A hot-cold empathy gap is a cognitive bias in which a person underestimates the influences of visceral drives, and instead attributes behavior primarily to other, nonvisceral factors.

The term hot-cold empathy gap was coined by Carnegie Mellon University psychologist, George Loewenstein. Hot-cold empathy gaps are one of Loewenstein’s major contributions to behavioral economics. The crux of this idea is that human understanding is “state dependent”. For example, when one is angry, it is difficult to understand what it is like for one to be happy, and vice versa; when one is blindly in love with someone, it is difficult to understand what it is like for one not to be, (or to imagine the possibility of not being blindly in love in the future). Importantly, an inability to minimize one’s gap in empathy can lead to negative outcomes in medical settings (e.g., when a doctor needs to accurately diagnose the physical pain of a patient) or in workplace settings (e.g., when an employer needs to assess the need for an employee’s bereavement leave.)

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