Sympathy (from the Greek words syn "together" and pathos "feeling" which means "fellow-feeling") is the perception, understanding, and reaction to the distress or need of another human being. This empathic concern is driven by a switch in viewpoint, from a personal perspective to the perspective of another group or individual who is in need. Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably. Sympathy is a feeling, but the two terms have distinct origins and meanings. Merriam Webster defines empathy as "the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else's feelings." Their definition of sympathy is "the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else's trouble, grief, misfortune, etc. : a feeling of support for something : a state in which different people share the same interests, opinions, goals, etc." See professor Paul Bloom on empathy.
In order to get an experience of sympathy there are specific conditions that need to occur. These include: attention to a subject, believing that a person/group is in a state of need, and the specific characteristics of a given situation. An individual must first give his or her attention to a person/group. Distractions severely limit the ability to produce strong affective responses. Without distractions, people are able to attend to and respond to a variety of emotional subjects and experiences. Attention facilitates the experience of sympathy, and without giving undivided attention to many situations sympathy cannot be experienced.