Modern I.Q. Theorists - Robert J. Sternberg

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Picture of Robert J. Sternberg, a modern I.Q. theorist

Robert J. Sternberg

(1949- )

Cognitive Psychologist

  • Yale University, B.A. in psychology (1972) 
  • Stanford University, Ph.D. (1975) 
  • Yale University, Department of Psychology, IBM Professor of Psychology and Education
    (1975 - present)
Major Contributions
  • Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence 
  • Several other influential theories related to creativity, intelligence, thinking styles, and education 
Ideas and Interests

Robert Sternberg is best known for his innovative study of human intelligence. His interest in intelligence began in his childhood because of test anxiety. His attitude toward tests was transformed in the sixth grade when he had to retake an IQ test with fifth graders. "Sternberg reflected that 'the absurdity of that situation helped me get over the test anxiety.' Inspired by his breakthrough, the precocious student subsequently fashioned his own "Sternberg Test of Mental Ability," which he administered to classmates as part of a science project; in high school, he examined how various distractions affect individual performance on intelligence tests (Trosky, p. 421)." As a college student, he spent his summers working at the Psychological Corporation and Educational Testing Service with principal writers of standardized testing materials.

As a student at Stanford University, he was prompted by Barron's Educational Publishing Company to write a book on how to prepare for [the Miller Analogies Test]. . . . Throughout the 1970s Sternberg's research focused on the analytical processes involved in taking intelligence tests. Consequently, his work included critical examinations of the kinds of mental exercises typically featured on such tests. . . . Encouraged by the results of these early studies, Sternberg established a 'componential' theory of intelligence in which he associates the various stages of information processing with specific functions of the brain. (Trosky, p. 421)

After additional research and a study of existing theories of intelligence, Sternberg published his findings in an innovative 1985 book, Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence. His Triarchic Theory posited a three-part model for describing and measuring mental ability. "In addition to the componential aspect, from which he derived his original theory of intelligence, Sternberg formulated two others which he identified as experiential and contextual (or external). Through their interaction with one another, . . . these subtheories govern and determine the range of cognitive mental ability. . . (Trosky, p. 421)."

One of Sternberg's most important contributions to intelligence theory has been the redefinition of intelligence to incorporate practical knowledge. As Sternberg insists, "'real life is where intelligence operates' and not in the classroom. . . . The true measure of success is not how well one does in school, but how well one does in life (Trosky, p. 421)." Sternberg's discoveries and theories have influenced cognitive science, and have resulted in the re-thinking of conventional methods of evaluating an individual's intelligence. As Robert Glaser commented, "the over-all message in Beyond IQ is 'that a broader view must be taken to more accurately assess and measure the range of intellectual capabilities (Trosky, p. 422)." In the meantime, Sternberg has "rejoined the Psychological Corporation and is developing the Sternberg Multidimensional Abilities Test, an IQ test based on his triarchic theory of human intelligence (Trosky, p. 422).


  • Intelligence, Information Processing, and Analogical Reasoning (1977) 
  • Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence (1985) 
  • Metaphors of Mind: Conceptions of the Nature of Intelligence (1990) 
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