Imaginative Empathy

Imaginative Empathy Definition

  • Is imagining oneself in a role or perspective. Taking on a perspective and sensing what arises in oneself in that role or perspective. There are unlimited contexts for imagination.

  • This quality of imagination can be deepened or blocked.

  • There are also many forms and facets of Imaginative Empathy

Imaginative Empathy In the Empathy Circle

Imaginative Empathy Exercises To Do In The Empathy Circle
Create a set of exercises that can be done in the Empathy Circle using Imaginative Empathy


These Things Called Empathy: Eight Related but Distinct Phenomena
by Dan Batson

In this paper, Dan Batson gives 8 ways that the concept of empathy is used and defined. Concept 5 and 6 are based on imagination. These 2 definitions would come under

  • Concept 5: Imagining How Another Is Thinking and Feeling (imagine other)

    • Batson writes: "Rather than imagine how it would feel to be a young woman just told she is losing her job, you might imagine how your friend is thinking and feeling. Your imagining can be based both on what she says and does and on your knowledge of her character, values, and desires. Stotland (1969) spoke of this as a particular form of perspective taking, an “imagine him” perspective. More generally, it has been called an “imagine other” perspective (Batson, 1991).

      • Wispé (1968) called imagining how another is feeling “psychological empathy” to differentiate it from the aesthetic empathy of concept 4.

      • Adolphs (1999) called it “empathy” or “projection”;

      • Ruby and Decety (2004) called it “empathy” or “perspective taking.”

    • In a perceptive analysis from a therapeutic perspective, Barrett-Lennard "

  • Concept 6: Imagining How One Would Think and Feel in the Other’s Place (imagine self)

      • Batson writes: "Adam Smith (1759/1853) colorfully referred to the act of imagining how one would think and feel in another person’s situation as “changing places in fancy.”

      • Mead (1934) sometimes called it “role taking” and sometimes “empathy”;

      • Povinelli (1993) called it “cognitive empathy.”

      • Darwall (1998) spoke of “projective empathy” or “simulation.”

      • In the Piagetian tradition, imagining how one would think in the other’s place has been called either “perspective taking” or “decentering” (Piaget, 1953).

      • Stotland (1969) called this an “imagine-self” perspective, distinguishing it from the imagine-other perspective of concept 5. The imagine-other and imagine-self forms of perspective taking have often been confused or equated with one another, despite empirical evidence suggesting that they should not be (Batson, Early, & Salvarani, 1997; Stotland, 1969)."

Will the Real Empathy Please Stand Up? A Case for a Narrow Conceptualization
by Amy Coplan
In this paper
Amy Coplan argues to narrow the definition of empathy to the imaginative empathy. This would be Batson's Concept 5 I believe - Imagine Other: Imagining How Another Is Thinking and Feeling.

  • "I propose that empathy be conceptualized as a complex, imaginative process through which an observer simulates another person’s situated psychological states while maintaining clear self–other differentiation." (Coplan 2011)

  • "At last I come to the complex imaginative process I refer to as “empathy,” a process through which an observer simulates another’s situated psychological states, while maintaining clear self–other differentiation. In my view, this process is the only one that can provide experiential understanding of another person, or understanding of another from the “inside.” It is in virtue of its ability to provide this type of first-person access to another, however imperfect, that empathy is a unique and invaluable process—and one worth our attention." (Coplan 2011)

Two forms of perspective taking: Imagining how another feels and imagining how you would feel.

Batson, C. D. (2009). Two forms of perspective taking: Imagining how another feels and imagining how you would feel. In K. D. Markman, W. M. P. Klein, & J. A. Suhr (Eds.), Handbook of imagination and mental simulation (pp. 267–279). Psychology Press.

Encounter a stranger in need and, sometimes, you will feel empathic concern—an other-oriented emotional response evoked by and congruent with the perceived welfare of that person. What determines whether you will? Perhaps the most common answer among psychologists is that empathic concern is felt when you adopt the perspective of the person in need. But in this answer, what is meant by adopting the person's perspective?

  • First, it is an act of imagination. One does not literally take another person's place or look through his or her eyes. One imagines how things look from the other's point of view.

  • Second, it is not the same as perspective taking in the symbolic-interaction tradition. In that tradition, one adopts the perspective of another—often a significant other—to imaginatively see oneself through the other's eyes (and values)

Constructing memory, imagination, and empathy: a cognitive neuroscience perspective
by Brendan Gaesse

'Evidence of a relationship between memory, imagination, and empathy comes from research that shows imagination influences the perceived and actual likelihood an event occurs, improves intergroup relations, and shares a neural basis with memory and empathy. Although many questions remain, this paper outlines a new direction for research that investigates the role of imagination in promoting empathy and prosocial behavior. "

Development Notes
Raw notes to sort and organize

Different Types of Imagination

  • Imagining How Another Is Thinking and Feeling (imagine other)

  • Imagining How One Would Think and Feel in the Other’s Place (imagine self)

  • Imagining Being Someone Else

      • taking on the role, like an actor and seeing feeling into that.

  • Imagining Oneself Being in Someone Else's Situation

  • Imagining Different Perspectives

      • imagining an individualistic perspective or a group perspective. etc.

  • Imagining Being Any Things

      • imagine being any object, feelings, concept.

  • Imagining Scenarios

      • Einstein imagined being light and the experience from that perspective.

  • Dreaming - Day Dreaming

      • we imagine and feel ourselves in the dream world.

  • Fantasy

  • Imagining Ourselves in the Future

      • for example, imaging planning a task and all the steps that would be involved.

  • Imagining Ourselves in the Past

Imaginative empathy is

  • a more accurate and sexy term than cognitive empathy.

  • imaginative empathy captures the felt experience and creativity. Cognitive feels dry and ridgid to me.

  • this is a better term to support an empathy movement because it is more engaging and a fun term.

  • there are specific activities we can do to role play imaginative empathy. Stepping into a role and acting in the Empathy Circle is different than listening to someone in the Empathy Circle.

  • We can do both the imaginative and accurate empathy in the Empathy Circle.

In the Affective-Cognitive Empathy Model, Imaginative Empathy sometime comes under the heading of Cognitive Empathy. It is role taking or perspective taking.

These is a whole constellation of ways we can imagine. How is empathy related to this imagination? I'm calling it Imaginative Empathy. A sensing and feeling into experience with an imaginative

  • Imagine ourselves in the future

  • What about dreams. There is imagination

  • Imagine ourselves in someone else's situation

  • Imagine someone else in their situation

  • Imagine ourselves as any animal, object, group of people.

  • give examples.

Question: How could we create role plays to differentiate "imagine other", "imagine self", and other imaginative empathy in the context of the Empathy Circle.
There is a difference in experience in the empathy circle when we just actively listen to someone else and when we take on some roles.

  • Imagine other role play: ?

  • Imagine self role play:?

Empathy Definitions Problem

"A longstanding problem with the study of empathy is the lack of a clear and agreed upon definition. A trend in the recent literature is to respond to this problem by advancing a broad and all-encompassing view of empathy that applies to myriad processes ranging from mimicry and imitation to high-level perspective taking." (Coplan 2011)

What is the relationship of Empathy direct (empathy feeling) and imaginative empathy?

  • When empathizing direct - is there any imaginative empathy going on? There could be

    • Listeners may be imagining themselves in the situation of the other

    • Or imagining the other in their situation,, or just listening directly.

    • They are not doing a full agreed upon role play. There can be a clearly defined agreement that we are going to role play in this empathy circle.

    • The speaker could be sharing what they are imagining themselves doing in the future.

  • Is all empathy a form of imagination?

I've thought a lot about the power of empathy. In my work, it's the current that connects me and my actual pulse to a fictional character. In a made up story. It allows me to feel, pretend feelings and sorrows and imagined pain. And my nervous system is sympathetically wired. And it conducts that current to you sitting in a movie theater, and to the woman sitting next to you and to her friend, so that we all feel that it's happening to us at the same time.

It's a very mysterious and valuable resource of the human species. And women I think, access it most effortlessly. We cry at sad movies. We don't feel we lose face or stature or position doing it. We see a news story that enrages us and we write letters through tears, our hearts pounding I've often I used to wonder why human beings develop these inconvenient and embarrassing responses. This sniffling, choking, wet obstruction. You know, the thing that physicians and soldiers and stock traders and journalists and fashion models and politicians and news commentators and venture capitalists all must suppress in order to work most efficiently.

I've thought what possible value function could it serve in the Darwinian scheme of you know, survival of the fittest in the strongest and the most heavily armed? No, seriously, I thought, Why and how did we evolve with this weak and useless passion intact within the deep hearts core? And the answer, as I've formulated it to myself is that empathy is the engine that powers all the best in us. It is what symbolizes us. It is what connects us to these women who live in shrouded and muffled and beaten down and broken in cities and towns so far away from us as if to be in a different galaxy. It enables us to feel their despair and their anguish, as if it were our own. My grandmother then, but I really do remember in my bones how, how it was possible on that day, to feel her age. I stooped, I felt weighted down, but cheerful, you know, I felt like her. Empathy is at the heart of the actor's art. And the door into this emotional shift is empathy.