Article Author:
Renato Vilella
Article Editor:
Anil Kumar Reddy Reddivari
11/10/2019 2:17:02 PM
PubMed Link:


The history of the term "empathy" (translated from the German word Einfuhlung, that means feeling into) started over 100 years ago, introduced by the psychologist Edward Titchener.[1]


Empathy is a complex psychological influencing social interaction; it plays a role in the understanding of other's feelings, suffering and behavior, and significant linking with compassion. It is a motivated phenomenon that allows people to connect emotionally, mainly by sharing experiences and feelings.[2][3][4] 

Although divergences of studies, increased neural responses in the Anterior Insula is associated with the empathic activity.[5]

Measuring Empathy  

Be more empathic or less empathic is the capacity of an individual to identify and share other's emotions, and the objective of measuring empathy is to identify and share the target emotional state. 

The Empathic Accuracy Task (EAT) can be used to measure empathic accuracy and can be applied in both group or individual sessions to avoid the affect sharing of participants.[6]

Issues of Concern

Influence of Empathy on the healthcare team and delivery 

When a healthcare professional deals with the patient empathetically, there happens an emotional contagion, involving mainly the subcortical brain structures, that is defined by the sharing of emotional states, influencing for good or bad. This influence is not only determined by the words chosen but also by facial expressions, body language, and vocalization. This emotional connection is invaluable in current day healthcare delivery to achieve the best patient-provider relationship.[3]

As empathetic behavior by providers gets modulated by motivation, health care providers should also have empathic support from their institutions to deliver the same high-quality care for the patients.[4] 

Proper Evaluation of Empathy

The characterization and identification of the mechanisms, socio-cognitive, involved at empathy and emotions can lead to the improvement of cognitive neuroscience research and clinical treatments.[6]

Clinical Significance

Clinical significance of Empathy:

  • Understanding a patient’s feelings, concerns, and expectations can help a physician provide better care.
  • Imagining things from the patient’s point of view can reveal a different perspective to address them.
  • Empathy can break down some perceived barriers between the patient and the healthcare team.[7]

Increasing Empathy in your practice:

Cognitive empathy makes us better providers, modulated by motivation. There are many motivational triggers to increase empathy; those strategies apply to the interprofessional team and patient's care and is achievable by regular and thoughtful training.

  • Creating a desire to alleviate suffering
  • Increase kindness
  • Increase positive and friendly attitudes

These kinds of modulations can increase patients satisfaction and improve the diagnostic process and treatment outcome.[2]

Disorders of Empathic/Vicarious Experience

Disturbance in an appropriate empathic/vicarious response can be associated with some disorders[1]: 

  • Psychopathy
  • Autism spectrum disorders 

This condition can also occur with neurocognitive disorders such as[8]: 

  • Alzheimer disease 
  • Frontotemporal dementia 

Nursing, Allied Health, and Interprofessional Team Interventions


Education and training by various seminars showed to be effective in training medical students for empathic communication; therefore training of health care professionals is essential to prepare them for excellent patient care.[8]


Empathy for nursing is describable as both a human trait and a professional state. Empathy plays a vital role in decision making to deliver patient-centered care.[9]

Understanding and Educating

As empathic responses may be dysfunctional in patients with Alzheimer disease and frontotemporal dementia, the professional that deals with these patients need to be trained/educated to understand empathic behavior and deliver proper care for these specific cases. 


[1] Lockwood PL, The anatomy of empathy: Vicarious experience and disorders of social cognition. Behavioural brain research. 2016 Sep 15;     [PubMed PMID: 27235714]
[2] Weisz E,Zaki J, Motivated empathy: a social neuroscience perspective. Current opinion in psychology. 2018 Dec;     [PubMed PMID: 29966924]
[3] Meyza KZ,Bartal IB,Monfils MH,Panksepp JB,Knapska E, The roots of empathy: Through the lens of rodent models. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews. 2017 May;     [PubMed PMID: 27825924]
[4] Riess H, The Science of Empathy. Journal of patient experience. 2017 Jun;     [PubMed PMID: 28725865]
[5] Tusche A,Böckler A,Kanske P,Trautwein FM,Singer T, Decoding the Charitable Brain: Empathy, Perspective Taking, and Attention Shifts Differentially Predict Altruistic Giving. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 2016 Apr 27;     [PubMed PMID: 27122031]
[6] Coll MP,Viding E,Rütgen M,Silani G,Lamm C,Catmur C,Bird G, Are we really measuring empathy? Proposal for a new measurement framework. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews. 2017 Dec;     [PubMed PMID: 29032087]
[7] Brown EL,Agronin ME,Stein JR, Interventions to Enhance Empathy and Person-Centered Care for Individuals With Dementia: A Systematic Review. Research in gerontological nursing. 2019 Nov 6     [PubMed PMID: 31697393]
[8] Wündrich M,Schwartz C,Feige B,Lemper D,Nissen C,Voderholzer U, Empathy training in medical students - a randomized controlled trial. Medical teacher. 2017 Oct;     [PubMed PMID: 28749198]
[9] Adams SB, Empathy as an Ethical Imperative. Creative nursing. 2018 Aug;     [PubMed PMID: 30567759]