We get a lot of questions asked by layman users along the lines of:

I have observed X, (based on which I hypothesize this might be a recurring common pattern). I don't know what to search for. Is this studied in Psychology?

These can broadly be labeled as questions and should be tagged as such. Quite frequently there is a problem with the hypothesis:

  • A clear motivation for presuming this should be studied/is relevant to study in psychology is missing. At times, the hypothesis is even missing.
  • If a motivation is included, it is not framed in Psychology or Neuroscience, with the unfortunate result a question is often based on faulty premises.

So, I have observed this to be a common pattern over the past few years. 🙂

I feel we know how to deal with it: (1) either help the OP formulating a proper question, or (2) close as 'not framed in psychology or neuroscience'.

Instead, the purpose of this post is to start creating a resource for users to be redirected to in case they ask such questions. Perhaps, at some point this could be turned into a FAQ. Therefore, answers can extend on my observations and recommendations, to discuss whether there is a better way to deal with such questions.

  • Had you noticed my mention of roughly this phenomenon in chat yesterday, or did we happen to come across this independently? In any case I think this is a good approach to try to deal with the issue, curious to see what others can contribute here.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jul 13, 2018 at 15:45
  • 1
    @Bryan I did not, but we were obviously inspired by the same 2-3 questions posted recently. 🙂 Just goes to show this is quite common and noticeable.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Jul 13, 2018 at 20:58

2 Answers 2


These are more observations than proposed solutions:

  • I think the main problem is with asking about behavior highly specific to an individual (self or acquaintance, I guess) along the lines of: likes to smoke pipe on Sundays sitting on his head. Those questions are more or less a substitute for "what's wrong with this individual", couched as terminology/concept questions. I have to admit to sometimes giving in and answering such questions... Example: "pathological nomadness".

  • A lesser evil (quantitatively) are probably questions based on (sometime highly idiosyncratic) self-help books or even popsci blogs, which may use even common terms in uncommon ways. Asking about the research equivalent of those can be hit and miss because sometimes there's no clear definition in the source invoked... and sometimes the definition turns out to be as convoluted as smokes pipe on Sundays sitting on his head. Example: "non-neediness". Another example in which I have no idea what's actually talking about (but a lot of people here at least liked the question): Gnomes/Dopey "defence mechanism".

  • Just a side note - A question isn’t necessarily off-topic just because you don’t understand the question, and therefore, talking of the ‘gnomes’ question, it wouldn’t necessarily stand that the OP is asking for a term which doesn’t exist. I am one of those who upvoted because it is a good question which will help others who may have come across the blog article in question. I personally like questions like these because it highlights possible misconceptions with regard to psychological theory and provides a chance to clear things up. Jul 23, 2018 at 10:13
  • @ChrisRogers Not going to say much about that specific question, but "unclear" is a valid close reason.
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Jul 24, 2018 at 17:08

I think a strict strategy is needed with these questions and Is there a term for carefully hiding any reaction until a plan is in place is a case in point.

As I often comment on problematic questions like this, with looking for psychological/medical terms for everything, there can be a risk of over-pathologising.

I think that the approach needed is to assess the question on the following criteria.

  • Has the OP clearly determined that there should be a specific term for this within psychology or neuroscience?
  • If so, and above all, have they indicated prior research? – What has the OP read which makes the OP think there should be a term?

Some might say that I have become hard-nosed when it comes to prior research. But, as indicated in the prior research link, it is important for framing the question, let alone motivation for seeking an answer. Plus, the question can then be a source of learning too when there are sources of information provided.

Validity of the possibility of a term in psychology/neuroscience aside, if there is no prior research indicated in any question, the question should be closed; either for lack of research or lack of clarity/focus.

Let's have questions which clearly focus on the problem the question is trying to address.

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