Sternberg's Triarchic Theory of Intelligence

Lesson Transcript
Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

This lesson will help you understand the triarchic theory and the three types of intelligence proposed by Robert Sternberg: analytical, creative, and practical.

Examples and Definition

Anne is considered smart by all of her friends. She typically understands how to navigate any environment she is in and makes good judgment calls. In other words, she makes good decisions and uses common sense.

Mark likes new challenges. He enjoys figuring out puzzles and trying new things. His friends always come to him when they need a creative approach to a new situation.

Beth can process and organize information very effectively. She is an expert at analyzing material and uses this talent to obtain high grades in school and high scores on standardized tests.

These three examples exemplify Robert Sternberg's triarchic theory on intelligence. The triarchic theory describes three distinct types of intelligence that a person can possess. Sternberg calls these three types practical intelligence, creative intelligence, and analytical intelligence.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Perkins' Theory of Learnable Intelligence

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:06 Examples and Definition
  • 1:05 Practical Intelligence
  • 2:05 Creative Intelligence
  • 3:17 Analytical Intelligence
  • 5:00 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Practical Intelligence

Practical intelligence relates to how you react to your environment and your ability to adapt to it or change it to suit your needs. Practical intelligence is the ability to thrive in the real world. You might compare practical intelligence to common sense or street smarts. It involves the ability to understand how to deal with everyday tasks. If you were analyzing someone's level of practical intelligence, you might ask yourself questions like: How does this person relate to the world around them? Are they adept at dealing with everyday experiences? Could someone take advantage of this person easily?

Let's look at an example using Anne. She wants to purchase a used car. Anne doesn't want to be taken advantage of, so she is prepared with price comparisons and doesn't let the salesman talk her into purchasing any unnecessary extras. Because of this, she gets a better price than the person who bought a similar car the day before.

Creative Intelligence

Creative intelligence relates to the way a person approaches new information or a new task. You may also hear creative intelligence referred to as experiential intelligence. It involves a person's ability to apply their existing knowledge to new problems. If you were assessing a person's level of creative intelligence, you might ask questions like: How quickly can this person solve a new problem when presented with it? Can they automatically apply a new skill when they're presented with the problem again?

There are two categories of creative intelligence: novelty and automatization. Novelty concerns how a person reacts the first time they encounter something new. Automatization concerns how a person learns to perform repeated tasks automatically.

Our friend Mark demonstrates skill daily in both of these categories. Mark is a spy. He often has to quickly come up with new plans to address the situations he's placed in. Part of the reason he can do this so adeptly is because of his ability to easily reapply ideas he has used before to new situations.

Analytical Intelligence

Analytical intelligence relates to how a person processes and analyzes information. You may also hear analytical intelligence referred to as componential intelligence. You could also think of analytical intelligence as book smarts since it is similar to traditional definitions of IQ and academic achievement.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Additional Activities

Triarchic Theory of Intelligence – Study Prompts :

Graphic Organizer Prompt 1:

Create a graphic organizer that lists and defines the triarchic theory of intelligence, the three main types of intelligence, and the individual components of the three main types.


You could make a tree and have triarchic intelligence and its definition be the trunk. Then, make three branches to define each type of intelligence (analytical, creative, and practical). Lastly, use the leaves of each branch to define the individual components of the different types of intelligence (novelty and automatization for creative intelligence; executive components, performance components, and knowledge acquisition components for analytical intelligence; practical intelligence does not have additional components).

Writing Prompt 1:

Compose an essay in which you describe and provide examples of each type of intelligence based on Sternberg's triarchic theory.


For practical intelligence: Thomas is 18 and recently saved up his money to buy a new gaming system. He went to his local electronics superstore because of its convenient location, but found they were charging $400 for the system. He then went online and found a reputable site that charged $300, with free shipping. He decided that even though he would have to wait a few extra days for the gaming system to arrive, it was worth it to save $100.
For creative intelligence: Crystal is a therapist whose clients frequently say unpredictable things and have erratic behavior. She has to think quickly to react appropriately and helpfully to each new scenario.
For analytical intelligence: Alex is organizing his fantasy baseball team. In preparation for the draft, he compiled a spreadsheet of each MLB pitcher's ERA and other stats to ensure that he picks the best-performing pitchers.

Writing Prompt 2:

Write an essay that explains which type of intelligence you predominantly use.


Of course, there are no right or wrong answers here, as long as your answer is backed up with terminology from the lesson and appropriate examples.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account