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Empathy or Sympathy: a necessary distinction?

Departmental Research Grand Round

Presented by: 

Professor Ivana S. Marková (Hull York Medical School, University of Hull)

Chaired by:

Dr CHAN Kit Wa, Sherry (Clinical Associate Professor)


6 July 2023


8:30 am


9:30 am


Lecture Room 211 A&B, 2/F, New Clinical Building, Queen Mary Hospital and Zoom


Empathy and sympathy are concepts inherent to clinical practice, to lay and technical languages and

attract much psychological and neuroscientific research. However, their definitions remain opaque and

both terms are used variably and often enough interchangeably. This carries important implications for

the validity of empirical work and demands conceptual clarification.

The modern concept of empathy originated in 1873 when, in the field of aesthetics, Robert Vischer

coined the term ‘Einfühlung’ (‘feeling into’) to refer to our response and interaction with the world. The

concept was then taken up and debated extensively within aesthetics, psychology, philosophy and

phenomenology giving rise to differing and conflicting views concerning the nature of the phenomenon

and its underlying mechanism.

A much older term, sympathy in Ancient Greece referred to the attraction between objects and to

communication at a distance. In relation to medicine/psychiatry, at least three independent, albeit

overlapping concepts of sympathy can be traced, prominent in their times and with varying connections

to the older concept and to each other: i) action at a distance, ii) physiological sympathy, and iii)

psychological/moral sympathy, referring to fellow feeling.

Exploring these concepts illustrates some of the difficulties and complexities in carrying out such

research. It brings to light their continuities and discontinuities, their instabilities, the ways and times in

which they converge and diverge and overlap with related concepts. It also highlights how these

concepts have been shaped over time through changes in thinking, outlooks, fashions, through the

influences of different disciplines and many other factors.


Format: Hybrid (face-to-face and zoom)


Registration Link:

Please click into the below link for registration (face-to-face or zoom)as follow:

Deadline for registration is 30 June 2023.

Zoom link of the seminar will be automatically sent to registered email address after registration.

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