I'm looking for a verb or noun that refers to our capacity to abstract someone else’s experience or experiences vicariously. Such a word would be good for describing what it takes to be able to profile a serial killer or to survive after analyzing a victim's suicide note for examples. I'm looking for a more clinical term than empathy.

'Empathy' would work if the line between definition and connotation weren't so ambiguous. Most of the definitions I found, however, seem to necessitate personal opinion toward the other's experience, such as deeming his/her emotions as appropriate for the situation. I looking for anything that refrains from such presumptions.

  • How can you put yourself in the shoes of a serial killer without personal feelings or emotions?
    – user66974
    Mar 26, 2015 at 8:30
  • Maybe conceptualize?
    – dartonw
    Mar 26, 2015 at 9:15
  • Josh, I'm looking for a word that's not about agreeing or even disagreeing with the person's feelings/reactions. I merely want a word that merely states our ability to understand or imagine with accuracy another's process, akin to what a good actor can do. I just don't want acceptance/approval of said process to be so implicitly implied, especially if the actor's playing a villain. Conceptualize is good but it's not interdependent enough.
    – OscarE
    Mar 26, 2015 at 15:43
  • The closet term I could find so far is 'cognitive empathy', so to use it as a verb would be 'cognitively empathize'? I might have to settle for that. I was also thinking of using 'commensal empathy' if that makes sense. I would rather have any phrase that avoids the ambiguity of 'empathy' altogether at this point though.
    – OscarE
    Mar 26, 2015 at 16:04

4 Answers 4


This sort of ambiguity is why, in clinical discussions, empathy is often divided into two classes:

  • Emotional (or "affective") empathy - to experience an emotional response appropriate to another's state
  • Cognitive empathy - to understand another's state or perspective without an emotional response

Empathy is not the same as sympathy. In Sympathy you understand and relate. In empathy you understand but don't have to relate. The word you are looking for is empathize.

"Empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference, ie, the capacity to place oneself in another's shoes."


This is not clinical, but I suggest

  • get inside their head

This implies that you are carefully analyzing/constructing what might be going on in the person's thoughts or emotions, without identifying with or empathizing with the person.

  • How would you rephrase that as an ability? I'm looking for something I can use repeatedly.
    – OscarE
    Mar 27, 2015 at 19:13
  • I don't know. it's an idiom. Mar 28, 2015 at 7:21

Sounds akin to profiling (class, category, grouping, clustering) - We group a set of experiences or traits into a profile.

Synthetic holds some appeal in that we would be creating unnaturally something that occurs naturally.

There is Projection of ones own bias into the situation.

Empathy is still a strong word.

Will make up my own word and go with Synthathy Projection.

Just don't say it out loud, unless you are ok with your tongue stuck to your front teeth.

  • Profiling is very close. Projection seems to be the inverse of that though. The problem with profiling is that it doesn't refer to an ability. If there was a poem contest for who can most accurately describe the experience of first landing on the moon (despite never being there), could I say the winner has a better capacity for profiling Neil Armstrong than others (assume he’s the judge)? I just want to be sure that sounds right.
    – OscarE
    Mar 27, 2015 at 19:56
  • Are you looking for the word 'channeling'?
    – darkree
    Apr 1, 2015 at 17:37

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