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How Empathic Are You?

How well can you read other people's feelings?

Posted on
Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed

Do you burst into tears in solidarity as soon as your mum starts crying? Or do you struggle to figure out how your friends are feeling?

There's a questionnaire, based on real psychological science, that can determine how empathic you are, but first you should know a few things about what it means.

"The way I think of [empathy] is as this emotional resonance that we have with other individuals when we come to interact with them or share an experience with them," psychologist Nathan Spreng told BuzzFeed Science.

In 2009, Spreng, now an assistant professor at Cornell University, and colleagues published something called the Toronto Empathy Questionnaire that measures how empathic someone is, based on their own reflections of their behaviour.

There are different strands to empathy, and your level of empathy is not necessarily fixed.

"One aspect of empathy is really being in touch with the feeling state of other individuals, however there's another component where you reason towards what other people are thinking and feeling as you try to understand them," Spreng says. "Like, if you see someone in a situation and you're not quite sure why they're distressed, you can think it through: 'Right, why are they distressed? What situation has lead to that happening?' And once you think through it you can generally have that feeling yourself too."

And some research has shown that you can increase your empathy levels by doing certain things. For example, a paper published in Science in 2013 found that reading more fiction can increase people's performance on tests that require understanding of other people's thoughts and feelings and how they differ from their own. "The idea is that when you're reading fiction, you're immersed in other people's stories," says Spreng, "so when you read a lot of fiction you become immersed in more people's lives, and that actually improves your ability to be empathic."

Take the questionnaire and see how you measure up.

There are 16 questions, and you should answer them as honestly as you can. Off you go!