use imagery, narrative, or video to elicitempathy. Empathy is a natural productof human biology, so simple nudges andexperiences can go a long way.
While empathy involves experiencing(to some degree) the same emotionas another, compassion does notnecessarily involve this mirroringof feeling. It does, however, involveconcern or caring in response toanother’s suffering and a motivation toact on their behalf. As such, it has beenconceptualized as a motivation, as wellas both a state and a trait. Althoughcompassion may certainly arisefrom empathy, it doesn’t necessarily,and it can be distinguished by theaccompanying desire to take actionand an emotional and physiologicalresponse that prepares the body andmind for caregiving.
Based on a cross-disciplinary reviewof the research, Goetz, Keltner, andSimon-Thomas define compassion as“the feeling that arises in witnessinganother’s suffering and that motivatesa subsequent desire to help” [ 2]. Theyidentify research that shows distinctivefacial expressions and displaybehaviors (such as oblique eyebrows,eye gaze, forward leans, and touch)that communicate approach behavior,outward attention, commitment tohelp, and cooperation. While empathymay lead to an inward focus and/oraversive response, as one is absorbedby an experience of vicarious negativeemotion, compassion describes anoutward focus and an active caregivingresponse.
For example, if my friend is angryand I empathize, I feel angry with her.
If I see through the anger to the hurtbehind it and feel motivated to care forher or act on her behalf, I experiencecompassion. Of course the twofrequently come together, for example
challenge involved partnering withthe Dalai Lama Center for Peace andUnderstanding to find new ways offostering empathy in children.
Up until now, the terms empathyand compassion have been used fairlysynonymously in design research,but new evidence suggests thatunderstanding how empathy andcompassion are different is critical tounderstanding resilience in the face ofsuffering. Research has now shown thatempathy and compassion differ, not onlyqualitatively but also in their physiology,including distinctive facial expressionsand display behaviors, and how theymanifest distinctively in the brain.
UNDERSTANDING EMPATHYEmpathy definitively involves thevicarious experience or “mirroring” ofanother’s feelings. When I empathize, Ifeel sad because you feel sad. By feelingsome of what someone else feels, wecan understand their experience in away that is direct and goes beyond thecognitive processing of linguistic ormetalinguistic expressions. Scientificdefinitions of empathy reveal empathyto be a multifaceted construct thatincludes emotion recognition, vicariousfeeling, and perspective taking [ 1].
Empathy is a core socio-emotional
skill. Those lacking cognitive empathy
have trouble understanding what
others are thinking or feeling (as with
autism spectrum disorders), while
those lacking affective empathy have
trouble feeling for others (as with
sociopathology). As such, the fostering
of empathy is important to each of us
individually as well as to society, and
a worthy target for design. There are
many examples of programs designed
to deliberately develop empathy,
sometimes as a communication skill
(for example, for the education of
doctors, social workers, and other
professionals) and sometimes for the
prevention of mental health problems,
bullying, and violent crime or to reduce
prejudice and discrimination.
Inspiring games have been created
that allow people to “walk a mile
in someone else’s shoes,” such as
PeaceMaker, a game that allows players
to play both sides of the Palestinian-
Israeli conflict. Because games provide
opportunities for vicarious experience,
role-play, and sometimes embodiment,
they wield unique power for empathy
development; however, design
strategies need not be high-tech. For
research studies, researchers typically
Figure 1. Empathy, compassion, and altruism. (Image from Positive Computing, our forthcoming
book from MIT Press)