Individual Differences in Empathy

Empathy or the ability to appreciate someone else’s emotions and express this emotional awareness is a capacity that differs amongst individuals.

Cognitive empathy refers to imaginatively understanding another person’s thoughts, feelings and actions. Emotional empathy is feeling the emotion of another person, but maintaining a compassionate, other-focused perspective

Cognitive empathy can be tested with facial expression recognition. High scores on empathy is associated with higher accuracy at brief exposure of six different emotional expressions presented in 42 pictures during 50 milliseconds each picture. When these facial expressions of 6 different emotions were shown for a longer duration the social skills was significantly related to accuracy instead of the empathy score. Difficulty reading facial expressions leads to impaired social understanding.

Another important areas of empathic accuracy research is the ocular level or the area around the eyes. This region is important because of its evolutionary and neurobiological significance. This region expresses important information about the expresser and as such creates the ability to accurately read the mental states of others through cues provided by the ocular region. From recent research it’s concluded to be able to accurately “read or experience” another persons feelings by watching their eye region is unrelated to gender, self-esteem, Big Five personality, and a number of empathy related traits. This results in a lack of individual factors that predict empathic accuracy.

However, imagination or individuals who often use imagination in imagining how another person feels and thinks does accurately predict empathic accuracy when observing the ocular region

individuals who have a tendency to imagine themselves in situations or relate to fictional characters may be better able to simulate others’ feelings and thoughts and thus be better able to infer accurately the mental states of others. Perhaps, this habit of imagining the inner world of others develops one’s empathic accuracy ability through sustained and motivated practice.

I guess some small steps in understanding empathy and individual differences.
Besel, L., & Yuille, J. (2010). Individual differences in empathy: The role of facial expression recognition Personality and Individual Differences DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.03.013
Lee, S., Guajardo, N., Short, S., & King, W. (2010). Individual differences in ocular level empathic accuracy ability: The predictive power of fantasy empathy Personality and Individual Differences DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.03.016