Are You A 'True Empath'? These 20 Questions Will Help You Find Out

Empathy can be hard to convey in a world dominated by technology, but it can be done. Here's how to tell if you're capable of it.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | July 04, 2024

The term "empathy" is frequently thrown around, and many of us like to think we understand and embody this crucial human trait. Yet, despite our best intentions, the reality is that true empathy often eludes us. This discrepancy is even more pronounced in the digital age; genuine empathy becomes increasingly difficult to both demonstrate and recognize in a world dominated by virtual communication.

However, an abundance of psychological research offers insights into what real empathy looks like in today's modern context. By exploring these findings, we can learn how to hone and express true empathy, even in the digital age—as well as how to spot the true empaths among us.

What Does Empathy Actually Entail In The Digital Age?

Technology has undeniably revolutionized the way we communicate; it has broken down geographical barriers and enabled instant connection with anyone, anywhere in the world. This digital leap has allowed for unparalleled convenience in maintaining relationships and sharing experiences. However, this very advancement has also introduced some obstacles in making meaningful contact with others.

A 2001 study from The Internet and Health Communication highlights how technology strips away vital indicators of empathy from our conversations. That is, gestures and non-verbal signals that show others that we are listening, understanding and caring—which are the predominant means of displaying empathy.

While emojis and GIFs can relay basic emotions, they fall short of conveying the depth of empathy that physical cues like eye contact, genuine smiles and nods do. Without these non-verbal signals, our digital interactions can often feel superficial and detached.

Although the study notes that online empathy is both possible and observable, empathy in itself is not one-dimensional. In reality, empathy falls under two categories: affective and cognitive. And in digital settings, your empathy must be dynamic in order to truly transcend the screen it appears on.

The Difference Between Cognitive And Affective Empathy

According to a 2023 study from Psychological Reports, to master digital empathy, we need to develop a sophisticated blend of both cognitive and affective empathy—with a particular emphasis on cognitive empathy.

  • Affective empathy is about mirroring the feelings of others, or experiencing their emotions alongside them.
  • Cognitive empathy, on the other hand, involves recognizing another person's perspective and emotions—essentially putting yourself in their shoes intellectually.

Imagine receiving a message from a friend who is going through a hard time. If you rely solely on affective empathy, you might say, "I'm so sorry to hear that," and add a sad emoji to mirror their emotions. While this shows you care, it might not fully address their specific concerns or offer genuine support.

But, by honing cognitive empathy, you can show your concern in a way that is both compassionate and considerate. For instance, saying instead, "I'm so sorry to hear that; I can imagine that must be hard. What's on your mind? Is there anything in particular that's been bothering you?" This way, your empathy doesn't end with mirroring their feelings. Instead, it reflects an effort to genuinely interpret and appreciate their current experiences.

Simply put, affective empathy involves sharing emotions, whereas cognitive empathy involves understanding emotions. The internet and social media are already all about sharing; however, conveying understanding is more vital than ever when face-to-face interactions aren't possible. Without attempting to understand others' experiences, your empathy might be construed as just sympathy.

How To Tell If You're A True Empath

To know whether your empathy has what it takes to make it across the digital realm, consider these questionnaire items from a 2022 study from Personality and Individual Differences:

  1. If I saw my friend being made a fool of, I would feel uncomfortable.
  2. Watching little puppies playing makes me feel happy.
  3. Hearing the cheer of a sports crowd gives me a thrill.
  4. I would feel angry if I saw a man hitting a defenseless woman.
  5. When I see people in a movie having an adventure, I get excited.
  6. Seeing people sad at a funeral would make me feel sad too.
  7. Seeing a man pointing a gun at an unarmed person would make me feel frightened.
  8. I feel pleased when someone tells me some good news they have just had.
  9. It makes me feel cheerful to see children running around having fun.
  10. I would feel worried for a small child being chased by a big dog.

If you think you display the above behaviors more often than not, then you have a high level of affective empathy. This means that you naturally tune into the emotions of others, feeling their joy, sadness or frustration as if it were your own. Now, consider these:

  1. I know why my friends are cheerful, even when they don't say why.
  2. I can tell when someone is feeling guilty.
  3. When someone is in a good mood, I can tell by how they look and behave.
  4. I can tell from their face and how they behave when someone is ashamed.
  5. I can understand how characters in an exciting story feel.
  6. I know when someone is unhappy, even before they say why.
  7. When a friend is teased, I understand why they get upset.
  8. I know when my family members are pleased by how they talk.
  9. When someone is disappointed, I can tell by how they look.
  10. I can put myself in someone else's shoes when they describe being happy.

If these statements are reflective of you, then you have a high level of cognitive empathy. This means that you are adept at understanding and considering other people's perspectives and emotions.

However, if you feel you display both sets of the above behaviors, then you're likely a true empath. You not only share in the emotions of others, but you also understand the context and reasons behind these emotions. You probably have no trouble celebrating others' highs and commiserating their lows. And when friends vent to you, you easily grasp the specific challenges they faced and how they made them feel—even if you haven't experienced it yourself. Most importantly, you're likely an invaluable source of thoughtful and relevant support—even in online settings.

Want to know exactly how true of an empath you are? Take the Cognitive and Affective Empathy Scale to find out.

A similar version of this article can also be found on, here.

© Psychology Solutions 2024. All Rights Reserved.