I just wanted to check what the general rules were about asking questions about writing and debugging code related to psychology and cognitive science experiments.

The kinds of things that I'm thinking of include:

  • Matlab scripts for psychology such as psychophysics tool box
  • Inquisit, E-Prime, etc. scripts for coding psychological experiments
  • Coding ACT-R models, cognitive models, etc.
  • Might be relevant to also link to the question which triggered this topic.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 10:07
  • Jeromy, I think this is a great discussion and will post my own answer later. I also felt that the question which triggered this was clearly on topic for Stack Overflow as it was solely about MatLab crashing. (Details to follow in my answer)
    – Josh
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 11:55

4 Answers 4


I think these questions should be permitted. There may be a threshold for when the question goes too far into being a general programming question, but in general I think that questions about coding of models, experiments, etc. that apply specifically to researchers in the fields covered by this site should be permitted.

Questions suited to this site

  • 3
    This is (roughly) the same standard that Cross Validated has -- which also, by nature of its subject, has ties to SO.
    – Aarthi
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 16:15
  • 1
    +1; a few things to note: 1) CV is a better source for R questions than SO, and it doesn't detract from the main focus of the site 2) It's likely that people on SO won't be able to answer your question. Just look how few posts exist for ACT-R, Vision Egg, PsychoPy, Psychtoolbox on SO-- yet there's a very good chance that someone on this site is familiar with those tools and will see your question. It simply has a better chance of being answered here than on SO.
    – Jeff
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 22:24
  • +1. I think the issue is whether or not the programming question is domain-specific. If it's just about using matrices in matlab, then it belongs on SO. If it's about the psychtoolbox, or if it's about creating a Gabor patch, then it will probably be better answered by cognitive scientists as opposed to general programmers. Commented Sep 27, 2013 at 17:20

I'll repeat the comment I just left on the question for sake of voting:

@JeromyAnglim I would completely agree if it had to do with coding the paradigm or processing the data. This is chiefly either a bug in the script that's going to require some careful debugging or perhaps even a cross-platform incompatibility, neither of which is really in our scope.


I would like to argue for a distinction between questions that primarily focus on how to use code and questions that express the behavior of mathematical constructs through the use of code.

Many of us (myself included) are better at programming than at math, and we often encounter mathematical questions as we code. Here is what I consider to be a good example of this latter case.

In any case, I would caution against grabbing pitchforks any time code is involved. I think that there are plenty of domain-specific questions that will be better answered by cognitive scientists, as opposed to general programmers.


When this site started we had a topic discussing a similar problem: Are questions about neurobiology on or off topic? It seemed the 'general consensus' was: "They are on topic so long as they touch base with something related to cognition." I believe this is the general rule we should apply, whatever the topic.

I think everybody agrees that a line should be drawn. It's a similar problem to one which Stack Overflow had to address: "As a software developer, what is your favorite vegetable?" Does this mean it's still related to software development?

Granted that's an extreme example, but in the same way we need to be able to draw a line to prevent just any question from being asked which is only tangentially related. E.g. "I'm building this box for an experiment, how should I use the hammer?"

Since 'touch base' is kind of subjective, I propose the following more structured aid in order to determine whether it touches base enough.

  1. Are there any major problems with the question besides it only being partially on topic?
  2. Does the question asked also apply to different fields of expertise?
  3. Is there another SE site available where the question could be answered?
    • If "Yes", would it be useful for the OP to create an account there to ask subsequent questions?

In case all answers are "No", the question should be more than welcome here.

In case answer 1 is "Yes", the questions should obviously be closed.

In case answer 2 and 3 is "Yes", the question should be migrated to the respective site. This causes the least overlap with other sites, and thus also the least duplication.

Any edge cases can still be discussed on a case to case basis.

  • Following these rules, I argue the question which triggered this topic is better off over at Stack Overflow.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Nov 1, 2012 at 10:45
  • 1
    I was going to write my own answer, but this pretty much sums up my view. The question in question I migrated because it was 100% a programming question, specifically, "Why does Matlab crash with this code"
    – Josh
    Commented Nov 2, 2012 at 12:20

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