The Allegory of the Rider and the Elephant

Imagine that an enormous elephant is walking towards you. Atop that elephant is a rider. The rider holds the reins firmly in each hand. As the elephant continues to approach you, the rider pulls on one rein, indicating to the elephant to turn left.

Who is in control? The rider or the elephant?

When asked this question, most respondents answered, “The elephant.” This allegory is a useful model for understanding the brain and our relationship to it. Originally proposed by psychologist Dr. Jonathan Haidt, the model draws the important distinction between the conscious, reasoned processes of the brain (the rider) and the vast automatic or implicit neurobiological processes (the elephant) at work in our lives every day.

Our day-to-day experience lies at the intersection point between the brain and the mind. The mind: our conscious perception, thoughtful consideration, and focused attention. The brain: our extraordinarily complex neurocircuitry, driving a range of unconscious beliefs and behaviors. However, while surveys and interviews allow for our conscious mind—the rider—to respond, psychology and neuroscience provide a deeper insight into the immense realm of our unconscious processes as well as understanding of how these explicit and implicit processes interrelate.

It is precisely these processes, both explicit as well as implicit, that are at the heart of countless national and international initiatives, ranging from conflict resolution efforts to poverty alleviation to education reform. All seek to influence and interact with an individual or group’s psychological landscape in order to bring about a desired behavior or result. However, very few of these initiatives have integrated psychology or neuroscience into their program design or evaluation techniques. Further, within the halls of colleges, universities, and private research facilities, a seemingly immeasurable wealth of data is being produced by the disciplines of psychology and neuroscience. And yet, due to teaching schedules, grant deadlines, research timetables, and all the other responsibilities entailed in maintaining a productive laboratory and research facility, too often the knowledge and insight generated does not reach public application.

Mindbridge generates and harnesses this knowledge in service of humanitarian efforts worldwide. It is our mission to link data to application. We catalyze psychology and neuroscience to build knowledge, generate new realizations, and promote actionable, real-world solutions for organizations, programs, and projects dedicated to national as well as international development and global justice programs. This commitment is carried out though our three flagship programs:

  • Engagement – helping NGOs and government institutions engage more thoughtfully with target populations through project-specific study design.

Mindbridge facilitates quantitative and qualitative studies designed to gain insight into the implicit, psychological drivers behind target population behavior and beliefs.

  • Assessment – designing assessment tools individually tailored to meet organization or program needs.

Mindbridge individually tailors assessment protocols to evaluate an organization or initiative’s progress towards its goals.

  • Ambassadorships – connecting cutting-edge research at our nation’s leading laboratories with organizations and initiatives in national/international development and global justice programs.

Mindbridge links research to application while serving to translate new scientific knowledge into actionable solutions.