Robert Jeffrey Sternberg is an American cognitive psychologist with contributions to research on intelligence, giftedness, leadership and emotions. Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1949, Sternberg got his B.A. in psychology from Yale University in 1972 and a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University in 1975. He is a fellow of nine divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA), and has received two APA awards, the Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology in 1981, and the McCandless Award. He has obtained more than 10 honorary doctorates and has published extensively in the field of psychology. His works include Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence (1985), The Triangle of Love (1988), and Successful Intelligence (1997). In 2010, Sternberg was made provost, senior vice president and professor of psychology at the Oklahoma State University.
Sternberg's interest in psychology, and intelligence in particular, first appeared in his early years when in elementary school, he did poorly on an IQ test and tried to find out the reasons for his bad performance. In seventh grade he developed his own set of intelligence tests he called the Sternberg Test of Mental Abilities (STOMA), which he used to test his classmates. By graduate school, he had already sought to determine the components underlying human intelligence - an idea that in 1975 developed into a componential theory of intelligence.
Later, while working with his students, Sternberg got convinced that intelligence is much more sophisticated and complex than the set of analytical abilities normally measured by traditional IQ tests. This led him to argue in favor of a triarchic theory of human intelligence. According to this theory, intelligence comprises three sets of abilities: analytical, creative and practical. The analytical abilities are those measured by IQ tests in the style of French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857-1911), memorizing, recalling and evaluating information. But Sternberg argued that these abilities are necessary only to a small extent in life outside academia. Instead, he emphasized the value of skills necessary in real life, such as coming up with an original solution to a problem or getting the desired job.
Together with his colleagues at Yale, Sternberg designed the Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test, to reflect the claims of the new theory. This test consists of three parts, dedicated to the memory-analytical, creative and practical skills, respectively. The componential theory was afterwards expanded into a theory of successful intelligence. According to it, intelligent people are those who capitalize on their strengths and compensate for or correct their weaknesses.
This theory contained in itself two other theories to which Sternberg has dedicated his attention - the investment theory of creativity and the balance theory of wisdom. Sternberg compares creative people to good investors, as they do with their ideas what good investors do with stocks - buy low and sell high. They come up with ideas that defy commonly held opinions and then they persuade other people of the value of these challenging ideas. Thus, creativity is more of an attitude toward life than an ability.
The balance theory of wisdom says that being intelligent requires being wise, that is to use one's knowledge and resources to promote a common good, while balancing one's own interests and that of other people and the society. The concept of wisdom as a kind of a balance is at the basis of Sternberg's theory of giftedness and leadership. Sternberg says that failed leaders inspired him to look into the problem of wisdom. According to him, an unsuccessful leader is a smart and an unwise person.
Another psychological area to which Sternberg has devoted much of his work is the area of emotions - love and hate, in particular. Sternberg has developed a three-component theory of love. According to it, love has three main constituents: intimacy (trust, connectedness, closeness), passion (the "wow" factor), and commitment (the willingness of a person to stay in a relationship). Different blends of these components result in different kinds of love. For example, a blend of intimacy and passion yields romantic love, while a blend of intimacy and commitment results in companionate love. Foolish love is a mixture of passion and commitment, but missing intimacy. The presence of all three components yields complete love.