Coffee Chat (CC-08): ‘Empathy in Crisis’

On February 18th, we unpacked the concept of empathy in our Miro board

We started by sharing our own understanding of empathy, after which Álvaro Chang gave us some definitions from the field of design and psychology, highlighting how designers use it more as a means towards an end (understanding the user to design better products). We engaged in critical conversations discussing the desire to (not) define empathy, and to (not) measure it. Many were hesitant about measuring empathy, as it should not be something that you can claim to be – rather it is something that is awarded by others. We talked extensively of various ways empathy is currently being measured, and how both qualitative and quantitative means need to complement each other to create meaning. 

When thinking about empathy, it is useful to imagine sources of evidence building an argument of what is empathy as rivers flowing into a fresh Finnish lake. To build a comprehensive understanding of empathy, we can make use of different sources of evidence. Ultimately, measuring empathy should not be about self-validation, but about enhancing our understanding to contribute to creating feelings of togetherness, and connectedness.

Perhaps, this is even more important now that we are always remote from each other. 


Alvaro and Floris

Additional Readings

Baron-Cohen, S., & Wheelwright, S. (2004). The empathy quotient: An investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high functioning autism, and normal sex differences. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 163–175.

Batson, C. D., Early, S., & Salvarani, G. (1997). Perspective taking: Imagining how another feels versus imagining how you would feel. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 751–758.

Davis, M. H. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85. Retrieved from

Galinsky, A. D., & Moskowitz, G. B. (2000). Perspective-taking: Decreasing stereotype expression, stereotype accessibility, and in-group favoritism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(4), 708-724. 

Heylighen, A., & Dong, A. (2019). To empathise or not to empathise? Empathy and its limits in design. Design Studies, 65, 107-124. Retrieved from 

Ickes, W. (1993). Empathic accuracy. Journal of Personality, 61(4), 587-610. Retrieved from

Johnson, D. R. (2013). Transportation into literary fiction reduces prejudice against and increases empathy for Arab-Muslims. Scientific Study of Literature, 3(1), 77-92.

Levenson, R. W., & Gottman, J. M. (1983). Marital interaction: Physiological linkage and affective exchange. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(3), 587-597. Retrieved from

Levenson, R. W., & Gottman, J. M. (1985). Physiological and affective predictors of change in relationship satisfaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49(1), 85–94. Retrieved from

Levenson, R. W., & Ruef, A. M. (1992). Empathy: A physiological substrate. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(2), 234-246. Retrieved from

Marangoni, C., Garcia, S., Ickes, W., & Teng, G. (1995). Empathic accuracy in a clinically relevant setting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(5), 854-869. Retrieved from,%20Garcia,%20Ickes,%20and%20Teng.pdf

Neumann, D. L. & Westbury, H. R. (2011). The psychophysiological measurement of empathy. In D. J. Scapaletti (Ed.), Psychology of Empathy, (pp. 119-142). Nova Science Publishers.

Rameson, L. T., Morelli, S. A., & Lieberman, M. D. (2012). The neural correlates of empathy: Experience, automaticity, and prosocial behaviour. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24(1), 235–245. doi:10.1162/ jocn_a_00130 

Spreng, R. N., McKinnon, M. C., Mar, R. A., & Levine, B. (2009). The Toronto empathy questionnaire: Scale development and initial validation of a factor-analytic solution to multiple empathy measures. Journal of Personality Assessment91(1), 62–71. Retrieved from

Vuoskoski, J. K., Clarke, E. F., & DeNora, T. (2017). Music listening evokes implicit affiliation. Psychology of Music 45(4), 584–599.

Zaki, J., Weber, J., Bolger, N., & Ochsner, K. N. (2009). The neural basis of empathic accuracy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(27), 11382-11387. Retrieved from

By Floris van der Marel

I have a strong interest in power and agency in participatory design, which I am currently unpacking as part of my PhD research, building on my educational and professional background in design research for interaction.

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