University of Cambridge > > ARClub Talks > Empathic disequilibrium – a novel conceptualization of the role of empathy in psychopathology and beyond

Empathic disequilibrium – a novel conceptualization of the role of empathy in psychopathology and beyond

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Empathy is considered a basic ability for effective social communication and well-being, and thus has a major role in our everyday social lives. In addition, empathy is considered to be affected in many clinical conditions, though findings regarding the exact nature of these associations have been mixed. One possible reason for that stems from the two-facet nature of empathy. Empathy is typically defined as having two components – cognitive empathy is the ability to understand other’s emotional states and emotional empathy is the ability to share in those emotions, while maintaining a self-other distinction. These components are typically studied independently, yet they are not. The two components regulate each other. Based on this, we have defined the concept of empathic disequilibrium, defined as the relative imbalance between emotional and cognitive empathy. I will share our findings showing a strong link between empathic disequilibrium and autism, schizophrenia, and other psychopathologies, which manifests over and above any link with overall empathy. I will discuss a possible mechanism for this effect, through emotional reactivity. And I will also share some exciting new findings regarding the role of oxytocin in this relationship. Taken together, these findings suggest that empathic disequilibrium is a strong re-conceptualization of empathy, which better explains people’s experiences, reconciles mixed findings, and provides a theoretical basis for the part that empathy plays in our everyday lives.

This talk is part of the ARClub Talks series.

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