Research Article: A bidimensional measure of empathy: Empathic Experience Scale

Date Published: April 29, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Marco Innamorati, Sjoerd J. H. Ebisch, Vittorio Gallese, Aristide Saggino, Cosimo Urgesi.


Empathy is a key notion in the study of sociality. A phenomenological perspective on empathy as intersubjective understanding offers a common ground for multiple dimensions. Corresponding to the dichotomy between perceptual and cognitive levels, two constructs can be distinguished: vicariously experiencing and intuitively understanding others’ emotions. We developed and validated a new questionnaire for the assessment of individual differences in empathy. In a first study (N = 921), we created a questionnaire measuring empathy consisting of a pool of 75 items. Exploratory factor analysis suggested to retain two factors (“Intuitive Understanding” and “Vicarious Experience”), whereas a 30-item version of the questionnaire had satisfactory psychometric properties. In a second study (N = 504), we administered the 30-items questionnaire and several concurrent/divergent measures. Confirmatory factor analysis indicated that a two-factor structure best represented its latent factor structure. The results show that our questionnaire could be considered a reliable and valid measure of empathy with internal consistencies of 0.93 and 0.95 for Vicarious Experience and Intuitive Intuitive Understanding, respectively. Whereas our questionnaire mostly showed the expected convergence with existing scales of empathy, the correlations also suggest that it adds valuable new information to the assessment of empathy. The two-factor structure suggests that the perceptual (vicarious) experience and the basic (non-effortful) cognitive awareness of others’ emotions can be assessed as distinct constructs. This bidimensional structure that distinguishes between the perceptual experience and the basic cognitive awareness of others’ emotional states connects theoretical, empirical, and clinical data from psychology and neuroscience.

Partial Text

The aim of the present study was to develop and validate a new questionnaire measuring empathy by adopting a bidimensional perspective that distinguishes between experiential and cognitive aspects of intersubjective understanding. In study 1, we found that a 30-item version of the questionnaire had good psychometric properties (alphas > 0.89) and a two-factor structure. On Factor 1 loaded items assessing the predisposition of the observer to intuitively recognize the emotional state of the other (“Intuitive Understanding”), and on Factor 2 loaded items evaluating the predisposition of the observer to perceive emotions similar to the internal state of another individual (“Vicarious Experience”). This factor structure was confirmed in a new independent sample. In Study 2, the two-factor model had a better fit to the data than two competing models (i.e., one-factor and bifactor models). Although fit indices for the two-factor and the bifactor models were comparable or even slightly better for the latter, several items loaded more strongly on the group factors than on the general factor. These results indicate weak evidence for the presence of a general factor, thus favoring the two-factor model for the EES.




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