"Understanding a concept so well, that the concept of someone else struggling to understand this concept seems foreign."

Person A is very familiar with a how to use a smartphone. They've known how to use one for as long as they can remember.

Person B asks person A for help with their smartphone (they are not as familiar with the concept of a smartphone, or how it operates).

Person A might struggle to understand what struggles person B is presented with. They might have deep knowledge of exactly how the smartphone works, but lack the understanding of how another person might misinterpret or misunderstand the smartphone.

Is there a word for this phenomena?

On the flip side of this example, a 'person C' might learn how to use a smartphone, have the same knowledge of how it works, but also understand what aspects are tricky to grasp for beginners/new users and how to teach people to use it.

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    Confused? Perplexed? What form does the lack of understanding take in your view? And why does the object of the lack of understanding make a difference here? Not understanding why somebody else doesn't understand something should be no different than not understanding why the sky is blue. Why not just ask for a single word that describes a lack of understanding in general? – Jason Bassford May 11 '19 at 9:12
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    @ImNotAH: this is a great question but it's at risk of closure unless you edit it to include a sample sentence showing how your requested word would be used. You can hover your pointer over a tag to see the tag info; for SWRs, read here: single-word-requests. :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica May 12 '19 at 23:55
  • Another possible interpretation pending clarification: "I don't understand why you can't understand what should be obvious to everyone, including me." That could be arrogance or egotism. – Jason Bassford May 13 '19 at 15:02
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    Some comments are answering the question title, not the request expressed in the body. In my opinion, the Q is not about understanding = tolerance/sympathy/pity but understanding = knowledge/grasp/comprehend – Mari-Lou A May 18 '19 at 7:58
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    To person A, the knowledge in question is like water to a fish. – Anton Sherwood May 19 '19 at 15:05

Curse of knowledge

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when an individual, communicating with other individuals, unknowingly assumes that the others have the background to understand. For example, in a classroom setting, teachers have difficulty teaching novices because they cannot put themselves in the position of the student. A brilliant professor might no longer remember the difficulties that a young student encounters when learning a new subject. This curse of knowledge also explains the danger behind thinking about student learning based on what appears best to faculty members, as opposed to what has been verified with students.


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  • This looks like the best candidate despite it not being a single word. I'm not entirely persuaded that native speakers would understand its meaning, if someone were to say a college professor had the curse of knowledge, I might think that he was burdened with a gift and ask why having "knowledge" was a curse. Is this expression commonly used and understood? – Mari-Lou A May 21 '19 at 7:06
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    @Mari-LouA The 'curse of knowledge' is the name of this type of cognitive bias. (Whether is it a good name is debatable, but not relevant here.) Many cognitive biases en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases have names that are not informative to laymen (or may even confuse). However, it is commonly understood in its fields (psychology, behavioral science), I'd suggest. – Řídící May 21 '19 at 7:43
  • "Commonly-used and understood?" I had to look it up. Also, to my mind, it doesn't answer the question which asks simply for "a word". You might as well say "Not a teacher"! – Dan Jun 3 '19 at 10:12

The curse of expertise encompasses an expert's inability (at least without further training) to communicate their knowledge effectively to a non-expert.

Here is a Psychology Today article ("The Curse of Expertise" by Sian Beilock) describing the phenomenon:

Experts are called upon to teach those less knowledgeable all the time. Teachers must predict the issues and misconceptions that students will face when learning a new and tricky concept in, say, a physics class. And, baseball coaches must understand the types of problems that a pitcher may encounter when learning to throw a new curve ball. If not, how will the coaches devise the right training techniques to help their pitcher out of trouble? Yet, stepping outside your own point of view and relating to people who have less knowledge and skill is not such an easy task. People with a lot of knowledge are not as good as one might think at doing this.

The research summarized in the article shows that experts at using phones were the least accurate at estimating how long it took new users to learn a phone:

Sales people focused so closely on their own performance and how effortlessly they operated the phone that they had a hard time predicting novices' misconceptions and mistakes. Because of this, sales people were the least accurate predictors of the new users' learning time and failed to predict most of the trouble novices got into.

As the original researcher, P.M. Hinds (1999), explains, the cognitive bias is consistent with the curse of knowledge, which is predicated on not being able to effectively think of oneself in a less expert state. The curse of expertise is specific to not being able to communicate or explain that expertise.

Lots of other sources use this term to describe struggles with communicating expertise to new learners:

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  • Who said anything about experts? – Lambie May 17 '19 at 23:27
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    The original question suggests Person A has expertise compared to Person B. "Person A is very familiar with a how to use a smartphone. They've known how to use one for as long as they can remember." "They might have deep knowledge of exactly how the smartphone works." – TaliesinMerlin May 17 '19 at 23:41
  • I don't think I would qualify knowing how to use a smartphone well, as having expertise, if words matter to one. – Lambie May 18 '19 at 2:59


The counter-example (Person C who understands person B's difficulties) is displaying empathy

  empathy (n) The ability to identify with or understand another's situation or feelings.

If I were writing your sentence, I'd simply say that your person A displays "a lack of empathy" toward's B. It's clear and understandable.

Personally, I've never understood the fascination with squeezing things down to one, rare and hard-to-understand word when two simple ones would get the message across much better, but if you absolutely cannot use the spacebar, you can use the form "unempathic", simply by adding the "removal" prefix un- (as in "uninterested", "unfeeling", "unmoved").

Personally I prefer the "lacking empathy" form, as there are other "un-" words formed from positive roots that carry a hint of being opposite, rather than just lacking (see "unholy", "unfriendly", "uncharitable").

A warning: although the "un-" prefix will make the meaning reasonably clear to the reader, no reputable online dictionary lists this word.

"unempathic" does show up in writing, although far less often than "empathic" (Google ngrams says there's a 100x difference, although it does have instances of "unempathic" dating back to the 1950s)

is there a different word meaning "without empathy"?

Despite it's Greeky-ness, "empathy" is actually quite a new word, and it's not Greek, but German. "Empathy" entered the English language as fancy translation of a German word ein­füh­len, which was coined by philosopher Rudolf Lotze in the 1850s from a literal translation of the Greek "en" and "pathos" (in, feelings) -- this is why the word "reverted" to "Greek" when translated into English.

  einfühlen: to put oneself in someone's position, condition, etc.; to understand something inwardly, to empathize with it

(Lotze must have had a specific meaning in mind to create a new word, because German already had a word for this: nachempfinden )

Unfortunately, none of these three words have a single-word antonym with the sense of being unable to see the world from someone else's perspective.

Ironically, Greek does have a similar-sounding word to "en-pathos", but it means "hatred", which just goes to show that sometimes a word you keep using really doesn't mean what you think it means.

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  • the word requested is about lack of understanding, not feeling; and, in any case, this would be too broad – Toothrot May 16 '19 at 11:17
  • Yes, but the word "Empathy" isn't about feeling, but rather understanding - the definition says this: an understanding of another's situation or feelings. We have the word "sympathy" for simply sharing someone else's feelings. – KrisW May 16 '19 at 11:19
  • ''the'' definition is imprecise if the word is understood as einfuehlen; but my main reason for downvoting is that your answer is too broad – Toothrot May 16 '19 at 11:44
  • Thanks for the reason - I can certainly accept "too broad" - the word has gained a very broad meaning (much broader than the original narrow, emotional meaning of 'einfühlen'), and lately there's a habit of people (Americans mainly) using it as a synonym for "sympathy", which it is not. Still, the problem the OP describes is fundamentally one of a lack of empathy: person A is unable to relate to the experience of person B and so cannot frame his explanation in understandable terms. Person C can empathise with person A, and so understands that B needs even "basic" concepts explained. – KrisW May 16 '19 at 14:04
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    perhaps it is fundamentally that. but, to put my objection in different terms, the answer to 'what is it called when you kill a tenth of an army' is 'decimation', not 'cruelty'. – Toothrot May 16 '19 at 14:14

I think there are a few single words that might suggest this, but might not explicitly provide the meaning of someone so knowledgeable they can't understand the position of a novice. YMMV.

All definitions from dictionary.com

Inure: to accusom to hardship, difficulty, pain, etc..; toughen or harden; habituation (usually followed by to)

Habituate: To accustom (a person, the mind, etc.), as to a particular situation

Acclimate: To accustom or become accustomed to a new climate or environment; adapt.

Some example usages:

  • Susan had become so inured to the vagaries of a smart phone that she could scarcely understand the difficulties Eric was having.
  • Habituated to the reality of US politics, Susan could scarcely understand Eric's confusion.
  • While acclimated to 80-hour workweeks, Susan could still empathize (Thanks, @KrisW) with new associates who were not so inured to the demanding schedule.
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Unmindful, defined ny Google’s dictionary as:

not conscious or aware. "Danielle seemed unmindful of her parents' plight" synonyms: heedless of, taking no notice of, paying no heed to, careless of, disregardful of, regardless of, unheeding of, neglectful of, unconscious of, oblivious to, inattentive to, blind to, deaf to; More

The theory of mind is the general approach to our own knowledge that other people may differ in emotions, knowledge, etc. At what point one’s own knowledge makes it harder to perceive others varies, but many experts like teaching introductory courses and are very good at it.

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  • If someone were to say that a college professor was unmindful, I would ask them to explain what they meant. The word could be used but it would need context. – Mari-Lou A May 21 '19 at 6:58
  • Is "blind to" or "deaf to" really necessary in this day and age? I keep running into this... – KannE Jun 2 '19 at 13:51

You might say that person C is aware of what will help Person B and that, conversely, person A is unaware, even ignorant, of what will help person B.

Aware - Informed, cognizant, conscious, sensible. To know. (OED)

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  • A reason for the down vote would be helpful... – Dan May 20 '19 at 20:16
  • Not my DV but I don't think it deserves an UV because it lacks detail, and there's no link. You can find a link in any online dictionary with more or less the same terse definition, but if you're going to cite the OED then be a bit more generous. – Mari-Lou A May 21 '19 at 7:01
  • Same comment that I gave to Xanne's answer: If someone were to say that a college professor was unaware, I would ask them to explain what they meant. The word could be used but it would need context. – Mari-Lou A May 21 '19 at 7:02
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    As I stated before, I think it encompasses more than the "curse of knowledge" (or I would've answered with that). It's broader than so many answers...except this one. BTW, it's too bad they deleted your comment (re: teaching being a skill in itself); it was perfect (IMO). – KannE Jun 2 '19 at 13:37


And it does not need to be about smartphones or anything like that.

Not understanding someone else's struggle(s), means you are an unsympathetic person.

Merriam Webster's definitions:

Definition of unsympathetic : not given to, marked by, or arising from sympathy : not sympathetic an unsympathetic bystander an unsympathetic review


3 : given to, marked by, or arising from sympathy, compassion, friendliness, and sensitivity to others' emotions a sympathetic gesture

That said, there is no word for being unsympathetic about someone's lack of understanding.

So, you add a word: unsympathetic to lack of understanding by another

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  • +1 for “there is no word for being unsympathetic about someone's lack of understanding” I think you're right. – Mari-Lou A May 21 '19 at 7:09
  • @Mari-LouA It occured to me post facto that given the screen name, the question seems to describe the horrible historical personage. Also, for the record, lack of understanding is ambiguous. Could be emotional could be intellectual. There are some mathematical permutations of it, taking into account two meanings for each person. Not sure if that is 12 or fewer... – Lambie May 21 '19 at 14:44
  • Oh, come now. The topic is far removed from the dictator, the question talks about smart phones not abject cruelty but I see a number of upvoted answers have been downvoted. Why? – Mari-Lou A May 21 '19 at 15:49
  • @Mari-LouA Is it by chance that some who says he is not Hitler is asking questions about understanding and lack thereof? The smartphone is the object that provides agency, it could be anything. – Lambie May 21 '19 at 15:58
  • Yes. It's pure coincidence, the user chose an infelicitous username but their question is quite unrelated to the WWII dictator. – Mari-Lou A May 21 '19 at 16:07

Perhaps a metonymy for lack of understanding another person's lack of understanding might be parent or (not to play favorites) child.

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