Empathic concern

Empathic concern refers to other-oriented emotions elicited by and congruent with the perceived welfare of someone in need.[1][2] These other-oriented emotions include feelings of tenderness, sympathy, compassion, soft-heartedness, and the like.

Empathic concern is often and wrongly confused with empathy. To empathize is to respond to another’s perceived emotional state by experiencing feeling of a similar sort. Empathic concern or sympathy not only include empathizing, but also entails having a positive regard or a non-fleeting concern for the other person.[3]

C. Daniel Batson is one chief pioneer of the term. His mature definition of the term is “other-oriented emotion elicited by and congruent with the perceived welfare of someone in need“.[4] Batson explains this definition in the following way.

First, “congruent” here refers not to the specific content of the emotion but to the valence—positive when the perceived welfare of the other is positive, negative when the perceived welfare is negative. . . . Third, as defined, empathic concern is not a single, discrete emotion but includes a whole constellation. It includes feelings of sympathy, compassion, softheartedness, tenderness, sorrow, sadness, upset, distress, concern, and grief. Fourth, empathic concern is other-oriented in the sense that it involves feeling for the other—feeling sympathy for, compassion for, sorry for, distressed for, concerned for, and so on.[5]

Many writers other than Batson use different terms for this construct or very similar constructs. Especially popular—perhaps more popular than ’empathic concern’—aresympathy, compassion or pity.[6] Other terms include the tender emotion and sympathetic distress.[7]

Human beings are strongly motivated to be connected to others.[8] In humans and higher mammals, an impulse to care for offspring is almost certainly genetically hard-wired, although modifiable by circumstance.