Affective - Cognitive Model

The Affective - Cognitive Model
This is the most common model of empathy. Here I want to show explore the model and how it is described.

Affective Empathy Definitions
Affective empathy is sometimes defined as

  1. feeling what someone else feels. (vicariously sharing the emotion.)

  2. or the feelings that some up in reaction to what one has felt by feeling into someone else.

Various Definitions

  • "Affective empathy is seen as an emotional reaction" (Cabedo-Peri+ 2021)

  • "affective empathy, and refers to the inner feelings that arise and the subtle copying of expressions that happens when we see others express emotion." (SIMON-THOMAS)

  • "Affective response is a physiological component that involves the automatic and unconscious process of affect sharing, or the mirroring of another person’s actions. For example, when sitting with a client who is crying, a practitioner might feel as if she or he is going to cry. This is a result of the automatic mirroring action that is going on unconsciously. Our mirroring neuron system activates the same physiological sensations as if we are actually doing the action. However, rather than begin to cry, the practitioner experiences the other components of empathy that are triggered to process this affective response. The other three components are cognitive processes. " (WAGAMAN + 2014)

Cognitive Empathy Definitions

Various Definitions

  • "Someone can understand the feelings of the victim (cognitive empathy), while showing no emotional reaction to such feelings; that is, without feeling what the victim feels (low affective empathy)." (Cabedo-Peri+ 2021)

      • Notes: (the indifference is a reaction?)

  • Cognitive vs. Emotional Empathy - When we practice cognitive empathy, we are practicing taking the perspective of another person. In essence, we are imagining what it might be like to actually be this person in their situation. Cognitive empathy is also referred to as perspective-taking, which lends itself to the idea of putting ourselves in someone else's shoes. Very Well Mind

General Problems with the Affective - Cognitive Empathy Model

  1. Affective - Cognitive Model sees the world as a Dualist mind body.

  2. Model pits feeling and though as separate. We can not have thoughts that do not have a felt sense to them.

    1. It seems to be based on Enlightenment thinking which sees reason as a supernatural force (disembodied) in the universe.. similar to god. It is not embodied.

  3. The model seems to ignore the previous models of empathy by Carl Rogers.

  4. The model is overly academic. using complicated terminology like 'affective' and 'cognitive' which the average person would find hard to understand.

  5. The model does not accurately model the reality of empathy

  6. There are different definitions use for both 'affective empathy' and 'cognitive empathy'. the definitions of affective and cognitive empathy do not seem consistent.

  7. The model is easily misinterpreted.

  8. Alison mentioned this model is losing support in the academic community and she felt it would be gone in 10years

  9. The model seems to have been created by theorists or cognitive phycologists who do not have the real world experience of applying empathy, like clinical phycologists do.

Specific Problems with the Affective Model

  • Affective Empathy (reaction): is often defined as an emotional reaction. Edwin would not see that as empathy. Sensing into the feelings of someone is the emotional part of empathy, not the reactions to what one finds. The reactions often block the flow of empathy. (In the circle, the reactions of the listener to the speaker would be considered empathy by Affective Empathy (reaction). The model has many aspects that would be possible reactions to feeling into someone's experience.

  • Reaction starts with empathy. If you are with someone that is sad, you can become distressed.. The distress could be a reaction to the sadness in the other person. You first have to empathize, i.e. sense into, the experience of the other person to be aware of it.

      • Empathy [reaction]. This logic would mean that every reaction to empathizing would be called empathy (reaction). i.e. empathic concern, empathic joy, empathic distress, empathic contagion, empathic fatigue, empathic 'reaction',. Which does not make a lot of sense.

      • Reason [reaction]. If this was the naming convention it should be used with reason as well. When you are reasoning out a problem and you feel tired, we should call the reason fatigue. Or you are reasoning out some problem and you get distressed, that could be called reason 'distress'. Or reasoning out concept, and you feel joy, t that would be reason 'joy.'

Specific Problems with the Cognitive Empathy

  • the idea of cognition seems to be that it doesn't have a felt experience. it seems to be seen as a not feeling state.


The Big Idea: No More Cognitive and Affective Empathy?
Lidewij Niezink, Ph.D., and Katherine Train, Ph.D.
"The current false dichotomy holds back research and stimulates cherry-picking."
(article says we need to get past the cognitive/affective dichotomy but see them as both needed.)

  • people say emotional empathy is not good at work but cognitive empathy is good.

  • some people say, "emotional empathy is the messy business of emotions"

  • cognitive empathy definition -" involves understanding others’ thoughts and feelings without necessarily reacting emotionally, whereas emotional empathy involves experiencing emotions in response to others’ emotional experiences or expressions"

  • they say, "Empathy requires both emotion and cognition".

  • "empathic accuracy", "the ability to infer what someone else is feeling "

      • (I don't think it is inferring, but how accurate our empathy is.)


  • The BES test consists of 20 items, which are divided into two factors: cognitive empathy (9 items) and affective empathy (11 items).