Is there a psychological condition which promotes literal and overly complicated thinking?

  • Quote from Sheldon Cooper, Big Bang Theory IMDB

    Leonard: You convinced me. Maybe tonight we should sneak in and shampoo her carpet.
    Sheldon: You don't think that crosses the line?
    Leonard: Yes... For God's sake, Sheldon, do I have to... hold up a sarcasm sign every time I open my mouth?
    Sheldon: You have a sarcasm sign?

    Some people tend to think very literally and also over-complicate things.

    This causes much misunderstanding when communicating with people, especially with the advent of texting, email and social networking, as the verbal and nonverbal cues are absent.

    It sometimes causes difficulty when completing tasks, as those with this condition can misinterpret what is required of them. This can be an asset academically. A "misinterpretation" (or better put, a different interpretation) in one way, will, usually mean there is a gain in another aspect.

    When someone truly does not understand something, others might think that person is joking. Others may not understand their humor, as he/she will make a joke about something, he/she sees as obvious and will be taken seriously by others.

    Another way to describe this "condition" is to use the example of sudokus and cryptic crosswords. Someone might make mistakes in the easy ones, and find the more difficult ones easier to solve, looking for a more complicated solution than the one that was there and already apparent. To solve complex problems is, often, easier than the straightforward and simple.

    1. Is this a known condition?
    2. What, neurologically, may cause this in the brain?
    3. Could this be some form of "retardation"?
    4. Are there ways to improve this?

    The behavior of the character Sheldon Cooper was frequently found to be consistent with Asperger Syndrome, although the character is not written/designed as such. See for further information.

    Perhaps this is a kind of anxiety. The individual fears some perception, and responds be being more precise than the conversational-situation warrants. I don't know prevalent definitions, and am answering in hopes it will stimulate a more-complete answer from someone.

    @Skippy it seems a mod considered it a 'comment', instead of being a 'wrong/low-grade answer'

    That was me. The answer did not cite any sources and was primarily opinion based. It was flagged as not an answer and so I converted it to a comment.

    In my opinion, Everyone has his way of expressing Sarcasm, some express it more than others, so if you are not used to the way that person express it, sometimes you are not able to really know if he's talking with sarcasm or not.

    As a side note, in the DSM-V, Asperger Syndrome has been removed and is grouped under Autism Spectrum Disorders,

    I have found some information regarding literal thinking, but I think the "enjoys complicated thinking" is confounding things a bit, would it be all right to focus on just the former?

    Also, this is quite hard to answer (even though it's been anonymized) without you potentially feeling judged. I'm concerned about that.

    RE: over-thinking being an asset in academic situations: I used to interpret questions on test or assignments very differently from other people and the Instructor. Everyone would stare at me like I had two heads, and the Instructor would say, "Well, I see what you are thinking, but, that is not what the question asked." For me, this was simply how I read the words of the question, not from overthinking, but overthinking can lead to wrong interpretations, usually due to test anxiety (which I usually didn't have).

  • user3433

    user3433 Correct answer

    8 years ago

    You seem to be describing different ways go about thinking about things in the general description of your question.

    However, I'm going to think about it (ironic, ha) and your specific questions as generally in the context of the title of the topic and as how you first tend to describe it, or I interpreted it at first glance, which is over-complicating or over-analyzing things - which can be very subjective actually. I may be way off in regards to your question though.

    Is this a known condition?

    I've heard many times in general productivity type books the phrase "paralysis by analysis" used. No formal term I know of unless the other answers have defined/found one. I experience this when I'm not on cogsci to distract me actually, lol.

    What, neurologically, may cause this in the brain?

    From what I've found in my experience, and to be specific without a citation (hope noone calls me out here), I would say the GABAA-ρ subclass receptors being stimulated or not to the correct intensity. I'll just leave it at that...heh.

    Could this be some form of "retardation"?

    I'm not sure how you're defining retardation. Retardation, to me, is an extremely serious condition and is very obvious to anyone else - kind of like certain effects of down syndrome.

    If you're defining it as an type of physiological if someone was excessively drunk, then I suppose so. I would generally look at it as being defined by the meaning of the words its made up of in Latin:


    From Middle English, from Anglo-Norman or Latin, from Anglo-Norman retarder, from Latin retardāre (“to retard”), from re- + tardus (“slow”)

    So, "slow thinking" is how I would think it - you seem to explain a phenomenon where too much fast thinking happens at once to the point of confusion or just different ways people go about thinking about things. It seems like retardation would not be a characteristic of what you explain.

    Are there ways to improve this?

    I'm going to go with a practical answer here.

    Writing everything down on paper helps a lot. There was actually a citation I found way back that showed changes in GABA receptor stimulation from this.

    Meditation usually helps. Exercise too.

    If one wants to be hardcore about it, they could "artificially" try to stimulate their GABAA-ρ subclass receptors.

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM