Robert Sternberg

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Robert Jeffrey Sternberg
Born(1949-12-08) December 8, 1949 (age 65)
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
Fieldscognitive psychology
InstitutionsOklahoma State University, Yale University, Tufts University, University of Wyoming, Cornell University
Alma materYale University, Stanford University
Doctoral advisorGordon Bower
Known forTriarchic theory of intelligence
Triangular theory of love
The Three-Process View
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Robert Jeffrey Sternberg
Born(1949-12-08) December 8, 1949 (age 65)
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
Fieldscognitive psychology
InstitutionsOklahoma State University, Yale University, Tufts University, University of Wyoming, Cornell University
Alma materYale University, Stanford University
Doctoral advisorGordon Bower
Known forTriarchic theory of intelligence
Triangular theory of love
The Three-Process View

Robert Sternberg (born December 8, 1949) is an American psychologist and psychometrician. He is currently Professor of Human Development at Cornell University.[1] Prior to joining Cornell, Sternberg was president of the University of Wyoming but resigned after less than five months in office.[2] He formerly was Professor of Psychology and Provost at Oklahoma State University, Dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, IBM Professor of Psychology and Education at Yale University, and the President of the American Psychological Association. He is a member of the editorial boards of numerous journals, including American Psychologist. Sternberg has a BA from Yale University and a PhD from Stanford University, under advisor Gordon Bower. He holds thirteen honorary doctorates from two North American, one South American, one Asian, and nine European universities, and additionally holds an honorary professorship at the University of Heidelberg, in Germany. He is currently also a Distinguished Associate of The Psychometrics Centre at the University of Cambridge. Among his major contributions to psychology are the Triarchic theory of intelligence, several influential theories related to creativity, wisdom, thinking styles, love and hate, and is the author of over 1500 articles, book chapters, and books.

Robert Sternberg is married to Karin Sternberg, a German psychologist.[3] Sternberg and his first wife had a son and a daughter. His second wife was Alejandra (surname not known), a native of Mexico. His third wife was Elena Grigorenko, psychology professor at Yale.[4]

Early life[edit]

Sternberg was born on December 8, 1949, to a Jewish family, in New Jersey. Sternberg suffered from test anxiety as a child. As a result, he became an inadequate test taker. This upset him and he reasoned that a test was not an adequate measurement of his true knowledge and academic abilities. When he later retook a test in a room that consisted of younger students, he felt more comfortable and his scores increased dramatically. The following year, he created the Sternberg Test of Mental Agility (STOMA), his first intelligence test. This problem of test taking is what sparked Sternberg’s interest in psychology.

Academic career[edit]

Sternberg was an undergraduate student at Yale University. Neither of Sternberg's parents finished high school, and he was only able to attend Yale through achieving a National Merit Scholarship and receiving financial aid.[5] He did so poorly in his introductory psychology class that his professor insisted that he pursue another major. Determined to succeed, Sternberg earned a B.A. summa cum laude, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, gaining honors and exceptional distinction in psychology. Sternberg continued his academic career at Stanford University, where he earned his Ph.D., in 1975.

Sternberg returned to Yale as an assistant professor of Psychology in 1975, and would work at Yale for three decades, eventually becoming the IBM Professor of Psychology and Education, as well as the founder and director of the Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies and Expertise.[1]

He left Yale in 2005 to assume the position of Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University, where he quickly began his job search for a promotion to a Provost position.[6] After multiple unsuccessful high-profile attempts to gain other academic leadership positions within a few years of arriving at Tufts, including at the University of Colorado[7] and the University of Iowa,[8] Sternberg was offered a position at Oklahoma State University in 2010, where he remained as provost for three years. In early 2013, Sternberg was named the new president of the University of Wyoming.[9] After resigning from the University of Wyoming in late 2013, Sternberg joined the faculty of Cornell University.[1]

University of Wyoming presidency[edit]

Sternberg took office in July 2013 as the University of Wyoming’s 24th president. His major aim was to push the “development of ethical leadership in students, faculty and staff.".[10] Therefore, Sternberg wanted to change the University of Wyoming’s test-based selection process of applicants towards an ethics-based admission process: “The set of analytical skills evaluated in the ACT [American College Testing] is only a small sliver of what you need to be an ethical leader.”[11]

After arriving at the University of Wyoming, President Sternberg's term was marked by tumult in the faculty. Not later than three weeks being in office as Wyoming’s new president the provost and vice president for academic affairs was asked to resign and stepped down.[12] In the next four months, three associate provosts and four deans were asked to resign or resigned voluntarily—many explicitly citing disagreements with President Sternberg's approach.[13] In the Chronicle of Higher Education, November 15, 2013 ("President of U of Wyoming Abruptly Resigns" by Lindsay Ellis), Sternberg's tenure was described as "a period that saw rapid turnover among senior administrators and unsettled the campus."

The last dean who stepped down, the dean of the College of Law, Stephen Easton, accused Sternberg at a university meeting of unethical treatment of staff, professors and schools. “You have not treated this law school ethically.”[14] Sternberg refused to discuss the case at the meeting. The Star Tribune portrayed the situation at the university as “chaos in the college”.[15] Additionally, other provosts blamed a lack of respect for and interest in human capital. According to Peter Shive, a professor emeritus, Sternberg asked everyone to wear the school colors, brown and gold, on Fridays. Shive said the farther away from the administrative building he went, the fewer people were wearing brown and gold.[16]

On November 14, 2013, 137 days after Sternberg took helm of the university, it was announced at a press conference following a Board of Trustees meeting in William Robertson Coe Library on University of Wyoming Campus that Sternberg had tendered his resignation to the board. In a public statement, Sternberg said that despite his care for the university, "It may not be the best fit for me as president". In accordance to university regulations, vice president for academic affairs Dr. Dick McGinity took the office as interim president. His resignation was neither asked for, nor forced by the Board of Trustees.[17] According to the Wyoming News, Sternberg’s four-month presidency produced more than $1.25 million in administration-related costs equivalent to the costs of 31 faculty staff positions for one year.[18] This includes: $377,000 for Sternberg’s severance pay, including $325,000 that he will be paid 2014; $37,500 in deferred compensation Sternberg is due by December 31; about $89,000 for the next presidential search; $330,000 for search firms to find replacements for administrators and deans who resigned; $265,000 for renovations to the house and garage that Sternberg was allowed to continue to rent at a price of $1,100 a month until May 31.

Honorary degrees[edit]

Sternberg holds thirteen honorary doctorates, including some from universities outside the United States. The list of foreign universities that awarded the degrees includes Complutense University of Madrid (Spain), University of Durham (UK), University of Leuven (Belgium), University of Cyprus, University of Paris V (France), and St. Petersburg State University (Russia).

Publications and research[edit]

Sternberg has acquired over $20 million in grants and contracts for his research and has conducted research on 5 different continents. The central focus of his research is on intelligence, creativity, and wisdom. He has also studied close relationships, love, and hatred. He has authored or co-authored over 1,500 publications.[1]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Sternberg’s awards include the Cattell Award from the American Psychological Society, Sir Francis Galton Award from the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, the Arthur W. Staats Award from the American Psychological Foundation and the Society for General Psychology and the E. L. Thorndike Award for Career Achievement in Educational Psychology Award from the Society for Educational Psychology of the American Psychological Association (APA). In the APA Monitor on Psychology, Sternberg has been rated as one of the top 100 psychologists of the twentieth century. The ISI has rated Sternberg as one of the most highly cited authors in psychology and psychiatry (top .5 percent). Sternberg is a fellow of the National Academy of Education, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other organizations. He is past-president of the American Psychological Association and the Eastern Psychological Association, and currently is President of the Federation of Associations in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

Research interests[edit]

Sternberg's main research include the following interests:

Sternberg has proposed a triarchic theory of intelligence and a triangular theory of love. He is the creator (with Todd Lubart[19]) 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 spearheaded an experimental admissions process at Tufts to quantify and test the creativity, practical skills, and wisdom-based skills of an applicant.[20] He used similar techniques when he was provost at Oklahoma State.

Sternberg has criticized IQ tests, saying they are "convenient partial operationalizations of the construct of intelligence, and nothing more. They do not provide the kind of measurement of intelligence that tape measures provide of height."[21]

In 1995, he was on an American Psychological Association task force writing a consensus statement on the state of intelligence research in response to the claims being advanced amid the Bell Curve controversy, titled "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns."

Triarchic theory of intelligence[edit]

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 behavior believed to be associated with intelligence.

Sternberg 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 and shape their environment. According to Sternberg (2003), giftedness should be examined in a broader way incorporating other parts of intelligence.

The triarchic model[edit]

Sternberg (2003) categorizes intelligence into three parts, which are central in his theory, the triarchic theory of intelligence:

Sternberg (2003) discusses experience and its role in intelligence. Creative or synthetic intelligence helps individuals to transfer information from one problem to another. Sternberg calls the application of ideas from one problem to a new type of problem relative novelty. In contrast to the skills of relative novelty there is relative familiarity which enables an individual to become so familiar with a process that it becomes automatized. This can free up brain resources for coping with new ideas.

Context, or how one adapts, selects and shapes their environment is another area that is not represented by traditional measures of giftedness. Practically intelligent people are good at picking up tacit information and utilizing that information. They tend to shape their environment around them. (Sternberg, 2003)

Sternberg (2003) developed a testing instrument to identify people who are gifted in ways that other tests don't identify. The Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test measures not only traditional intelligence abilities but analytic, synthetic, automatization and practical abilities as well. There are four ways in which this test is different from conventional intelligence tests.

Practical application[edit]

Sternberg added experimental criteria to the application process for undergraduates to Tufts University, where he was Dean of Arts and Sciences, to test "creativity and other non-academic factors." Calling it the "first major university to try such a departure from the norm," Inside Higher Ed noted that Tufts continues to consider the SAT and other traditional criteria.[20][23]

Theory in cognitive styles[edit]

Sternberg proposed a theory of cognitive styles in 1997.

Sternberg's basic idea is that the forms of government we have in the world are external reflections of the way different people view and act in the world, that is, different ways of organizing and thinking. Cognitive styles should not be confused with abilities, they are the way we prefer to use these abilities. Indeed a good fit between a person's preferred cognitive profile and his abilities can create a powerful synergy that outweighs the sum of its parts.

The main three branches of government are the executive branch, legislative branch and judicial branch. People also need to perform these functions in their own thinking and working. Legislative people like to build new structures, creating their own rules along the way. Executive people are rule followers, they like to be given a predetermined structure in which to work. Judicial people like to evaluate rules and procedures, to analyze a given structure.

The four forms of mental self-government are hierarchical, monarchic, oligarchic, and anarchic. The hierarchic style holds multiple goals simultaneously and prioritizes them. The oligarchic style is similar but differs in involving difficulty prioritizing. The monarchic style, in comparison, focuses on a single activity until completion. The anarchic style resists conformity to "systems, rules, or particular approaches to problems."

The two levels of mental self-government are local and global. The local style focuses on more specific and concrete problems, in extreme case they "can't see the forest for the trees". The global style, in comparison, focuses on more abstract and global problems, in extreme cases they "can't see the trees for the forest".

The two scopes of mental self-government are internal and external. The internal style focuses inwards and prefers to work independently. The external style focuses outwards and prefers to work in collaboration.

The two leanings of mental self-government are the liberal and conservative. These styles have nothing to do with politics. The liberal individual likes change, to go beyond exciting rules and procedures. The conservative individual dislikes change and ambiguity, he will be happiest in a familiar and predictable environment.

We all have different profiles of thinking styles which can change over situations and time of life. Moreover a person can, and often does, have a secondary preferred thinking style.

Bibliography (selection)[edit]

On human intelligence[edit]

On creativity and intellectual giftedness[edit]

On leadership[edit]

On cognitive styles[edit]

Other works, including edited monographs[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^ "Embattled UW President Sternberg resigns".  "Dr. Sternberg Done with UW". 
  3. ^ "Next university president Sternberg and family prepare to settle in Wyoming." <>.
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  10. ^ "UW Has a New President"> <>
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  15. ^ "Chaos At The Law School Leads To Ouster Of University President." <>
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  17. ^ "Dr. Sternberg Announces Resignation; University Accepts With Understanding." UW. University of Wyoming, 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 15 Nov. 2013. <>.
  18. ^ <
  19. ^ Sternberg, R. J., & Lubart, T. I. (1995). Defying the crowd: Cultivating creativity in a culture of conformity. New York: Free Press.
  20. ^ a b Jaschik, Scott (2006). A "Rainbow" Approach to Admissions. Inside Higher Ed, July 6, 2006.
  21. ^ The Theory of Successful Intelligence Interamerican Journal of Psychology - 2005, Vol. 39, Num. 2 pp. 189-20
  22. ^ Sternberg, R. J. (2003). Giftedness According to the Theory of Successful Intelligence. In N. Colangelo & G. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of Gifted Education (88-99). Boston MA: Allyn and Bacon.
  23. ^ McAnerny, Kelly (2005). From Sternberg, a new take on what makes kids Tufts-worthy. Tufts Daily, November 15, 2005.

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