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Robert J. Sternberg (b. 18 December 1949) is an American psychologist and psychometrician and the Dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University. He was formerly IBM Professor of Psychology and Education at Yale University and the President of the American Psychological Association. Sternberg currently sits on the editorial board of Intelligence.[1]

Research interests[]

Sternberg's main research interests include:

  • Higher mental functions, including intelligence and creativity
  • Styles of Thinking
  • Cognitive Modifiability
  • Leadership
  • Love and Hate

Sternberg has proposed a triarchic theory of intelligence and a triangular theory of love. He is the creator (with Todd Lubart) of the investment theory of creativity, which states that creative people buy low and sell high in the world of ideas, and a propulsion theory of creative contributions, which states that creativity is a form of leadership.

He is spearheading an experimental admissions process at Tufts to quantifiably test the creativity of an applicant.[2]


Many descriptions of intelligence focus on mental abilities such as vocabulary, comprehension, memory and problem-solving that can be measured through intelligence tests. This reflects the tendency of psychologists to develop their understanding of intelligence by observing behaviour believed to be associated with intelligence.

American psychologist Robert Sternberg (1985) believes that this focus on specific types of measurable, mental abilities is too narrow. He believes that studying intelligence in this way leads to an understanding of only one part of intelligence and that this part is only seen in people who are 'school smart' or 'book smart'.

There are, for example,many individuals who score poorly on intelligence tests, but are creative or are 'street smart' and therefore have a very good ability to adapt to the environment.

According to Sternberg, these are the two other parts of intelligence. The three parts of intelligence described by Sternberg are called [[analytical intelligence]], creative intelligence and [[practical intelligence]]. These three parts are central in his theory, the Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence.

  • Analytical intelligence refers to the ability to complete

academic, problem-solving tasks, such as those used in traditional intelligence tests. These types of tasks usually present well-defined problems that have only a single correct answer. For example, questions may ask about the meanings of words (such as 'Is the meaning of concave the same as or opposite to the meaning of convex?') and how to solve number-series problems with a missing number (such as 'What number comes next in the following series: 3, 5, 8, 12, 17 ?'). People with a high-level of analytical intelligence would be likely to achieve well in school exams such as the GAT and in similar types of tasks that mainly depend on what is learnt in school and through books. This is why Sternberg (1985) refers to analytical intelligence as being observed in people who are 'school smart' or 'book smart'.

  • Creative intelligence refers to the ability to successfully

deal with new and unusual situations by drawing on existing knowledge and skills. For example, suppose that you are driving along a deserted country road and your old model car breaks down because the radiator has run out of water. There is a creek nearby but you have nothing in the car that could be used as container to get water from the creek. Nor is there a nearby rubbish bin in which you might be able to find a suitable container (or use the bin itself). If you solve your problem by using an object such as your runners or one of the car's hub caps as a water container, then you have used creative intelligence. Creative intelligence would also be involved when using your imagination to write a short story, paint an artwork or create an advertisement. Unlike tasks requiring analytical intelligence, which have single correct answers, tasks requiring creative intelligence have open-ended or many possible answers.

  • Practical intelligence refers to the ability to adapt to

everyday life by drawing on existing knowledge and skills. Practical intelligence is involved when dealing with everyday personal or practical problems. It may also be involved when dealing with new and unusual situations in everyday life. For example, suppose that you found yourself alone in an unfamiliar suburb, without money or a mobile phone and had missed the last train or bus back to your home. According to Sternberg, successfully dealing with this situation involves a distinctly different part of intelligence, often observed in people who are 'street smart'. Furthermore, what is required to adapt successfully in a particular situation may be different in another situation. 'Street smart' people can usually make these adjustments, applying their knowledge and skills in effective ways.

According to Sternberg, the three parts of intelligence involve abilities that are different, separate and are not 'fixed'; that is, they can change (become stronger or weaker) through experience in everyday life. Furthermore, an individual may be stronger in one or more of these parts. If a person is suffciently strong in each of the three parts, then the three parts will be 'in balance'. When this occurs, the person has what Sternberg calls [[successful intelligence]].

According to Sternberg (2004), successfully intelligent individuals have the ability to achieve success according to their own defnition of success, within their social and cultural environment. They do so by identifying and capitalising on their strengths, and identifying and correcting or compensating for their weaknesses in order to adapt to, shape, and select their environments'. Furthermore, individuals with successful intelligence often have a 'can-do' attitude, learn from past experiences and apply their mental abilities to achieve their goals and ambitions in real-life situations.


Sternberg has a BA from Yale, a PhD from Stanford University, and four honorary doctorates.

Preceded by:
Philip Zimbardo
Robert J. Sternberg elected APA President
Succeeded by:
Diane F. Halpern


Key References
Higher Mental Functions
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1977). Intelligence, information processing,and analogical reasoning: The componential analysis of human abilities.Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. J. (1988). The Triarchic Mind. New York: Viking.

  • Sternberg, R. J. (1990). Metaphors of mind: Conceptions of the nature of intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1997). Successful intelligence. New York: Plume.
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1999). The theory of successful intelligence. Review of General Psychology, 3, 292-316.
  • Sternberg, R. J., Forsythe, G. B., Hedlund, J., Horvath, J., Snook, S., Williams, W. M., Wagner, R. K., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2000).Practical intelligence in everyday life. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sternberg, R. J., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2000). Teaching for successful intelligence. Arlington Heights, IL: Skylight.

Key References
  • Sternberg, R. J., Kaufman, J. C., & Pretz, J. E. (2002). The creativity conundrum: A propulsion model of creative contributions. Philadelphia, PA.
  • Sternberg, R. J., & Lubart, T. I. (1995). Defying the crowd: Cultivating creativity in a culture of conformity. New York: Free Press.
  • Sternberg, R. J., & Williams, W. M. (1996). How to develop student creativity. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Key Reference
  • Sternberg, R. J., & Vroom, V. H. (2002). The person versus the situation in leadership. Leadership Quarterly, 13, 301-323

See also[]


  1. Intelligence publisher's page.[1]
  2. Jaschik, Scott (2006). A "Rainbow" Approach to Admissions. Inside Higher Ed, July 6, 2006.
  • Sternberg, R.J. (1977) Intelligence, Information-processing and Analogical Reasoning: the Componential Analysis of Human Abilities, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Sternberg, R.J. (1984) Facets of intelligence, In: J.R. Anderson and S.M. Kosslyn (eds) Tutorials in Learning and Memory: Essays in Honour of Gordon Bower, San Francisco W.H. Freeman.
  • Sternberg, R.J. (1985) Beyond IQ: a Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Sternberg, R.J. (1987) The Triangle of Love, New York: Basic Books.

External links[]

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