I am looking for a non-slang, non-colloquial word - a word that I can use when speaking to a professional therapist/counselor, to be exact.

Another way to ask this question might be "What quality does a solipsist (or maybe an egocentrist) lack?"

As an example, a young child steals a bicycle from another child. The child's parent asks the child why he stole it and the child replies "because I like it." The parent asks the child "Who else liked it besides you," and the child can't come up with an answer. What quality does this child lack?

This applies to many adults, but it's easier to recognize in a child.

At first I thought of "empathy," and that is correct at an emotional level. But I'm particularly interested in this at a rational level - an inability to understand another's thought process, available data, cultural influences, etc. and understand why a particular conclusion, decision, or action seemed right to him or her. So, the intellectual or rational equivalent of empathy (or possibly compassion) might work here as well.

Finally, I do not mean the inability to agree with or support others' viewpoints, only an inability to understand why they understand things as they do. This may sound like a lack of adequate analytical skills, but I know people like this who are otherwise quite capable of analysis and reason.

I am most interested in what quality such an individual lacks, but I secondarily welcome descriptive words for the individual other than "egocentrist" and "solipsist."

  • 10
    If you want to avoid the "emotional" connotations of empathy. you might feasibly say such a person lack a fully-developed theory of mind - defined by Wikipedia there as the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. — to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one's own. Alternatively, he suffers from the "cognitive disorder" known as mind-blindness. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 19:36
  • 6
    Empathy is the correct word. Empathy is the ability to understand another person's condition from their perspective. It doesn't mean you are sympathetic (or feel the same). Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 20:23
  • They lack social intelligence.
    – jxh
    Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 23:38
  • Empathy does indeed fit according to the online Merriam-Webster: "the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this." I guess it implies to emotion over reason to me, but you are correct per this definition.
    – Nebulous
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 11:20

9 Answers 9


My preference would be empathy. But if you want to emphasize that it is a failure of reasoning or perception, rather than an emotional lack, I'd suggest 'insight'.



  1. penetrating mental vision or discernment; faculty of seeing into inner character or underlying truth.
  • According to the definition you linked to, Insight is more about the "nature," "character," or "truth" of something or someone (especially one's self). This differs from understanding another's thought patterns or reasoning.
    – Nebulous
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 11:27

In child development psychology, the ability to conceive of an alternate point of view is called decentering (definition 2, though in this reference slightly refactored to a literary meaning) and is considered one of the major steps in cognitive development.

This is sometimes converted into a noun as decentration.

  • "Decenter" is an excellent addition to this discussion. It very well describes a developmental stage that the individual may not have completed well and may perhaps need to be guided through as an adult (if such is possible). However, it does not describe the quality that is missing in the individual who did not adequately decenter.
    – Nebulous
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 11:33

I'd call such a person inconsiderate/thoughtless.

not giving enough thought to other people’s feelings or needs

The quality they lack would be consideration/thoughtfulness.

the quality of being sensitive towards others and thinking about their wishes and feelings

Notice the definition talks about thinking/giving thought to rather than feeling/empathize with, as per your requirement.

For example, inconsiderate passengers, or inconsiderate parkers, might be 'otherwise quite capable of analysis and reason'. But they temporarily block it out when it suits them. It's as if they simply don't get that their actions might cause inconvenience to others

I'm sure their are fancier and/or more technical words out there, but this is as close as I can get.

  • Both inconsiderate and thoughtless describe an individual's attitude or actions that result from an attitude. What I am looking for is an inability - a capacity or skill individual that a person has not developed but which is present in what is considered healthy psychological development.
    – Nebulous
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:23

Consider inner-directed and other-directed. As described by sociologist David Reisman, these archetypal personalities are characterized as follows:

Inner-directed people tended to be more rigid and confident; they embodied certain Protestant ethic values and were motivated by individual aspiration and ambitions. The other-directed personality type aspired to be loved rather than esteemed. They wanted to feel in harmony with the opinions around them.


The inner-directed person orients herself by an internal “gyroscope,” while the other-directed person orients herself by “radar.”

from a discussion of Reisman's The Lonely Crowd at University-Discoveries.com

  • 2
    This doesn't speak to the inability to see the other person's viewpoint; it merely implies that the person has a set of values that aren't easily influenced from the outside. An inner-directed person could strongly have the value that "considering the needs of others is important", and be hard to shake on that; an other-directed person might think this but be shaky on it because all the cool kids are stealing bikes. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 22:31
  • Joe McMahon is correct. While the person I am trying to describe is inner-directed, that is true because she lacks a particular ability, and that ability which is at the root cause is what I'm after. It is the difference between saying a person doesn't play sports well and a person lacks athleticism.
    – Nebulous
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:33

The notions of subjectivity, subjective impressions, and subjective idealism are used to describe several of the varieties of solipsists mentioned in this Wikipedia entry about solipsism, which leads me to conclude that objectivity is perhaps a trait/quality that solipsists lack (vocabulary[dot]com).

  • Objectivity is definitely part of this. It is accurate to say that one who cannot imagine what things look like from a different vantage points or with different presuppositions lacks objectivity. Thanks for this contribution. So far, decenter, objectivity, and empathy all describe important aspects of what I am seeking to describe.
    – Nebulous
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:28

What they lack:

Wisdom -Wiki

the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight.

Some people are highly intelligent and yet they lack wisdom.

What they are:

Psychopath -TFD

A person who engages repeatedly in criminal and antisocial behavior without remorse or empathy for those victimized.

Or sociopath, depending on this behavior's onset.

Diagnosed as:

Narcissism -Mayo

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others.

A surprisingly good read for a TV show site, containing a list to help diagnose aggressive narcissism and social deviance, as well as the difference between sociopaths (environmental) and psychopaths (genetic): Criminal Minds; Psychopath -Wikia

Now, what they really lack, is activity in certain regions of the brain:

A large body of research suggests that psychopathy is associated with atypical responses to distress cues (e.g. facial and vocal expressions of fear and sadness), including decreased activation of the fusiform and extrastriate cortical regions, which may partly account for impaired recognition of and reduced autonomic responsiveness to expressions of fear, and impairments of empathy. -Wiki

Regardless of age, if they're not crazy then they're acting juvenilely.

  • This is my non-professional hunch, but I think of sociopaths (say, Ted Bundy or Charles Manson ) as often having an uncanny ability to understand others deeply and see things through another's eyes - which is why I think they are so charismatic and able to manipulate others.
    – Nebulous
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:38
  • I do agree, though, that what I'm looking for is likely due to an undeveloped part of the brain.
    – Nebulous
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:39

In psychology, this awareness is called "theory of mind." The lack of it, as in some cases of autism, is often called "mindblindness."

I like this definition of TOM: "a related set of intellectual abilities that enable us to understand that others have beliefs, desires, plans, hopes, information, and intentions that may differ from our own." It's from Korkmaz B, Theory of Mind and Neurodevelopmental Disorders of Childhood, Pediatric Research (2011) 69, 101R–108R; doi:10.1203/PDR.0b013e318212c177

  • i like TOM. I was unfamiliar with this, and I see that it is thought to be lacking in severely autistic people. The phrase sounds strange in describing a capability (rather than a theory), butt his is definitely a way of describing the capacity / ability I am after. Tannks!
    – Nebulous
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 2:47

I would say either "unaware of other people's thought processes" or "indifferent to other people's thought processes", depending on which of these two kinds of deficit you're referring to.

Since the intended discussion is with a therapist, there's a very good chance that they will understand what you're describing (especially if there is some contextual information) and the therapist will be able to tell you the technical word used in their field. Different forms of therapy may have different terms for what you are describing so this has the further advantage that you'll know the particular one that is familiar within the branch of therapy in question.


I suggest "unperceptive", an antonym of "perspicacious".

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