Challenging Mental Models

October 1st, 2015

We all have patterns of thinking and perception that have formed in our minds over many years. These mental models are formed by our own experience or merely from the experience of others.  Often, though at times unconsciously, mental models influence our attitudes and behaviors. They are lynch-pins that usually influence our level of belief in impacting positive change.

Many times these mental models are the product of only one perspective or view point — a single story. In Chimamanda Adichie’s talk she raises the critical need for a balance of stories. As educators, this is no different than our call for critical thinking. Mental models affect how we see people but also how we see problems.

Mental models

All mental models aren’t bad, in fact, the brain functions heavily based on pre-conceived connections/maps.  However, if we aren’t aware that we are using mental models in a given situation, we can easily make poor assumptions that diminish the critical reasoning needed for the best solutions. How can we combat the limiting nature of rigid mental models:

  1. Be aware of our mental models
  2. Test your mental models
  3. Challenge your mental models

Watch, Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk – the Danger of Single Story, then ask yourself these questions:

  • What do you understand the danger of a single story to be?
  • How might you currently have a single story about leadership, or education, or even about Africa?

This has great correlation to our value of Diversity. One will find it diffuclt to celebrate differences if we are unwilling to seek and receive a balance of stories that may challenge our pre-conceived mental models.


We respect all people and believe that difference should be celebrated.

About the author: Segun is Head of Leadership, Global Programs at ALA. You can read his profile here.

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