The most important aspect 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 calm, 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), and in workplace settings (e.g., when an employer needs to assess the need for an employee’s bereavement leave).
Hot-cold empathy gaps can be analyzed according to their direction:
- Hot-to-cold: People under the influence of visceral factors (hot state) don’t fully grasp how much their behavior and preferences are being driven by their current state; they think instead that these short-term goals reflect their general and long-term preferences.
- Cold-to-hot: People in a cold state have difficulty picturing themselves in hot states, minimizing the motivational strength of visceral impulses. This leads to unpreparedness when visceral forces inevitably arise.
They can also be classified in regards to their relation with time (past or future) and whether they occur intra- or inter-personally:
- intrapersonal prospective: the inability to effectively predict their own future behavior when in a different state. See also projection bias.
- intrapersonal retrospective: when people recall or try to understand behaviors that happened in a different state. See retrospective hot-cold empathy gaps.
- interpersonal: the attempt to evaluate behaviors or preferences of another person who is in a state different from one’s own.