What Is Parsimony Psychology, And Could It Be For Me?

By Jessica Anderson|Updated April 14, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Tanya Harell, LPC

When you begin attending therapy sessions, you will likely have a lot on your mind. Complicated psychological phrases that come along with your sessions can add to the challenge. Luckily, there is a tool to help if you begin to feel overwhelmed with scientific terms while speaking to your therapist. In this article, we will learn what parsimony psychology is and discover if it is a good fit for your life.

Wondering If Parsimony Psychology Is For You?

What Is Parsimony?

To understand parsimony psychology, it's important to have a good grasp on what the word "parsimony" means. Parsimony comes from the Latin word parser, meaning "to be sparing." The word "parsimony" has been around since it was first used as such in late Middle English. The most straightforward meaning of the word "parsimony" is "excessive or extreme thriftiness, economy, or frugality." Other synonyms include penny-pinching, tightfistedness, ungenerousness, miserliness, and selfishness. Scientists recognize the great value in the frugality of parsimony and have found that the term is useful in psychology as well.

Parsimony psychology is all about finding the simplest accurate explanation for cognitive processes and behaviors. While the brain is incredibly complex, we do not necessarily need to complicate our understanding of it further than is required. Scientists try to keep parsimony terms simple, brief, and free of unsupported assumptions. This helps everyone understand the terms that are being used, and it keeps unnecessary confusion and complication out of therapy sessions.

The Law Of Parsimony

Scientists may refer to the aspects of parsimony psychology as "The Law of Parsimony" or "Ockham's Razor." Ockham's Razor refers to a theologian and logician named William of Ockham. In the 1300s, he wrote the words "numquam nenena plurality sine necessitate," which translates to "Plurality must never be posited without necessity." The ideas that gave rise to the Law of Parsimony have been around at least since the time of Aristotle, who said, "the more limited, if accurate, is always preferable." Ptolemy, and later, Isaac Newton, also followed the principle of parsimony in explaining natural phenomena.

Still, perhaps because Ockham's name is so unusual, the name "Ockham's Razor" stuck. A metaphysical scientist named Sir William Hamilton made Ockham famous by coining the term Ockham's Razor in his 1852 writings. It was used as a metaphor for "shaving away" unnecessary assumptions in opposing theories. Below we'll discuss different elements of the Law of Parsimony.

An Elegant Solution

An elegant solution is an answer that adheres to the Law of Parsimony. It contains the least amount of steps and required materials, as well as the most satisfying conclusion, all with minimal effort required. An elegant solution in psychology would be one that explains theories or models of behavior in simplistic terms.

Make Assumptions That Can Be Dealt With Easily

If there are assumptions in the solution, it's crucial that they can be efficiently dealt with. That may mean doing more research to discover if the assumptions are valid or not.

Refer To Things That Are Observable

A parsimonious explanation refers to things that are observable. They may be objects, motions, behaviors, facial expressions, or multiple-choice test results, for example. Scientists can also observe electrical changes in the brain through EEG's and chemical changes through lab tests. There are many ways to observe behaviors and thoughts, but without some way to make these observations, it's hard to come to an accurate conclusion. In psychology, these can be events that happen in your life or the reactions you portray after going through them.

Few Entities

Some of the most complicated explanations for ordinary physical phenomena have been given by many different people over the course of time. In most cases, there are many different entities involved in explanations. The Law of Parsimony suggests that there should be no more different entities than necessary to explain the event. This means that only you and your therapist should be explaining the events of concern.

Great Generality

Parsimony psychology favors explanations that can be generalized and hold true across a variety of events. For example, if you're talking about winks, smiles, frowns, and furrowed brows, a more parsimonious explanation would use the phrase "facial expressions," because it's a general term that covers various events. This may mean finding a simple tool to work through the difficulties you face in life, instead of various ways to get through different events.

Simple Is Best, But It's Not Always Possible

There's more to parsimony than the aspect of simplicity. The explanation must also be accurate. Think of thriftiness; it isn't just about buying the cheapest vehicle. If you buy a car that won't run and can't be fixed, you've simply wasted money. You need something that's durable and inexpensive.

The same is true in science. In many instances, the first simple solution sounds promising but turns out to be false. Sometimes, more information is needed before a truly parsimonious solution can be found. This means that though parsimony psychology is simple, you should still put in the effort to thoroughly speak through your life in your therapy sessions to find the very best tools to use.

Examples Of Parsimony Psychology

If parsimony psychology is sounding like something that could benefit your life, it can help to see examples of the tool in use to further decide if it's the right therapy style for you. Below is an example of parsimony being used in psychological treatment.

Negative Symptoms Of Schizophrenia

In a 2010 research review, researchers used the law of parsimony to create a less complicated way to think of the negative symptoms of schizophrenia. Negative symptoms are behaviors and thought patterns that take away from the quality of life of the people who live with the diagnosis.

Negative schizophrenia symptoms include:

  • Flat affect
  • Inappropriate Affect
  • Unresponsive affect
  • Unchanging expression
  • Decreased movement
  • Fewer gestures
  • Poor eye contact
  • Lack of vocal inflection
  • Alogia - a lack of new content in a conversation
  • Little speech
  • Asociality - a lack of interest in social interaction
  • Apathy
  • Poor grooming
  • Not persisting at work or school
  • Anergia - a lack of physical energy
  • Few recreational activities
  • Decreased ability to maintain close relationships
  • Few friends
  • Attention difficulties

As you can see, this list is long, and may even feel overwhelming for those who have received a schizophrenia diagnosis. The researchers took this into consideration and looked for a way to simplify the list by using one word to describe its entirety. The word they chose was "avolition," which is defined as "a decreased motivation to initiate or self-direct purposeful activities."

Wondering If Parsimony Psychology Is For You?

You may be surprised by how succinct a mental health professional can be. Counseling—both online and in-person—is more popular now than ever. When it comes to online therapy in particular, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), a huge number of people who previously could not seek help are getting the treatment they need. In other words, online counselors are seeing an increasingly large and diverse body of patients. There’s a good chance they will be able to put things in terms you can understand.

If you've been overwhelmed with terms, diagnoses, and lists of symptoms in the past, parsimony psychology may be the perfect choice for you. You can begin this therapy style by finding a licensed counselor who is familiar with the style. If you have a busy schedule or want to avoid an extra commute, you can always try BetterHelp. You can get help from a BetterHelp Counselor from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing different issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Brianna does a great job of listening to me and really finding out what is bothering me. She then responds with great caring and understanding of what I am feeling, yet she challenges me to be better. She has made this process amazingly simple when we have discussed some very complicated issues. She always has great insight or a great question to something that is bothering me and doesn't rely on conventional examples to help me process and understand how to move forward with living a better, healthier life."

"In the short span of 9 months, Shonnie has become like one of my best friends. At first, I was skeptical of doing therapy since I'm very "psychologically healthy." A few challenges in my personal life lead me to try therapy for a month. Now I consider it an important part of my growth as a businessman and leader within my community. Thank you, Shonnie, for being so helpful during the recent difficulties; I am very lucky to have found you!"


Overall, parsimony psychology is just normal psychology explained through the use of brief, simple terms. It can benefit anyone, especially those who have felt overwhelmed with psychological terms in the past. If this therapy style sounds like it would benefit you, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist to begin today. No matter what you're experiencing, with the right tools, you can move forward to a truly fulfilling life. Take the first step.

Helpful mental health resources delivered to your inbox
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.