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I remember this being discussed before, but cannot remember where to find a specific policy if we have one. Do we want some sort of formal stance on self-help questions?

It seems that we are currently dealing with self-help type questions in an inconsistent matter as raised in this chat discussion.

Some examples of recent self-help type questions (feel free to edit this list):

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I think a major issue is whether there is a question of general interest.

Problems with "self-help" questions

Self-help questions are often uninteresting for several reasons:

  • they concern the person's specific circumstances.
  • they are often asked by lay people and thus are not grounded in the scientific literature, which in turn is related to questions that can be overly broad (e.g., the "brainwashed" question)

Benefits of lay questions

That said, questions motivated by a personal problem or situation can still yield an interesting question (e.g., the leg jiggling question). And I see one role of this site as providing scientific answers to questions that lay people are asking in the real world.

Consider editing salvageable "self-help" questions

Of course, some questions under the self-help category can't be saved. However, in general, with questions that fall into the self-help category, I would encourage users of the site, where possible, to actively edit the question so that what remains is a clear question that is amenable to a scientific answer. This might involve editing to clearly demarcate the background context from the general question; it might involve rephrasing to make the question a little more specific, etc. This also has the benefit of our site appearing and being more welcoming.

Ultimately, I see giving an answer to the person asking the question as a minor aim of the site. The bigger picture is the hundreds or thousands of people that may read the question in the future as a result of Google searches. If the question can be tweaked into a useful question and someone can provide a good scientific answer, then we've made the Internet a better place.

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    Good points, lots of "self help" stuff is really based on an underlying and extremely useful principle in cognitive science. – Ben Brocka Apr 28 '12 at 14:50
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No, at least not yet. I think the existing close reasons, especially Too Localized mean any not-constructive Self-Help questions are already not permitted by the FAQ.

If the question is so specific as to be "self help" and really only helps one person like many "How can I do X" it's too localized. If a question won't elicit the sort of scientifically backed answers we expect on the site, it's Not a Real Question. If it's a question like "What is a list of ways to cope with X" it's Not Constructive.

We need something to be a real, recurring problem to bother adding to the FAQ. Every word in the FAQ is extra incentive for everyone to not read it. It should be concise and clear, mucking it up with vague "self help isn't on topic unless it is" stuff isn't going to help anyone.

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I think the Cognitive Sciences SE should be primarily about science. Often research in the cognitive sciences can inform decisions about personal time management, substance use, sleeping patterns, biases, etc. Some of our members might even be qualified to give such advice (since we are trying to attract psychiatrists and practicing psychologists). However, self-help questions are inherently anecdotal questions__. They are too specific to the person asking, and often non-scientific in nature. We are not a general health, productivity, or well-being site; we are a site about science.

I think we should have a strict policy against self-help questions. If such a question is asked (as deemed by the members of the community that can cast close votes), we should vote to close it as 'off-topic'.

Of course, sometimes the distinction between legitimate scientific questions and self-help is fine. For me, the prototypical example is this question:

Is there a reduction of "Brain Fog" with fewer hours of sleep?

A lot of the question reads "how can I avoid being groggy after too much sleep?" but the OP has invested time in connecting the question to science and asking it in a more scientific tone. The OP has also done his homework in a more than anecdotal way.

For these border-cases, the burden is on the side of the asker. If the question seems self-help-y (maybe we need to figure out exactly what this means) then we should hold it to higher standards of showing initial research and scientific tone; otherwise we should close as off-topic and encourage the OP in the comments to improve the question to a more scientific tone.

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