The Cognitive and Affective Empathy Test

June 5, 2020
The cognitive and affective empathy test is both an interesting and useful test. Its purpose is to evaluate the degree to which an individual is able not only to connect and feel other people's emotions but also to understand them.

The cognitive and affective empathy test by I. Fernández Pinto, B. López-Pérez, and F. José García Abad is a complete, easy-to-apply instrument. Since its publication in 2008, it stands as a highly valid and reliable resource to study the dimension of empathy. The great characteristic of this instrument is that it’s not general. Instead, it analyzes both components of empathy: the cognitive and the affective.

Moreover, a little more than a year ago, a very interesting book arrived on the market: The Empathy Effect by Helen Riess. She’s a professor at Harvard University and director of the empathy program at Massachusetts General Hospital. To write this book, she analyzed the lack of this dimension in the medical and organizational fields.

In summary, she arrived at the conclusion that many of those who, as of today, have a position of responsibility towards others, fail in this very basic competence.

You can have amazing skills to develop your work. You can have numerous studies, a high IQ, and a leadership position. However, when empathy fails, it’s impossible to feel whole. It’s feeling weak in many different circumstances. For example, in the ability to maintain empathic communication, to understand others to reach agreements, and to create alliances and network with others. Feeling unable to do these things hinders the possibility of having adequate emotional intelligence.

Therefore, having assertive resources to measure this dimension can be of great help. And even better when it’s possible to make use of them in different areas such as social, organizational, and clinical.

Likewise, with tests such as the cognitive and affective empathy test, we can help a person become aware of their empathic limitations and get them to work on them.

Two people looking at each other in the eyes.

The cognitive and affective empathy test: purpose, characteristics, and reliability

The cognitive and affective empathy test has very specific purposes. First of all, having a rigorous and simple tool to apply in several areas. Secondly, creating a questionnaire capable of offering a universal measurement of empathy.

Therefore, the purpose of this test is none other than measuring empathic ability from a cognitive and affective approach. Fernández, et al. (2008), which are the authors of this test, consider that empathy is a fundamental phenomenon in the study of human behavior. Therefore, having this resource is both interesting and necessary.

Let’s delve a little deeper into it.

In what areas can it be applied?

One can apply the cognitive and affective empathy test to an individual 16 years of age or older. Therefore, it’s possible to apply it in the educational field. However, this test was developed with the idea of ​​being useful in three very specific fields:

  • Clinical area. Used to evaluate the influence empathy exerts on psychological disorders as well as criminal behavior.
  • Social area. In this scenario, many use this test to better understand prosocial behaviors, moral behavior, aggressiveness, etc.
  • Organizational area. As expected, empathy is important to creating better work scenarios, improving the work environment, reducing stress, and optimizing communication and productivity, among other things.

The four scales of the cognitive and affective empathy test

The cognitive and affective empathy test consists of 33 items (questions) with a Likert-type response typology. In other words, the person evaluated must choose between strongly agree, agree, undecided, disagree, and strongly disagree. We must note that the main objective of this instrument is ​​evaluating the two basic components of empathy, which are the following:

  • Cognitive empathy. The ability to identify and understand people’s emotions.
  • Affective empathy. The ability to feel and connect with people’s emotions, sensations, and feelings.

On the other hand, and in order to evaluate these two areas, the cognitive and affective empathy test is structured in four scales:

  • Adoption of perspectives. The cognitive ability that helps us understand the vision, thoughts, and perspectives of others.
  • Emotional understanding. This refers to the ability associated with connecting with the emotions, impressions, and intentions of those around you.
  • Empathic stress. This dimension is about an individual’s competence (or incompetence) to be in tune with other people’s negative emotions.
  • Empathic joy. As opposed to the previous scale, empathic joy refers to the ability to understand and detect the positive emotions of those around you.
A person filling in the cognitive and affective empathy test.

Is it reliable?

López-Pérez, Fernández-Pinto, and Abad (2008), authors of the cognitive and affective empathy test, managed to create a valid, reliable, and easy-to-apply test. In fact, it’s done in just over 10 minutes! Moreover, their scaling is based on percentile scores obtained from a large sample of the general population of adult men and women.

In brief, this instrument is highly reliable, and it’s very useful to evaluate people 16 and older. It stands as an excellent resource for any company, work center, health center, or social organization. Empathy is a dimension that we should understand better, and this test helps us do just that.

  • López, B.; Fernández-Pinto, I.; Abad, F.J. (2008). Test de empatía cognitiva y afectiva. Madrid: TEA Ediciones