Brief notes on Robert Sternberg’s Theory of Intelligence


Robert Sternberg of the Yale University, USA is one of the most prominent among the generation of cognitive psychologists, Sternberg (1982) asked people to identify the characteristics of an intelligent person. The most frequently given answers indicated the wing: (a) He reasons logically and well; (b) He reads widely; (c) He keeps an open minded reads with high comprehension. On the basis of his observation, and experimental arch, Sternberg (1986) formulated the Triarchic theory of intelligence.

He theorized that intelligent behavior consists of three major components. Each component is a basic unit of information processing. According to him, such components consist of activities to acquire or store information, to develop problem-solving strategies, and to use strategies according to a plan to sol problems, and monitor one’s progress.

The three basic and major components of intelligence are; (1) Componential intelligence (analysis of information to solve problems); (2) Experiential intelligence (using prior knowledge as information in problem solving and creating new ideas); and (3) Contextual intelligence (using intelligence to adapt to environmental demands: practical intelligence).


Componential Intelligence:

This is the knowledge-acquisition component for learning new facts. This is reflected in the I.Q scores obtained through test administration, and grades obtained by school students. Intelligence behavior of a person consists of three information-processing components such as (a) learning how to do things, (b) planning what things to do and how to do them, and (c) actually doing things. This is the performance component of intelligent behavior. People of such intelligence perform excellently standard tests and in displaying rational behavior.

Experiential Intelligence:

This component of intelligence focuses experience. It is involved in using the past experience creatively to solve no problems. Thus, experiential intelligence is reflected in creative performance. For example, scientists use their experiences to develop novel scientific theories. Artists draw mass attention by drawing commonplace things extraordinary ways.


It focuses on how a person’s past experience affects intelligence and how those experiences are utilized in problem-solving behavior. It consists of the ability to integrate different experiences in a unique and original way. Persons who are high in this component quickly find c what information is crucial in a given situation, and how the information is be used to reach the target. This is the kind of intelligence shown by ma scientific genius and inventors such as Einstein, Newton, Freud, C.V. Rami and J. C. Bose.

Contextual Intelligence:

This component of intelligence as put forth Sternberg involves practical intelligence, i.e., the practical management day-to-day life affairs like how to get rid of trouble, how to face the environmental demands, and how to get along with the society. The contextual aspect is composed of (a) adaptation to present environment (b) selection of a relatively favorable environment instead of the existing one, and (c) modifying the present environment to fit to one’s skills, needs, and values.

Contextual intelligence is what people sometimes call street smartness or business sense. Persons high in this component exercise greater influence in controlling their environment, and therefore, turn out to be successful. The standard IQ tests do not tap contextual and experiential intelligences.


Evaluation of Sternberg’s Theory:

Sternberg believes that this kind of practical intelligence is the tacit knowledge. It consists of all of the important information about practical reality of the world about which one is taught neither in schools nor in colleges. According to him, tacit knowledge is more important for success than the obvious “bookish” knowledge.

The test developed by Sternberg measures tacit knowledge of individual – how he/she responds to dilemmas and problem-solving circumstances in areas like business, science, and politics. The test also measures sensitivity to the non-verbal cues, Sternberg’s test tries to evaluate the person’s ability to decode nonverbal cues such as the looking behavior in personal interaction, facial expressions, the body postures, body awareness, physical proximity, and appearance.

Recent researchers have focused more on Sternberg’s contextual aspect of intelligence. They have put emphasis on practical intelligence, which is related to overall success in living rather than intellectual and academic performance. Sternberg believes that such intelligence is generally predictive of success in a chosen field no matter whether it is tailoring, business or medicine etc. Career success requires a type of intelligence, which is very different from that which is required in academic success. But practical intelligence is learned mainly through observation and modeling.


Sternberg has also expanded his theory to the field of personality. He speaks of mental self-government in describing personality dispositions of individuals. The three types of intelligence must be considered along with the intellectual styles i.e., the ways these intelligences are used in solving the problems of everyday life. It is yet to be seen that Sternberg’s views regarding intelligence are confirmed by future research. Yet it must be admitted that Sternberg provides a clearly promising perspective in the field of cognition to understand the varied nature of intelligent behavior.

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