Ryszard Praszkier The empassion scale: introduction, validation, and application
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*Acknowledgements. Thank you to Paige Munnik for her significant editorial contribution. This article is assigned to the Robert B. Zajonc Institute for Social Studies, University of Warsaw.
Funding: This research did not receive any specific grant from any funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
Conflicts of Interest: The author declares that there were no conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship or the publication of this article.
Ethics Statement: Data collection of this study was reviewed and accepted by the Research Ethics Committee, Institute for Social Science, University of Warsaw.
Data Availability: The data for this study are available from the author upon request.
Introduction: Empathy and Compassion
It was Aristotle (4th century BC) who proposed the term philia as the relationship between people who feel philēesis (mutual understanding) for one another. In Aristotle’s understanding, philēesis is a deep desire for the eudaimonia of another person—most closely explained as empathy and compassion (Curzer, 2007; Barnes, 2014).
In the Middle Ages, Augustine (5th century AC) argued that compassion is the ability to feel another’s misery, which encourages us to provide support (Ruys, 2018). Some authors claim that in the Middle Ages, compassion and empathy played a significant role, despite not yet having been named or fully discovered (e.g., Morrison, 2013).
At the beginning of the 20th century, John Dewey considered community and civil society as the social core, highlighting mutual care and understanding, which today is apparently perceived as social compassion and empathy (Dewey, 1966).
Compassion has always been present in religious teachings, and—together with empathy—is a fulcrum for positive social relationships (Davis, 2017).
At the beginning of the 20th century, German psychologist Theodor Lipps introduced the term Einfühlung (German: “feeling with”), referring to the tendency of perceivers to project themselves into the objects of perception and experience themselves as being “in” the object (Lipps, 1903; Håkansson, 2003; Praszkier, 2014).
The term empathy per se was coined by American psychologist Edward Bradford Titchener during the process of developing Lipp’s concept (Titchener, 1909).
The empathy concept for humans is essential in many fields, e.g., social and personality psychology, neuroscience, and clinical psychology (Hall, Schwartz, 2017). However, in the literature, multiple denotations of this concept are available, e.g., Cuff et al. identified 43 definitions (2014, pp. 3–4).
Here, empathy is defined as the proficiency to understand or feel what another person is experiencing, from their point of view; in other words, it is the ability to place oneself in another person’s shoes (Lazarus, 1994; Davis, 2006; Barnett, Mann, 2013; Praszkier, 2014; Breyer, 2020).
There are two basic dimensions of empathy (Cuff et al., 2014; Read, 2019): affective, i.e., emotionally tuning into the feelings of others (Batson et al., 2005; Decety, Lamm, 2006; Eisenberg, Strayer, 1987; Hein, Singer, 2008; Roy, 2010), and cognitive, i.e., the ability to understand another (Mead, 1967; Ickes, 1997; De Vignemont, Singer, 2006; Piaget, 2008; van der Weele, 2011). Some definitions, however, include both (Cohen, Strayer, 1996; Batson et al., 2005; Eisenberg, Fabes, Spinrad, 2006; Decety, Moriguchi, 2007; Oliveira-Silva, Gonçalves, 2011).
There is indication that compassion has been prevalent among animals, especially humanoids, as since prehistoric times (Hublin, 2009).
In contemporary times, compassion directly addresses caring for others. It is defined as the capacity for being moved by the suffering of others and wanting to help alleviate it (Norris, 2013). In common understanding, compassion is the desire to alleviate another’s suffering (Moreno-Jiménez, Demerouti, Blanco-Donoso, 2022).
Compassion evolved as a function facilitating cooperation, as well to protect the weak and those suffering. As such, it shapes moral judgment and action (Goetz, Keltner, Simon-Thomas, 2010) in organizations and businesses, as experiencing compassion in times of suffering helps employees resume or reengage with their work (Lilius et al., 2013).
Empathy and Compassion in Changemaking
Empathy requires imagining the role of another (Håkansson, 2003), and as such, is perceived as one of the core drivers of changemaking (Gerdes, Segal, 2011; van Kirk, 2016; Raber, 2018), especially in the field of clinical psychology (e.g., Ickes, 2009).
Compassion is seen as a cardinal component in various areas of diverse human activities (e.g., Davis, 2017), including social entrepreneurship (Grimes et al., 2012; Miller et al., 2012), medicine (e.g., Taylor, 1997; Straughair, 2019), and management (Koopmans, 2018).
Measuring Empathy and Compassion
Measuring Empathy. There have been several studies measuring empathy, dating back as far as the 1940s (Dymond, 1949). A questionnaire developed for social workers, rooted in social cognitive neuroscience and developmental psychology, was introduced as the Empathy Assessment Index (EAI; Gerdes, Segal, 2011). In clinical psychology, there are several instruments available for measuring empathy (Ilgunaite, Giromini, Di Girolamo, 2017). One of the most popular assessment tools is the Empathy Quotient, introduced for individuals with ASD (Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, 2004). This article follows on from its concise version, i.e., the Empathy Quotient Short Questionnaire (22 items), which has good psychometric properties (Wakabayashi et al., 2006).
Measuring Compassion. A study analyzing the existing compassion assessment tools identified an unmet need for a psychometrically validated instrument that comprehensively measures the construct of compassion (Sinclair et al., 2017).
This need seems to have been currently met by the recently published Compassion Scale (16 items), which was verified on an N = 465 sample, demonstrating good psychometric properties (Pommier, Neff, Tóth-Király, 2020). Therefore, the Compassion Scale was further used in this article.
Empassion: Merging Empathy with Compassion
On the one hand, empathy is commonly seen as a prosocial and morally positive factor; however, it may also serve as a tool for pursuing negative acts, e.g., through narcissistic or manipulative use of the deepened knowledge of another (Konrath et al., 2014; Breithaupt, 2018). It may especially relate to persons with a psychopathic personality (Hart, 2020; van Dongen, 2020).
This indicates that empathy per se is not enough to assure caring relationships. The complementary parameter should hence relate to sympathizing with others, i.e., having a high compassion level.
Similarly, compassion per se may be blind without understanding the real needs of another and may even turn out to be dangerous (Wel, 2020)—and as such, is seen in some cases as “idiotic compassion” (e.g., McCaffrey, 2015).
The conjecture is that if empathy does not guarantee positive action, and if compassion without empathy may lead to action unrelated to real needs, there emerges a need for a blended phenomenon: Empassion. Recent neuroscience research posits that merging compassion with empathy may be considered a predictor of individuals’ prosocial behavior (Chierchia, Singer, 2017; Stevens, Woodruff, 2018; Stevens, Taber, 2021).
This would require adapting the two scales into a joint one. This Empassion Scale (ES) could then measure the propensity for feeling and understanding others, as well as for caring for them and sympathizing with their problems.
Combining empathy and compassion into one phenomenon and scale provides a comprehensive psychological category allowing to group all of the positive and avoid all of the negative aspects of each category occurring separately.
Research Goals and Hypotheses
The goal of the present study was to validate the new Empassion Scale and verify its validity in comparison to the Empathy Quotient Short and Compassion Scale. Moreover, it aimed to compare the level of Empassion among various segments of the sample.
The main hypothesis is that the new ES Scale will have good psychometric properties, and that its correlation with the Empathy Quotient Short and Compassion Scale will document its validity. A further conjecture is that the Empassion level will be higher in females than males, as well as higher among those with leadership, social activity, and innovativeness experience than those without these experiences.
The inspiration for building a new scale that merges empathy and compassion came from the aforementioned Empathy Quotient Short Questionnaire and Compassion Scale. The 16 initial items for the Empassion Scale were developed from scratch, though inspired by these two existing scales.
Constructing the Empassion Scale (ES)
The conjecture is that there are two primary categories for Empassion: Tuning in with understanding and Engagement. The first is hypothetically broken down into Understanding and Tuning in, while the latter is divided into Emotional engagement and caring for others (see Table 1).
Table 1. Categories, subcategories, and items for the Empassion Scale
Validation of the Empassion Scale
The items mentioned in Table 1 were randomized: four were reversed and four additional buffer items were added.
The Sample. This study was conducted on an N = 338 sample of Polish society, comprising 203 women (60.1%) and 135 men (39.9%); 113 subjects with a leadership role (33.4%) and 225 without (66.6%); 121 subjects involved in a social project (35.8.0%) and 217 not (64.2%); 106 subjects who perceived themselves as innovators (31.4%) and 232 that did not (68.6%).
For age and education, see Tables 2 and 3.
Table 2. Age distribution
Table 3. Education level
Reliability. After removing the buffer items, the analysis showed that the over-all reliability of the 16-item ES was very good: The scale’s Cronbach’s alpha = .891. Table 4 demonstrates the psychometric properties: Cronbach’s alpha for all items was > .8. Moreover, all items, except the four reversed items, correlated with the entire scale between the average and high levels.
Table 4. Psychometric properties of the ES
Factor Analysis. To verify the validity of the questionnaire, factor analysis using the 16 variables of the Empassion scale was conducted. Principal component analysis (PSA) was applied, and a varimax rotation was conducted. The factor analysis method was justified since the Kaiser–Mayer–Olkin test on the standardized data showed a KMO of .92. Additionally, the Bartlett’s test of sphericity was found to be statistically significant (χ²(190) = 3415.689; p < .001). Three factors were identified, explaining 64% of the variance (Table 5).
The significant loadings are shown in bold. This distribution indicates that Factor 1 represents the “Tuning in with understanding” category, while Factor 2 the “Engagement” category (see Table 1). Factor 3 consists solely of reversed items, encompassing all four of them; if reversed back, these four items would also fit the conjected distribution (Table 1).
The reliability of these two factors measured separately turned out to be very high: For Tuning in with understanding, Cronbach’s alpha was .817, and for Engagement, it was .805 (see Tables 6 and 7).
Table 5. Factor analysis: Matrix of the rotated loadings, by varimax rotation
Table 6. Reliability of the Tuning in with understanding factor
Table 7. Reliability of the Engagement factor
Cross-Segment Comparative Analysis
In order to explore the Empassion level in various populations, cross-segment comparative analysis was applied. There was a significant difference in the level of Empassion in all tested groups:
Gender. Empassion in the female group (Nf = 203) was 60.8; meanwhile, in the male group (Nm = 135), it was significantly lower: 55.8; t(336) = 5.58; p = .0000.
Leadership Experience. The Empassion level of those who had leadership experience (NL = 113) differed significantly from those who did not (N~L = 225). In the “No” group Empassion was 5.6, while in the “Yes” group, it was 61.2; t(336) = 3.82; p = .0002.
Social Activity. Those involved in social activities (NS = 121) demonstrated a significantly different empathy level than those who were not (N~S = 217): The “No” group’s empathy level was 57.73, whereas the “Yes” group’s was 60.68; t(336) = 3.13; p = .0019.
Being an Innovator. Empassion of the innovators (NI = 106) significantly differed to that of the noninnovators (N~I = 232): 60.60 vs. 57.95, respectively; t(336) = 2.71; p = .0071.
Validity: Correlation with Empathy Quotient Short and Compassion Scale
To verify the hypothesis that there is a significant correlation between Empassion and empathy, the Pearson’s r (PCC) test was performed, which documented that this correlation was significant (see Tables 8 and 9).
Table 8. Empassion correlation with empathy, coefficients in the entire sample
Table 9. Empassion correlation with compassion, coefficients in the entire sample
This PCC analysis confirmed the validity of the Empassion Scale (ES), documenting that there was a highly significant correlation between ES and both scales: Measuring empathy and compassion.
This study supported the concept of creating a new method of social analysis,
i.e., the Empassion Scale, which proved to have good psychometric properties, being ready to use in further psychological studies.
The theoretical analysis supported the claim that the Empassion phenomenon has a significant meaning in the psychology and social arena and is worth developing as a separate theoretical category, as well as a way of measuring.
This fills the gap, as in various fields of psychology, studies and education are usually conducted separately for empathy and compassion. For example, in business, empathy (e.g., Cohen, 2012; Holt et al., 2017) is detached from compassion (Bejou, 2011; Solomon, 2015), while in healthcare, the approach to empathy (e.g., Sanchez et al., 2019; Moudatsou et al., 2020) is separate and unrelated to compassion (e.g., Youngson, 2011; de Zulueta, 2013; Hojat et al., 2013, 2018). Similarly, in family studies, empathy (Miklikowska, Duriez, Soenens, 2011; Yoo, Feng, Day, 2013) is disconnected from compassion (Park, Ackerman, 2011; Kirby, 2016). This study paves the way for perceiving empathy and compassion as a single positive phenomenon: Empassion, without isolated empathy and compassion doubts.
This study fully supported the conjecture that the Empassion Scale has very good psychometric properties and is significantly correlated with empathy and compassion scales. As such, it is a valuable tool to measure the level of blended empathy and compassion. Moreover, it documented that females scored significantly higher on Empassion than males, similarly to people socially involved, with people who are leaders and innovators having a higher Empassion level than those who are not.
Future studies should confirm the Empassion Scale’s psychometric properties in different (e.g., Great Britain and the USA) and larger samples, using similar and complementary alternative analytic methods.
Empassion may be used as a gateway for training young leaders, as well as caregivers. The ES may help to evaluate training results or to recruit staff.
It is important to add that Empassion is trainable and can be trained and ingrained, especially among youth and future social and business leaders (Chierchia, Singer, 2017; Marsh, 2018). Moreover, leaders can foster conditions that facilitate empathy and compassion (Lilius et al., 2013). The ES may help in appraising the training results.
Empathy is one of the pivotal concepts (together with trust and dialogue) contributing to conflict prevention (Head, 2012). Similarly, compassion and its training could reduce intergroup conflict (Branje, Meeus, 2006; Klimecki, 2019). The blended Empassion Scale may be key to selecting and evaluating peacemakers and peacebuilders in conflicted areas.
Empassion as a Key to Prosocial Behavior: Example of Implementation
The following example demonstrates how Empassion is involved in ingraining prosocial attitudes and behavior:
Mary Gordon,2 based in Canada, is eradicating aggression from schools through bringing neighborhood babies into the classroom in a cycle of “empathy lessons.” She realized that a lack of empathy is at the heart of the growing aggression in primary schools, and thus initiated a way to augment empathy and compassion through introducing classes in which students relate with babies and their mothers into the curriculum. In this vein, she developed the program Roots of Empathy (Gordon, 2005). Longitudinal research, in which classes participating in ROE were matched with similar classes that were not, has shown that children who participated in the program demonstrated, a few years later, decreased aggression and increased prosocial behavior (e.g., sharing, helping, and including) as compared to those who did not (Santos et al., 2011; Schonert-Reichl et al., 2012).
As such, the Roots of Empathy program has been adapted and is spreading throughout Canadian schools, as well as across some European countries.
2 See: https://rootsofempathy.org/. Accessed 30 April 2023.
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