Conceptualising and measuring empathy

Karen E. Gerdes, Elizabeth Segal, Cynthia Lietz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


The purpose of this article is to briefly review the most influential existing literature on conceptualizing and measuring empathy. In addition, we consider a second, highly salient body of literature emerging from the relatively new field of social cognitive neuroscience, which uses brain imaging to help identify the physiological components of emotional and cognitive processes. We believe that social cognitive neuroscience can assist social work in clarifying concrete, consistent ways of defining and measuring empathy as a neurological phenomenon. Finally, we assess some of the most recent social work-related empirical intervention-based research on empathy. Combining all these research traditions leads to a compelling possibility: a unified, consistent, and robust way to define and measure the empathic responses that help form the foundation of just and beneficent social structures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2326-2343
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2010


  • Affect sharing
  • Black and ethnic minority
  • Empathy
  • Measurement
  • Perspective taking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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