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Encyclopedia > Triarchic theory of intelligence

The Triarchic Theory of Intelligence was formulated by Robert J. Sternberg, a prominent figure in the research of human intelligence. The theory by itself was groundbreaking in that it was among the first to go against the psychometric approach to intelligence and take a more cognitive approach. Sternberg’s definition of intelligence is “(a) mental activity directed toward purposive adaptation to, selection and shaping of, real-world environments relevant to one’s life” (Sternberg, 1985, p. 45), which means that intelligence is how well an individual deals with environmental changes throughout their lifespan. Sternberg’s theory is comprised of three parts: componential, experiential, and practical. Robert J. Sternberg (8 December 1949-) is the IBM Professor of Psychology and Education at Yale University. ... Intelligence is usually said to involve mental capabilities such as the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend ideas and language, and learn. ... Psychometry in psychology is a discipline that deals with the measurement and assessment of cognitive abilities and traits, such as intelligence and personality. ... Cognitive science is usually defined as the scientific study either of mind or of intelligence (e. ... The mind is the term most commonly used to describe the higher functions of the human brain, particularly those of which humans are subjectivel // holaMedia:Example. ... Purpose is deliberately thought-through goal-directedness. ... The eye is an adaptation. ... For computer science algorithms that find the kth smallest number in a list, see selection algorithm. ...


Componential / Analytical Subtheory

Sternberg associated the workings of the mind with a series of components. These components he labeled the metacomponents, performance components, and knowledge-acquisition components (Sternberg, 1985).

The metacomponents are executive processes used in problem solving and decision making that involve the majority of managing our mind. They tell the mind how to act. Metacomponents are also sometimes referred to as a homunculus. A homunculus is supposedly the idea that there is another “being” inside our head that controls our actions. This belief proposes the concept of an infinite number of homunculi controlling each other (Sternberg, 1985). Problem solving forms part of thinking. ... Decision making is the cognitive process of selecting a course of action from among multiple alternatives. ... Hartsoekers homunculus The concept of a homunculus (Latin for little man, sometimes spelled homonculus) is often used to illustrate the functioning of a system. ...

Sternberg’s next set of components, performance components, are the processes that actually carry out the actions the metacomponents dictate. These are the basic processes that allow us to do tasks, such as perceiving problems in our long-term memory, perceiving relations between objects, and applying relations to another set of terms (Sternberg, 1997). Memory is a function of the brain: the ability to retain information. ...

The last set of components, knowledge-acquisition components, are used in obtaining new information. These components complete tasks that involve selectively choosing information from irrelevant information. These components can also be used to selectively combine the various pieces of information they have gathered. Gifted individuals are proficient in using these components because they are able to learn new information at a greater rate (Sternberg, 1997). Information is a word which seems to have many different meanings, but is as a rule it closely relates to such concepts as meaning, knowledge, instruction, communication, representation, and mental stimulus. ...

Sternberg associated the componential subtheory with analytical giftedness. This is one of three types of giftedness that Sternberg recognizes. Analytical giftedness is influential in being able to take apart problems and being able to see solutions not often seen. Unfortunately, individuals with only this type are not as adept at creating unique ideas of their own. This form of giftedness is the type that is tested most often. Other areas deal with creativity and other abilities not easily tested. Sternberg gave the example of a student, “Alice”, who had excellent test scores and grades, and teachers viewed her as extremely smart. Alice was later seen having trouble in graduate school because she was not adept at creating ideas of her own (Sternberg, 1997). This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ...

Experiential / Creative Subtheory

Sternberg’s second stage of his theory is his experiential subtheory. This stage deals mainly with how well a task is performed with regard to how familiar it is. Sternberg splits the role of experience into two parts: novelty and automatization. Novelty is the quality of being new. ...

A novel situation is one that you have never experienced before. People that are adept at managing at novel situation can take the task and find new ways of solving it that the majority of people would not notice (Sternberg, 1997).

A process that has been automatized has been performed multiple times and can now be done with little or no extra thought. Once a process is automatized, it can be run in parallel with the same or other processes. The problem with novelty and automatization is that being skilled in one component does not ensure that you are skilled in the other (Sternberg, 1997).

The experiential subtheory also correlates with another one of Sternberg’s types of giftedness. Synthetic giftedness is seen in creativity, intuition, and a study of the arts. People with synthetic giftedness are not often seen with the highest IQ’s because there are not currently any tests that can sufficiently measure these attributes, but synthetic giftedness is especially useful in creating new ideas to create and solve new problems. Sternberg also associated another one of his students, “Barbara”, to the synthetic giftedness. Barbara did not perform as well as Alice on the tests taken to get into school, but was recommended to Yale University based on her exceptional creative and intuitive skills. Barbara was later very valuable in creating new ideas for research (Sternberg, 1997). This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... A precise definition of the arts can be contentious, but the following areas of activity are usually included: Art / Visual arts Architecture Crafts Dance Design / Graphic design Drawing Film Literature Music Painting Photography Pottery Sculpture Theater In academia, the Arts are usually grouped with or a subset of the Humanities. ... IQ redirects here; for other uses of that term, see IQ (disambiguation). ... For other uses, see Yale (disambiguation). ...

Practical / Contextual Subtheory

Sternberg’s third subtheory of intelligence, called practical or contextual, “deals with the mental activity involved in attaining fit to context” (Sternberg, 1985, p.45). Through the three processes of adaptation, shaping, and selection, individuals create an ideal fit between themselves and their environment. ConTEXT is a freeware text editor directed at programmers. ...

Adaptation occurs when one makes a change within oneself in order to better adjust to one’s surroundings (Sternberg, 1985). For example, when the weather changes and temperatures drop, people adapt by wearing extra layers of clothing to remain warm.

Shaping occurs when one changes their environment to better suit one’s needs (Sternberg, 1985). A teacher may invoke the new rule of raising hands to speak to ensure that the lesson is taught with least possible disruption. In education, teachers are those who teach students or pupils, often a course of study or a practical skill, including learning and thinking skills. ...

The process of selection is undertaken when a completely new alternate environment is found to replace the previous, unsatisfying environment to meet the individual’s goals (Sternberg, 1985). For instance, immigrants leave a life of suppression in their homeland and come to America to enjoy liberty and freedom.

The effectiveness with which an individual fits to his or her environment and contends with daily situations reflects degree of intelligence. Sternberg’s third type of giftedness, called practical giftedness, involves the ability to apply synthetic and analytic skills to everyday situations. Practically gifted people are superb in their ability to succeed in any setting (Sternberg, 1997). An exemplar of this type of giftedness is "Celia". Celia did not have outstanding analytical or synthetic abilities, but she “was highly successful in figuring out what she needed to do in order to succeed in an academic environment. She knew what kind of research was valued, how to get articles into journals, how to impress people at job interviews, and the like” (Sternberg, 1997, p.44). Celia’s contextual intelligence allowed her to use these skills to her best advantage.

Sternberg also acknowledges that an individual is not restricted to having excellence in only one of these three intelligences. Many people may possess an integration of all three and have high levels of intelligence threefold.

Robert J. Sternberg is currently the past-president of the American Psychological Association. For justification of this theory, applicable tests, and more information on his innovative studies of intelligence, see his book Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Other publications include Intelligence, Information Processing, and Analogical Reasoning and Metaphors of Mind: Conceptions of Nature of Intelligence. The American Psychological Association (APA) is a professional organization representing psychology in the US. It has around 150,000 members and an annual budget of around $70m. ...


Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. J. (1997). A Triarchic View of Giftedness: Theory and Practice. In N. Coleangelo & G. A. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of Gifted Education (pp. 43-53). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

  Results from FactBites:
Triarchic Abilities Test: Robert Sternberg (1199 words)
Many theories-- of intelligence and of other constructs-- have eventually been consigned to the dustheaps of history because the theories were never followed up with measurements that met even the minimal psychometric criteria for a usable test.
The theory specifies that intelligence can be understood in terms of components of information processing being applied to relatively novel experience and later being automatized in order to serve three functions in the environment: adaptation to, selection of, and shaping of that environment.
Two other kinds of intelligence, "contextual" (the source of creative insight) and "experiential" (the "street smarts" of intelligence) are of enormous value to society, yet not reinforced nor given much opportunity to develop in many traditional classrooms.
  More results at FactBites »



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