimensional construct to prosocial behavior (i.e., voluntary action intended to aid or benefit another; Eisenberg & Miller, 1987), a body of research that provides support for the importance and validity of the construct of affective empathy. Finally, we review and evaluate past and present methods for assessing empathy-related reactions, including the use of various types of self-report measures, other-report measures, facial—gestural—behavioral responses, psychophysiological responding, and experimental manipulations.

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