The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences.Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. … “Cognitive empathy,” sometimes called “perspective taking,” refers to our ability to identify and understand other people’s emotions.
Have you ever felt that someone doesn’t have the same feelings toward you as you have toward them or struggled to predict how you will act when you are angry about something, if we’re currently calm or unable to feel the same pain which other person is undergoing when you are at peace and can only think rationally?
Yes, this happens when we misjudge our own emotions or behaviour and this is what Empathy Gap is all about.
Empathy Gap means when you are in certain mental state for example happy or angry, you are unable to understand the perspective or predict the action of someone who is in a different mental state. For example if you are on diet and currently full, the empathy gap will unable you to access how well you will be able to handle the temptation to eat when you are hungry.
Empathy Gap is one of the cognitive bias where a person finds it difficult to understand their mental state which is different from their present mental state or struggle to understand how such states effect people’s decision making.
Therefore I won’t be wrong in saying that empathy gap has serious implications when it comes to interpreting and predicting people’s behavior, including your own, so it’s imperative to understand it so that we know how to deal with it.
Empathy gap can appear in variety of situations
- When it comes to misjudging our own emotions and behaviours . Lets understand this with few examples, When a person is calm, they overestimates their ability to stay composed in stressful situation or when a person no longer have feelings for another person they generally underestimate how much their feelings for that person affected their judgment in the past.
- When it comes to misjudging the behaviour and emotions of others . Here a person struggle to understand why someone who is nervous about something acted the way that they did, if we don’t share their feelings on the topic or struggle to see that someone doesn’t necessarily have the same feelings toward us as we have toward them.
Empathy Gap influences people in such a way that they underestimate the influence of visceral drive on their decision making skills. Visceral factors are states such as hunger, thirst, sexual desire, drug cravings, physical pain, and fervent emotion where in people focus mainly on goals that are related with their current state and downplay the importance of other goals. For example, when a person is hungry, finding food becomes the most important goal and other goals tend to be overlooked. Now this happens when a person believe that they will act in rational manner in a certain situation but end up failing to do so due to the influence of visceral drive which they have not considered while thinking about the future. Due to which they can definitely satisfy their short term goals but fail to accomplish their long team goals which can be catastrophic. Sometime influence of empathy gap is so powerful that people continue to assume that they can handle certain situation even when they have been proven wrong in past.
Six Types of Empathy Gaps
Cold to Hot Empathy Gap : In this a person is primarily on cold state that is emotionally neutral and finds it difficult to understand the person who is in hot state that is emotionally involved. As a result a person underestimate the influence of visceral drive have it on the individual.
Hot to Cold Empathy Gap : In this a person is primarily on hot state that is emotionally involved and finds it difficult to understand the person who is in cold state that is emotionally neutral . As a result a person underestimate the influence of visceral drive have it on the individual.
Intrapersonal bias : An intrapersonal empathy gap occurs when people experience the empathy gap as they consider their own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Interpersonal bias : An interpersonal empathy gap occurs when people experience the empathy gap as they try to consider someone else’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Retrospective bias : A retrospective empathy gap occurs when people experience the empathy gap as they think about things that happened in the past.
Prospective bias : A prospective empathy gap occurs when people experience the empathy gap as they think about things that will happen in the future.
It has also be seen that people are more empathetic towards people who are members of their ingroup (known people) than towards people who are in their outgroup (not familiar). This means that people are more likely to understand and share the mental state of those that they identify with and consider them as their social group.
Why do people experience empathy gap? This is because human cognition is state dependent ,that means the way they take decisions and process information depends upon their state of mind at a given point of time which makes it difficult to properly evaluate other’s mental state or to predict their influence.
In some cases the term empathy gap is used in more general way, that is, it refers to the inability to show empathy towards others or to understand their perspective, thoughts or emotions or behaviour.
Techniques to Tackle Empathy Gap
While going through these techniques, remember that the empathy gap can play a role not only in the way we predict our future behavior, but also in the way we examine past actions as well as in the way that we consider other people’s actions.
Try to envisage different mental state and perspectives
To mitigate the influence of empathy gap try to envisage how will you feel in different mental state than the one you are at present. This technique will also be helpful when you are trying to understand someone else’s behaviour and emotions. In order to predict your future or trying to understand other person’s perspective instead of just figuring out what you will do, you need to first try and understand how will you feel and what will you be thinking.
Imagine how other’s would Act
This technique helps when you need to predict your own behaviour. Try to visualize how other person will behave or act in the same situation. This way you will be able to analyse the situation in more detached and emotionally neutral manner and your prediction would be not that distorted.
Elucidate the different perspective
This technique will help you when you are trying to reduce someone else’s empathy gap . Here you try to explain that person to think from different perspective than what they are experiencing at that moment. Tell them to think more rationally or ask them to explain those actions themselves for instance by coming up with reasons why other’s are acting the way they’re acting.
Examine Past Action
Most of the time we ignore our past despite it being a powerful indicator of how we feel, think and act in different situations. For example you know you have a sweet tooth and you find it difficult to resist sweets, this happened especially when you are hungry but can control when you feel full. In spite of knowing this fact and how you reacted in past , you overestimate your emotions for the same and end up eating. To overcome empathy gap of yours and other’s try and examine your past.
If we understand and be more aware about our own and other’s emotions and behaviour this could help us in our daily interactions with one another. Try to acknowledge your memories and accept the emotions of other person , perhaps we can help calm them down or find a better way to process it, whether we share their age, race, gender, or not, this could go a long way in reducing the empathy gap.
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