From searching online, I haven't found any dictionary entries for this phrase, however it seems it has something to do with Tryon's rat experiment, and it's often used in HR to describe a certain type of attractive hire. I'm not sure what exactly this phrase means though, or what it doesn't mean, because there could be several possibilities from what I've read about it:

  • Genetically adapted to something
  • Quick to learn
  • Intelligent
  • Good at running mazes

Does anyone have more information about this phrase, its definition and etymology?

1 Answer 1


This page (which is the first hit reported by a Google search on >maze bright<) makes clear that the phrase means approximately ‘capable of figuring by yourself out what you need to know and do in a new job, without formal training’:

Unless everyone is 100% Maze-Bright walking in the door and will come up-to-speed quickly on all the intricacies of stakeholder requirements, products and services, processes, organizational and job roles and responsibilities, and strategic changes needed, etc. – you might consider providing some guidance.


The author (a training consultant who has been in the field since the end of the 1970s) says he “first heard of the quality of being “maze-bright” in the early 1980s. It was an incoming requirement in most of the big Fortune 500-type organizations that I worked in.” I think it very likely that you are correct in deriving the phrase from psychological tests measuring rats' ability to find food in a maze. The earliest use of the phrase I have found is a study by W.T. Heron and B.F. Skinner, "“The rate of extinction in maze-bright and maze-dull rats”, Psychological Record, 1940, 4, 11-18.

  • 2
    That infographic makes me cringe. "On-boarding"? "...do you timely provide them..."? Yecch.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 1:48
  • 1
    @Marthaª Onboarding doesn't bother me; it's a reasonably fresh and unpretentious neologism. And timely was until the 19th century a perfectly ordinary adverb as well as an adjective; I'm all for reviving that use and discarding the grotesque in a timely manner. Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 1:57
  • To timely provide where no on-boarder has provided before.
    – Kaz Dragon
    Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 7:39
  • This is a situation where a compound adjective is formed out of a simple adjective, and a noun premodifying. The premodifier here shows domain (not necessarily in a literal sense - streetwise , which looks more acceptable as a solid compound than 'mazebright' possibly would, is a similar, older compound, but I'd say with less metaphorical broadening. Obviously, 'the streets' covers a lot of ground in the first place (couldn't resist it), with minor metaphorical broadening to street life, whereas literal mazes are not encountered too often). Commented Apr 12, 2013 at 8:43
  • The expression was used by Tolman before. For example: Tolman, E. C. (1924). The inheritance of maze-learning ability in rats. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 4(1), 1. Then it was also employed by Tryon in his rat experiments with genetically bred strands.
    – jank
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 5:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.