(1949- )
Cognitive Psychologist


  • Student of:
  • Influenced by: Piaget, Information Processing Psychology
  • Students:
  • Influenced:
  • Time Period: Current Efforts


  • Yale University, B.A. in psychology (1972)
  • Stanford University, Ph.D. (1975)


  • The Psychological Corporation, Research Assistant (1968-1969)
  • Educational Testing Service, Research Assistant (summer, 1970)
  • Yale University, Office of Institutional Research, Research Assistant (1970-1971)
  • Yale University, Department of Psychology, Assistant Professor (1975-1980); Associate Professor (1980-1983); Professor (1983-1986); IBM Professor of Psychology and Education (1986-2005)
  • Director, Yale Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies and Expertise ( PACE Center ) (2000-2005)
  • President of the American Psychological Association (2003)
  • Tufts University, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences (2005-2010)
  • Director, Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies and Expertise ( Tufts University ) (2006-2010)
  • Provost, senior vice president, and professor of psychology ( Oklahoma State University ) (2010-present)
  • Consultant, The Psychological Corporation (1986-1989); Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, School Department (1989-1993); Harcourt Brace Educational Development Group (1993-1994); Harper Collins College Division (1994-1996)
  • Numerous awards including: Distinguished Scholar Award, National Association for Gifted Children (1985); Outstanding Book Award, American Educational Research Association (1987); Award for Excellence, Mensa Education and Research Foundation (1989); James McKeen Cattell Award, American Psychological Society (1999); Listed as one of the “Top 100 Psychologists of the 20 th Century” American Psychological Association (APA) Monitor (2002); E.L. Thorndike Award for Achievement in Educational Psychology, APA (2003); approximately 5 honorary doctorates
  • Oklahoma State University, Provost, Senior Vice President, Regents Professor of Psychology and Education, and George Kaiser Family Foundation Chair of Ethical Leadership (2010-2013)
  • University of Wyoming, President and professor of education and psychology (2013)
  • Cornell University, Professor of Human Development (2014 – Present)

Definition of Intelligence

“I define [intelligence] as your skill in achieving whatever it is you want to attain in your life within your sociocultural context.by capitalizing on your strengths and compensating for, or correcting, your weaknesses ( personal communication, July 29, 2004).”

Major Contributions

  • Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence
  • Several influential theories related to creativity, wisdom, thinking styles, love and hate
  • Author of over 1000 books, book chapters and articles

Interview with Dr. Sternberg (with video clips)

Click here to see the interview transcript and video clips.

Ideas and Interests

Robert J. Sternberg’s spectacular research career in psychology had a rather inauspicious beginning; like many of the psychologists profiled on this Web site, his interest in human intelligence began at an early age. In Dr. Sternberg’s case, however, the interest was intensely personal. In elementary school he performed poorly on IQ tests, and his teachers’ actions conveyed their low expectations for his future progress. Everything changed when his fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Alexa, saw that he had potential and challenged him to do better. With her encouragement, he became a high-achieving student, eventually graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Yale University. In a gesture of gratitude, Dr. Sternberg dedicated his book, Successful Intelligence (1996) to Mrs. Alexa ( personal communication, July 29, 2004; portions retrieved from http://www.yale.edu/rjsternberg/about.html ).

Dr. Sternberg’s personal experiences with intelligence testing in elementary school lead him to create his own intelligence test for a 7 th grade science project. He happened to find the Stanford-Binet scales in the local library, and with unintentional impertinence, began administering the test to his classmates; his own test, the Sternberg Test of Mental Abilities (STOMA) appeared shortly thereafter ( personal communication, July 29, 2004). In subsequent years he distinguished himself in many domains of psychology, having published influential theories relating to intelligence, creativity, wisdom, thinking styles, love and hate.

Dr. Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of (Successful) Intelligence contends that intelligent behavior arises from a balance between analytical, creative and practical abilities, and that these abilities function collectively to allow individuals to achieve success within particular sociocultural contexts (Sternberg, 1988, 1997, 1999). Analytical abilities enable the individual to evaluate, analyze, compare and contrast information. Creative abilities generate invention, discovery, and other creative endeavors. Practical abilities tie everything together by allowing individuals to apply what they have learned in the appropriate setting. To be successful in life the individual must make the best use of his or her analytical, creative and practical strengths, while at the same time compensating for weaknesses in any of these areas. This might involve working on improving weak areas to become better adapted to the needs of a particular environment, or choosing to work in an environment that values the individual’s particular strengths. For example, a person with highly developed analytical and practical abilities, but with less well-developed creative abilities, might choose to work in a field that values technical expertise but does not require a great deal of imaginative thinking. Conversely, if the chosen career does value creative abilities, the individual can use his or her analytical strengths to come up with strategies for improving this weakness. Thus, a central feature of the triarchic theory of successful intelligence is adaptability-both within the individual and within the individual’s sociocultural context (Cianciolo & Sternberg, 2004).

Selected Publications

Sternberg, R. J. (1993). Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test. Unpublished research instrument available from author.

Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of human intelligence. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. J. (1996). Successful intelligence. New York: Simon & Schuster. (Paperback edition: New York: Dutton, 1997).

Sternberg, R. J., & Spear-Swerling, L. (1996). Teaching for thinking. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sternberg, R. J. (1997). Thinking styles. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. J. (2000). Wisdom as a form of giftedness. Gifted child quarterly, 44(4), 252-259.

Sternberg, R. J., & Grigorenko, E. L.  (2000). Teaching for successful intelligence. Arlington Heights, IL: Skylight Training and Publishing Inc.


Sternberg, R. J. (1996). Successful intelligence. New York: Simon & Schuster. (Paperback edition: New York: Dutton, 1997). 

Cianciolo, A. T., & Sternberg, R. J. (2004 ). Intelligence: A brief history. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Sternberg, R. J. (1988). The triarchic mind: A new theory of human intelligence. New York: Viking. Image courtesy of Robert J. Sternberg, taken by Michael Marsland, Yale University, Office of Public Affairs.