A Triarchic Approach to Giftedness

Robert J. Sternberg

This final technical report describes four projects that apply Robert J. Sternberg’s theories to various aspects of giftedness and gifted performances. Project I, a construct validation and educational application of Sternberg’s triarchic theory of human intelligence, revealed that students who are instructed and whose achievement is evaluated in a way that matches (at least partially) their profile of abilities will perform better in school than children who are mismatched. Project II, which examined the construct validity of Sternberg’s theory of mental self-government, found that teachers tend to (a) evaluate more positively students who match their own profile of style, and (b) overestimate the extent to which students match their own style of thinking. Project III, construct validation of Sternberg and Lubart’s investment theory of creativity, found that creative individuals are people who “buy low and sell high” in the world of ideas. Project IV, an investigation of Sternberg’s pentagonal implicit theory of giftedness, found that society labels people as gifted to the extent that the people meet five criteria—excellence, rarity, productivity, demonstrability, and value. Overall, the four projects reveal the value of a theory-based approach to understanding giftedness.


Sternberg, R. J. (1995). A triarchic approach to giftedness (Research Monograph 95126). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

A Triarchic Approach to Giftedness
Robert J. Sternberg


  1. A triarchic test allows students to be identified as intelligent in a variety of different ways, as well as allows teachers to identify strengths of students who might otherwise go unnoticed.
  2. Data suggest that teachers either seek out a school that matches their stylistic pattern, or else adapt themselves, probably over a long period of time, to styles of thought that are compatible with the styles characteristic of and valued by the school.
  3. Teachers appear to value more highly students who are like themselves. Indeed, the data suggested that teachers tend to overestimate the extent to which their students match their own styles.
  4. How we identify for gifted and talented needs to be based on what we value as a society.
  5. The kind of educational program that we offer for our gifted and talented students also needs to be based on what we value.