I am looking for a word which describes the psychology behind multiple related behaviors. I feel that it's at the tip of my tongue, but I can't seem to get it.

I want to describe this person as someone who:

1) attempts "reductionism", but wrongly, by simply choosing not to perceive the complex and mysterious parts of the phenomenon

2) neglects the big picture in favor of salient details

3) is overly reliant on formal rules to decide things

4) focuses too much on the literal meaning of things

5) displays weaknesses analogous to Spock or Data on Star Trek.

Words which I've considered but rejected: dogmatist, legalist, formalist, stickler, rigid, and myopic. I'll probably use myopic if no one suggests anything better.

Sentences this word might be used in:

  • The medical system is often [blank], focusing on disease processes while ignoring overall health and lifestyle.

  • The Pharisees were [blank], focusing on the minutia of the law while ignoring the deeper spirit.

  • On of the symptoms of autism is [blank]: the patient will often obsessively focus on a a narrow topic, insist that their daily routine is conducted "just so", and persevere in thinking on minor details which are no longer relevant.

  • Schools often take a very [blank] approach to language learning, focusing on vocabulary and grammatical rules rather than simple immersion and dynamic communication

[Edit: I have no opinion, positive or negative, on actual Pharisees and apologize for any offense caused. It was just an example of the word I wanted which I noticed while googling for synonyms. (And preemptively, I am also not intentionally expressing actual opinions of medical systems, schools, or autism here; I'm just pulling stock phrases I've seen people use that fit the tip-of-the-tongue word the wild. In hindsight that's probably not a good practice.)]

  • Orthodox or routine?
    – anemone
    Feb 8, 2015 at 8:45
  • Someone who can't see the wood for the trees ?
    – Dan
    Feb 8, 2015 at 9:22
  • I seem to remember suggesting over-fastidious in a previous thread. Feb 8, 2015 at 11:57
  • Are you looking for a noun or an adjective? "One of the symptoms of autism is..." looks for a noun. "The Pharisees" and "Schools..." ask for an adjective.
    – Centaurus
    Feb 8, 2015 at 12:27
  • Strict perhaps.
    – ermanen
    Feb 9, 2015 at 1:54

6 Answers 6


"Pedantic" might suit your purposes? Its negative connotation may not fit a more clinical context, but if you're considering "myopic" I think the sense is similar.


probably the word you are looking for is literal in the sense of lack of imagination.







I think biased may fit in the contexts you describe. Whether you rely too much on given rules or on the literal meaning of something, you tend to have a biased attitude:

  • having or showing a bias : having or showing an unfair tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others

The term is obsessive compulsion.

For example

  • Some adherents of a particular religion have a strong tendency in regurgitating the criticizing of pharisees due to the obsessive compulsion of such adherents to ensure their scriptures appear as "truth", without ever blinking that they are but Roman inventions to demean the rebels fighting against their rule. Nor have they even had the knowledge of what the pharisees teach before regurgitating those awful statements.


"to use or direct (something) in a way that is not correct or appropriate" Merriam-Webster

"use or apply (something) wrongly or inappropriately" ODO

  • "The medical system is often misdirecting, focusing on disease processes..."
  • "Schools often take a very misdirective approach to language learning, focusing on..."
  • "One of the symptoms of autism is misdirection: the patient will often obsessively focus on..."
  • "The public's admiration is misdirected, as he has done nothing to deserve it. CD
  • "Their efforts have been largely misdirected" ODO

Could the word you are looking for be obsessional?

I think that psychologists place considerable importance on people's 'obsessional states'. I think you will find that they can account for behaviours such as continual reference to detail rather than the big picture. My informants in that field tell me that if you can understand obsession you will understand much about irrational behaviour.

  • @Matt E Thank you for doing the gentlemanly think!
    – WS2
    Feb 10, 2015 at 9:51

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