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Table 1 Clearing up conceptual issues. Despite the abundance of definitions of empathy, it is possible and recommended to differentiate emotional contagion, empathy, sympathy and personal distress

From: The empathic brain and its dysfunction in psychiatric populations: implications for intervention across different clinical conditions

- Emotional contagion is tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another individual.
- Empathy is an emotional response that stems from another's state and that is congruent with the other's emotional state. It involves at least a minimal distinction between self and other. Empathy is not a separate emotion by itself, but a kind of induction process by which emotions, both positive and negative, are shared, and which increase the chances of similar behaviors in the observer.
- Personal distress is an aversive state (e.g., anxiety, worry) that has not to be congruent with the other's state, and that leads to a self-oriented, egoistic reaction.
- Sympathy (or empathic concern) refers to feelings of sorrow, or sorry for another. It is often the consequence of empathy, although it is possible that sympathy results from cognitive perspective taking. Sympathy is believed to involve an other-oriented, altruistic motivation.
- Emotion can be considered a process that facilitates appropriate physiological responses to aid the survival of the organism.