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The triarchic theory of intelligence of Sternberg

The triarchic theory of intelligence of Sternberg

February 22, 2024

The cognitive capacity of the human being It is one of the most researched aspects of psychology. The concept of intelligence has been changing throughout history, although for the most part it has been considered as the ability to solve problems and adapt efficiently to the environment.

There are theories that consider it a single general capacity, or a set of hierarchical capacities and subordinated to a basic capacity, while other theorists see that this concept is a set of more or less independent capacities that allow us to adapt successfully. One of the existing theories that try to explain how intelligence is structured is The Triarchic Theory of Intelligence by Robert J. Sternberg .


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Triarchic theory of Sternberg: general concept

The triarchic theory of the intelligence of Sternberg is based on the conception of this one that the traditional and hierarchical models of the intelligence are not exhaustive since they do not give account of the use that becomes of the intelligence in himself, limiting itself to conceptualize its nature and functioning without observing how it is linked and applied in a real context.

Thus, this theory considers that the measurement of intellectual capacity has focused solely on one aspect of intelligence, ignoring other aspects of great relevance that form cognitive skills by themselves. In conclusion. Sternberg states that it is not enough to see what is done, but also how and why, when acting.


For Sternberg, intelligence is all mental activity that guides the conscious adaptation to the environment and to the selection or transformation of this with the purpose of predicting results and being able to actively provoke the adaptation of one to the medium or of the medium to one. It is the set of thinking skills that are used in the resolution of more or less everyday or abstract problems.

The conception of this author approaches the vision of intelligence as a set of capabilities instead of a single unmodifiable element. It is from this idea and from the perception that other theories do not establish how intelligence is linked to the real world that the author establishes his theory of triarchic intelligence, whose name is due to the consideration of three types of intelligence.

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The three types of intelligence

Sternberg elaborates a theory according to which he considers the existence of three types of intelligence that explain the processing of information internally, externally and at the level of interaction between the two.


In other words, consider the existence of three basic abilities that determine the intellectual capacity . Specifically, it establishes the existence of an analytical intelligence, a practical intelligence and a creative intelligence.

1. Analytical or componential intelligence

For the triarchic theory of the intelligence of Sternberg, the analytical intelligence supposes the ability to capture, store, modify and work with information . It is the closest to the unitary conception of intelligence, referring to the ability to establish plans and manage cognitive resources. Thanks to analytical intelligence we can perform mental operations such as defining, making decisions and generating solutions.

In this intelligence we can find the elementary components or processes that allow to work on the cognitive representations of reality , modify them and pass them through a processing that allows a response.

These components can be divided into metacomponents or control processes that allow decisions to be made and to mark how to think and act, as well as planning, performance or performance components which are put into action starting from the meta components and allow to carry out said established plans for them and the acquisition components which allow learning and obtaining information .

2. Practical or contextual intelligence

This type of intelligence refers to the ability of human beings to adapt to the environment in which they live. In the first place, the organism tries to survive from what already exists in the environment, taking advantage of the opportunities offered to adapt .

However, if this is not possible, the person must establish other mechanisms to adapt and survive. These other processes are the selection of environment and stimuli in order to improve their situation and / or the shaping of the environment in cases where it is not possible to change the environment, in this case making changes in the environment to better adjust your possibilities.

For example, a person who is hungry can select the environment and move to a place where there is plenty of food or take advantage of elements present in the environment that were previously not part of their diet to feed themselves, or can decide to change the environment by cultivating in an orchard your own food. It is about applying cognitive abilities with an adaptive purpose.

3. Creative or experiential intelligence

This type of intelligence is considered as the integration of information obtained from abroad with our psyche . In other words, it is that kind of skill that allows us to learn from experience. It is also linked to creativity and the resolution of problems not previously experienced.

In this sense Sternberg notes that the degree of novelty is important of the experiences and tasks. Ideally, the task can be new to a moderate degree, so that the subject can create and react to new stimuli while having some tool that allows him to cope.

Another relevant aspect is the automation , that is, the ability to replicate a behavior or knowledge without requiring a conscious effort. Repeating tasks on different occasions allows you to master them and reduce their level of novelty and the need for attention to each basic element that is part of them. The higher the level of automation, the greater the level of resources available to face other tasks successfully.

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Bibliographic references:

  • Hernangómez, L. and Fernández, C. (2012). Psychology of personality and differential. CEDE Preparation Manual PIR, 07. CEDE: Madrid.
  • Martin, M. (2007). Historical and conceptual analysis of the relationships between intelligence and reason. Spain: University of Malaga.
  • Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg's Triarchic Theory, simplified (February 2024).


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