How do you react when you see another human being in pain? How about when children or animals are suffering? Most of us would feel sadness. We call that empathy, the ability to put yourself in their place and feel their pain. But there is more than just one type of empathy and one is cognitive empathy.
Before I examine cognitive empathy, I’d like to clarify the three different types of empathy.
3 types of empathy: emotional, compassionate, and cognitive empathy
This is the definition of empathy we are all familiar with. All empathy is an ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes. Empathy is the capacity to imagine what another person is feeling.
Emotional empathy is seeing this perspective from an emotional point of view. So we feel the grief and sorrow of others. We suffer the same physical symptoms, mirroring their emotions, having the same feelings as them.
Compassionate empathy takes emotional empathy one step further. It adds an element of action with the emotion. Along with the capacity of feeling the same emotions is an urge to do something.
For example, your friend comes to you feeling depressed, knowing that you have previously suffered from depression. An emotional empath would know exactly what their friend was going through and feel their feelings. A compassionate one would take their friend to see a doctor.
Finally, cognitive empathy is the ability to see another person’s perspective but in a more logical and analytical way. Some people describe cognitive empathy as a bit of an oxymoron.
This is because cognitive empaths are able to take the emotion out of a situation, something we don’t associate with empathy. People with a highly developed sense of cognitive empathy can understand what a person is going through without emotional connotations.
So, to clarify:
- Emotional empathy: is connecting with someone’s emotions.
- Cognitive empathy: is understanding the emotions of someone.
- Compassionate empathy: is acting to help someone.
8 signs you have a highly developed cognitive empathy
You are a good mediator
Do you find that others naturally come to you to solve a dispute or argument? Having a highly developed sense of cognitive empathy allows you to see both sides of the argument.
You don’t get emotionally attached to the people involved. Instead, you see beyond the emotion of the situation, are able to evaluate the facts, and arrive at a fair decision for each party.
You are calm under pressure
Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger is the airline pilot that landed his stricken plane in the Hudson River after a bird strike took out both his engines. I would imagine he has a highly developed sense of cognitive empathy.
In a situation of intense pressure, he reacted in a methodical and rational manner. He analysed the problem and worked through every possible scenario. He did not let the overwhelming emotional pressure of saving his passengers cloud his thinking.
You are a liberal thinker
Research shows that people who are emotionally empathic tend to empathise more with people in their own groups. For example, family, friends, political persuasions, nationalities, etc. However, this kind of thinking can lead to prejudice, where we don’t place as high a value on the lives of those who are not in our own group.
On the other hand, those with a higher level of cognitive empathy understand that other people have different views, beliefs, values, religions, etc. from themselves. This indicates a wider acceptance of groups that are different from their own.
You are opinionated
Cognitive simply means thinking. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you can see another person’s perspective in a logical way, you are going to form opinions about the world.
As someone who is able to push aside the emotion and drama of a situation, you can focus on the facts.
For instance, one person may worry about the increasing influx of refugees into their country. However, you would instead research why there is an increase in refugees in the first place. You would ask why people are fleeing, who is responsible for them fleeing, what can be done to help them, how will it impact on local resources.
You can predict how people will behave
Studies have revealed the existence of mirror neurons in our brains which are activated in response to other people’s emotions and feelings.
When we try and predict human behaviour, we often base our predictions on what we would do in similar circumstances when we feel the same emotions.
Now, the interesting part is that the people who are highly cognitive empaths can remove the emotional part. This makes them highly efficient at understanding how people behave in certain situations.
People sometimes accuse you of being cold
You don’t fall to pieces every time an advert for starving children in Africa appears on TV. Likewise, sometimes you forget to comfort someone physically or emotionally when they are sad.
This isn’t because you are a bad person, it’s more likely that your head is working overtime to find a solution for their problem. This can be particularly useful for certain jobs.
For instance, people who are living in refugee camps don’t want others to feel their struggles, they want actual help to get out and live better lives.
You are a people watcher
Is one of your favourite pastimes people-watching? Do you like to sit with a coffee and just watch the world go by? Those with highly attuned cognitive empathy tend to like to observe and watch people.
You may even wonder or predict the sort of lives these passers-by have. But you don’t get emotionally attached to the people you are observing. You are quite clinical in your observations. Almost as if you are conducting an experiment.
You are not afraid of confrontation
Being opinionated usually means you also don’t back down from an argument or debate. Again, you don’t let emotion side-track you. You stick to facts to beef up your side of things.
And you don’t really get angry. Instead, you try and use logic to persuade and change someone’s mind.
It is certainly true to say that cognitive empathy can be helpful in stressful situations. Especially where emotions can distract or overwhelm. But a combination of emotional, cognitive, and compassionate empathy in equal measures is probably preferable.
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