Reading the The 7 Essential Meta Questions You'll notice Super User has laid out what items are on topic AND off topic on their site. Database Administrators has also done a superb job outlining these.

What should we list as "off topic" for our FAQ? What kind of questions do we not want?

3 Answers 3


Zergylord's post made me consider; "Self Help" style questions are a potential risk for this sort of site and I believe they are not on topic.

  • I up voted this. But I'm wondering why then on area51 the question "How can I reduce the confirmation bias in my every day life?" got 20 up votes.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 15:05
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    I suppose general "how can one use X psychological principle" or "how does Y theory apply to daily life" could be on topic...
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 15:13
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    @Steven: We should disregard up-voted questions if we think they are not attractive to the kind of experts we want to attract to the site. Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 9:48
  • +1 if we want to attract researchers. I think in the beta we should be aggressive at closing self-help questions to attract a critical mass of experts. After the beta ends, we can reconsider the rule, and allow the questions to attract the masses once the experts are already here. Commented Jan 31, 2012 at 3:25

After the mergers with psychology and the others, we've cast a fairly board net consisting of all things mental.

However, that's everything when you think about it ;-), so I'd suggest voting to close questions that aren't specifically about understanding or applying some psychological phenomenon.

The two obvious edge cases here are design and self-help, which must be taken on a case-by-case basis, but a good general rule would be that if the question doesn't primarily care about the working of the mind then its off-topic.


ON-TOPIC: How do affordances affet the usability of devices?

OFF-TOPIC: Does this design make good use of affordances?

ON-TOPIC: What does Maslow's Hierarchy have to say about how to improve our level happiness?

OFF-TOPIC: What are some psychological sound suggestions for becoming more successful?

  • I idk if everybody's on the same page as me here, but I figured this would be a good jumping off point :)
    – zergylord
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 1:22
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    Your first example also makes a nice example of the border between UX and CGS.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 13:27
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    I'd say that your question about Maslow's Hierarchy would be closed as general reference, since you can find the answer lots of different places online already. Unless you have something more specific?
    – Lauren
    Commented Jan 19, 2012 at 16:06
  • Next Monday we will reassess what is on- and off-topic on this site in chat, as part of a broader reboot of CogSci. I hope you interested in joining to share your opinions, @zergylord!
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 14:18

I think there should not be a big overlap with Skeptics Exchange. Questions, say, of the form "Is <widely believed claim about motivation> true?" are probably better handled over there, even if we can come up with obviously relevant citations. But questions that cite specific cogsci research really must be on-topic.

So I'd say that:

  1. Why do higher incentives lead to lower performance for non-rudimentary tasks?
  2. Does caffeine improve performance for habituated consumers?

name claims in identified research publications and so are on topic, but

  1. Is the decline of fluid IQ with age less severe for professors and scientists than it is for other people?
  2. Cognitive explanation of why beta blockers are effective for anxiety

do not and are essentially Skex qns. Although they are not individually bad questions here, their frequency may be a bit expert-deterring and they are the kind of qn that Skex has achieved good discipline in handling.

I'm not a cognitive scientist, but I have a lot of contact with cognitive scientists through my work, and I don't see the questions here as being exciting to many professional psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, or philosophers of mind; maybe we should be concerned about the tone?

  • 2
    First, there's a separate meta thread about expected difficulty of questions; perhaps, you want to add your thoughts. I agree that expected difficulty and being expert-friendly is an important issue. Second, In some sense skeptics.se is going to often overlap with subject matter sites, especially as the number of subject matter sites expands. Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 11:23
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    If you think a question needs to be more specific or needs a reason for a claim please leave a comment asking the asker for clarification. I would also like to keep the site intended for professionals in the fields.
    – Ben Brocka
    Commented Jan 27, 2012 at 14:32

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