Biography of Psychologist Robert Sternberg

Triangular Theory of Love

AnonMoos / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

Robert Jeffrey Sternberg is an American psychologist known for his theories on love, intelligence, and creativity. He was born in New Jersey on December 9, 1949. Sternberg's interest in psychology began early in life. After experiencing test anxiety and doing poorly on an exam, he realized that the test was not an accurate measure of his actual knowledge and abilities.

When he retook the same test in a different room with a group of younger students, he found that he felt more confident and scored much higher as a result. The next year, Sternberg developed his very first intelligence test, which he named the Sternberg Test of Mental Ability (STOMA).

His later academic experiences further demonstrated that standard tests were often poor measures of mental abilities. He actually performed so poorly in his Introductory Psychology class that his professor advised him to pursue a different major. Undeterred, Sternberg went on to graduate from Yale with a bachelor's in psychology in 1972 and earned his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1975.


After earning his degree, Sternberg returned to Yale as a professor of psychology. He later became the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University. He was a professor of psychology at Oklahoma State University, and later President and a professor of psychology and education at the University of Wyoming. He is currently a professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University.

Sternberg is perhaps best known for his research on intelligence, love, cognitive styles, and creativity. His triarchic theory of intelligence focuses on what he refers to as "successful intelligence" which is composed of three elements: analytical intelligence (or problem-solving abilities), creative intelligence (using prior knowledge and skills to deal with new situations), and practical intelligence (the ability to adapt to a changing world).

"Successfully intelligent people discern their strengths and weaknesses, and then figure out how to capitalize on their strengths, and to compensate for or remediate their weaknesses," Sternberg writes. "Successfully intelligent individuals succeed in part because they achieve a functional balance among a 'triarchy' of abilities… Moreover, all of these abilities can be further developed."

Sternberg is also known for his research on love. His triangular theory of love identifies commitment, passion, and intimacy as the three main components of love. When these three elements are combined in various ways, they result in different types of love. For example, passionate love is composed of passion and intimacy, while compassionate love is a mix of intimacy and commitment.

Contributions to Psychology

Sternberg served as the President of the American Psychological Association in 2003. He has won numerous awards, including the Distinguished Scholar Award from the National Association for Gifted Children in 1985, the James McKeen Cattell Award from the Association for Psychological Science in 1999, and the E.L. Thorndike Award for Achievement in Educational Psychology from the APA in 2003.

He has written more than 1,800 articles, book chapters, and books. He also has been awarded 13 honorary doctorates. He was listed by the APA as one of the top 100 psychologists of the 20th century and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education.

In addition to his research, teaching, and university work, Sternberg is also a prolific writer. The following selected works represent just a small sampling of his work:

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

Sternberg, R. J. (1996). Successful Intelligence. New York: Simon & Schuster. (Paperback edition: New York: Dutton, 1997).

Sternberg, R. J., & Spear-Swerling, L. (1996). Teaching for Thinking. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sternberg, R. J. (1997). Thinking Styles. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. J. (1999). The Theory of Successful Intelligence. Review of General Psychology, 3(4), 292-316.

Sternberg, R. J., & Grigorenko, E. L. (2000). Teaching for Successful Intelligence. Arlington Heights, IL: Skylight Training and Publishing Inc.

Sternberg, R. J. (2007). Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity Synthesized. New York: Cambridge University Press.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Human Intelligence: Historical Influences, Current Controversies, Teaching Resources. Interview with Dr. Sternberg.

  2. Sternberg, RJ. The Triarchic Mind: A New Theory of Human Intelligence. New York: Viking; 1988.

  3. Sternberg RJ. A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review. 1986;93(2):119-135. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.93.2.119

  4. Sternberg RJ. Bio.

  5. American Psychological Association. Eminent psychologists of the 20th Century. Monitor on Psychology. 2002;33(7):29.

  6. Human Intelligence: Historical Influences, Current Controversies, Teaching Resources. Robert J. Sternberg (1949 - ).

Additional Reading

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."