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Robert Sternberg's history with intelligence testing has been described as a lifelong love-hate affair. In the 6th grade, suffering from test anxiety, he performed so poorly on a standardized test the school authorities made him take the test a second time with a group of 5th graders. Feeling confident among that group, he did quite well. (He describes the incident and its effect on him and his subsequent research in more detail in the interview.) By the 7th grade he had developed his own intelligence test dubbed the STOMA-the Sternberg Test of Mental Ability (he was certainly not lacking in initiative). As an undergraduate, Sternberg majored in psychology at Yale, and managed to get only a "C" in his introductory psych course. Once again he proved that such early predictors are not all they are cracked up to be. By the time he was a graduate student in psychology at Stanford, his doctoral work earned him the Sidney Siegel Memorial Award. He has worked at the Admissions Office and the Institutional Research Office at Yale University, the Test Division of the Psychological Corporation, and at the Educational Testing Service (ETS).
Sternberg's early work built on the standard psychometric conception of intelligence as a single, general trait (Spearman's g). His Componential Theory broke g down into its underlying information processing components. But Sternberg found that even his Componential Theory and the tests he developed to measure the component processes still missed a lot. Individuals who scored highly on Sternberg's early test still were not guaranteed success and many individuals who did not score as well went on to have a better record of real life accomplishments than did those who scored well on his or on other traditional tests.
Sternberg has moved beyond the Componential Theory to what is now known as the Triarchic Theory of Intelligence. In his view, the Triarchic Theory does not disprove either g or his earlier Componential Theory, but rather subsumes them under a larger framework.
The Triarchic Theory posits three facets that make up what we call intelligence (and for Sternberg that term, when properly defined and measured, must translate into real life success). The three facets are: (1) Analytical Intelligence, which is similar to the standard psychometric definition of intelligence and corresponds to his earlier Componential Intelligence. It is measured by analogies and puzzles and reflects how an individual relates to his internal world; (2) Creative Intelligence which involves insight, synthesis, and the ability to react to novel stimuli and situations. This is the Experiential aspect of intelligence and reflects how an individual connects the internal world to external reality; (3) Practical Intelligence, which involves the ability to grasp, understand, and solve real life problems in the everyday jungle of life. This is the contextual aspect of intelligence, and reflects how the individual relates to the external world about him. In short, practical intelligence is "street smarts."
The Sternberg Multidimensional Abilities Test measures all three (on separate scales). All three are important to success in life and have been used to develop programs for children and to select business managers. Together, the three measures provided more information than just the analytical intelligence measured by standard IQ tests on which, in Sternberg's view, our society has placed far too much emphasis.
Skeptic went to Professor Sternberg to get his view of the controversial book The Bell Curve (see the interview with its co-author Charles Murray in the previous issue of Skeptic). Having first discovered, then grasped, and for years fondled its trunk, Sternberg feels that the standard psychometric interpretation (on which so much of The Bell Curve (is based) has mistaken the elephant of intelligence for nothing more than a big and powerful snake.
Sternberg also strongly believes that all three aspects of intelligence can not only be measured, but also developed. While he sees this technology as still being in the infant stage, Sternberg believes it (and not just measurement and selection) is the goal on which society should focus.
In 1981, Sternberg received the Distinguished Scientist Award for Early Contribution of Psychology. The citation read, in part, "He has put intelligence into investigations of intellectual abilities...combining experimental methods and theories of cognitive psychology with traditional mental-testing ideas in analyzing intelligent performance and individual differences...[and has] cross-fertilized and infused vitality into studies of individual differences and the experimental analysis of intellectual performances." He is currently IBM Professor of Education and Psychology at Yale and the author of The Triarchic Mind, and Intelligence, Information Processing and Analogical Reasoning. He is also the editor of The Encyclopedia of Intelligence, and on the editorial board of Intelligence, the leading scientific journal in the field of intelligence and mental ability.
Like Charles Murray, Robert Sternberg thinks that the study of intelligence is vitally important to the health and survival of our society, but oh how their diagnoses and prescriptions differ-to the point of possible allegations of quackery and malpractice! Here then is what "the Street Smart Psychologist" had to say about The Bell Curve.
Skeptic: At Skeptic magazine, we are interested in examining the evidence for all claims. Herrnstein and Murray present what they consider to be the consensus of scholars working in the field of intelligence. Snyderman and Rothman (The IQ Controversy) present similar data and there was a statement recently in the The Wall Street Journal. You summarized this so-called consensus, if I can paraphrase, in the following manner, "IQ exists, it's heritable, there are group differences, and all this matters." But in your review of The Bell Curve you say, "the lay public remains sadly uninformed. Nothing could be further from the truth." So as Skeptics our question is, if there is this much disagreement, is psychology even a science in the same sense that physics is?
Sternberg: There is disagreement in physics and there is disagreement in biology. Active sciences always have disagreements within them. The general public usually doesn't get the full sense of the amount of disagreement because the information is filtered through the media and what comes out is only a portion of what's actually going on in science. Normally they would not even be aware of the disagreement in psychology except that this book (The Bell Curve) was written for the media. It was written with the purpose of stirring up this kind of controversy. So the general public becomes aware of these types of disagreements in psychology, but they exist in every active science.
Skeptic: Which then is a fairer description of your own position-(1) there is a consensus on the topics that Herrnstein and Murray discuss, or (2) yes, there is a consensus among psychometricians, but I (Robert Sternberg) and others disagree with it?
Sternberg: To the extent that there is a consensus it is certainly not Herrnstein's and Murray's. You mentioned the statement that appeared in the The Wall Street Journal, which a number of psychometricians signed. This statement was not totally coincident with the views of Herrnstein and Murray. It certainly wasn't coincident with mine. I would say that I don't think that consensus in science makes much difference. Science isn't done by majority rule. There is a misperception on the part of the public that even if you took a vote and 51% of the scientists said, "I think this is true," that would have any impact on whether it's really true or not. Science is not politics. There could be one person who believes something and that person might be right. In fact, most of the really important work in science has been the result of one person saying, "You guys are all wet, you're full of it!" and then proceeding to show that he is indeed right. So I think the conception of science as taking a vote, and whichever side gets 51% is right, is simply wrong. Science is not politics, we're not electing anyone.
Skeptic: OK. Let's go point by point through the earlier paraphrase of what's in The Bell Curve. Let's take the concept of general mental ability, which Herrnstein and Murray invoke, versus Gardner's "Seven Intelligences" or your own "Triarchic Mind," which uses the concepts of Analytical Intelligence, Creative Intelligence, and Practical Intelligence. You once wrote in an article that, "We interpret the preponderance of evidence as overwhelmingly supporting the existence of some kind of general factor in human intelligence. Indeed, we are unable to find any convincing evidence at all that militates against this view." So how then is your approach different than the approach of the g-theorists that Herrnstein and Murray invoke?
Sternberg: That article was published in 1983, I believe, and was based on work that I had done in the late 70s and early 80s. What I found at that time was that if you use the kinds of tasks that are used in intelligence tests, then you will get the g factor. That statement reflected analyses we did that instead of using individual difference analysis used process analysis. Even using process analysis, we got a general factor. So if you were to ask me, "Do I think that there is general factor in the kinds of tests that psychometricians use?" I would say "Yes." That is a different question from, "If you define intelligence, not just as IQ, but as involving more than what the IQ tests in fact test, is there then a general factor?" then I would say the answer is "No." So the way psychometricians operationalize it, you get a g factor. But I think, as do many other people, that is a narrow view of intelligence.
Skeptic: Would it be fair to say that your view is not that g does not exist, but that it is one facet or one side of the picture?
Sternberg: That's right, g is not quite as general as some psychometricians make it out to be.
Skeptic: Let's turn to the heritability of IQ. Let's just look at that, as you described it, narrow measure we call IQ score, within the white population. Herrnstein and Murray repeat the same numbers that we find in reviews of the literature by Erlenmeyer-Kimling and Jarvik, Bouchard and others. Do you have any disagreement with or criticism of their estimate of .40 to .80 as the heritability of IQ score within the white population?
Sternberg: I think that there is definitely some heritability of intelligence in the White population. Almost every psychologist believes there is some heritability of IQ and I agree. But the public may not understand just what that means. If you accept the use of the heritability statistic, about .5 is probably right.
Skeptic: Can you explain wherein the general public's conception or the media's description of what is meant by heritability is wrong?
Sternberg: The commonplace understanding of heritability often doesn't realize that heritability is calculated within a range of environments, at a given time, for a given population. So heritability is not the same in every population. In fact there is wide variation in populations over time and space. It is not a fixed statistic. The value you obtain (for heritability) depends on the population, where it is, and when it is. But the major misunderstanding relates to the role of the environment and to the role of teachability. With respect to teachability, even if heritability is fairly high, it does not mean that we cannot modify intelligence.
Skeptic: What exactly do you mean by that?
Sternberg: What I mean is that there is absolutely no relation between how heritable something is and the existence of a difference in group means. The most common example is height. Height has a heritability of greater than .9, but heights have increased quite dramatically in some countries like Japan and have also increased in our own country over the course of several generations. So despite the much higher heritability of height than anyone believes of intelligence, we see that height can increase. To take a more extreme example: there is a disease known as Phenylketonuria (PKU), which is 100% heritable and yet through an environmental intervention, namely withholding Phenylalanine from the diets of infants from birth, you can either reduce or eliminate the mental retardation that normally results. In other words, even when heritability is 1.00, environmental interventions still matter. There are different ways to look at intelligence. One is to do heritability statistics, which I've never found to be that helpful. Another way is to look at studies on intervention. For example, Dennis did a large study in Iran where he found that kids that were placed in Iranian orphanages, almost without exception, were mentally retarded, whereas the children who were quickly adopted before the age of two scored at normal levels on intelligence tests, roughly a 50-point difference in obtained IQ.
Skeptic: Are such results repeatable?
Sternberg: Yes. Obviously the environment of the Iranian orphanage was pretty bad and that's why you got that level of retardation. But if you look at the kinds of environments some of our least fortunate get, even in the United States, in the inner cities, they are not so hot either. Diamond performed studies on brain mass in rats and found that if you give them an enriched environment, it affects the brain, which becomes heavier and more convoluted.
Skeptic: How is your more elaborate view of heritability and its limitations different from what Herrnstein and Murray say in The Bell Curve? Sternberg: The way that book is written is to, I think, say X on page 605 in sentence 8, with an appropriate caution, and then invite the reader to a somewhat more extreme conclusion elsewhere. So if you were to ask, "Is there anywhere in The Bell Curve that explains what heritability truly is?" there probably is. If you were to ask, "What inference do Herrnstein and Murray invite their readers to draw?" they go beyond what they know. For example, with regard to race differences, Herrnstein and Murray invite the reader to conclude that race differences are due to genetics, even though they have no evidence of that, and they know it.
Skeptic: They do review studies that deal with race differences.
Sternberg: Yes, but there is evidence that they do not review at all. There is nothing in the book that suggests that race differences are genetic. They even say that. But what they do say is that is what we would infer given the data, even though probably somewhere else, they would have one sentence to the effect that there is one study. And they don't cite a number of studies that suggest that race differences are not genetic.
Skeptic: Which studies don't Herrnstein and Murray cite?
Sternberg: Well, one study that they cite and distort the results of is the Scarr-Weinberg study. What Scarr-Weinberg and several people have done is look at blood groups (associated with Whiteness or Blackness), or skin color, and looked at the correlation with IQ. The typical correlation is about .15, suggesting that you are accounting for about 1-2% of the variance. And even that less than 2% could be due to the way darker versus lighter people are treated. So when you look at the studies that have been done, they counter-indicate the conclusion that Herrnstein and Murray draw.
Skeptic: Which then is your position on the question of race differences in IQ? We all see the 1 standard deviation difference in mean IQ if we give the tests to groups of Blacks and Whites. Is that mean difference the result of genetics, environment, both, or should we say at this point that we just don't know?
Sternberg: What we know is that almost any difference is some interaction between heredity and environment. But in terms of apportioning the difference, we have no idea. And I think that Herrnstein and Murray know that as well as do other psychologists. Like everyone else we don't like ambiguous situations, so some jump to conclusions even though I think at this point we don't have a very good idea of why we get that difference. Although we recognize that it has generally been decreasing over time.
Skeptic: You say that Herrnstein and Murray build their whole argument on the (often wrong) interpretations of statistics. Can you be more specific?
Sternberg: One example is taking studies that show that within group heritabilities have nothing to do with between group heritabilities and then insinuating that they do. Another example is the issue of causation and correlation. They know, and anyone who takes statistics knows, you can't draw any real causal conclusions from correlational data. Lots of things correlate with lots of things, IQ being one of them. To draw causal inferences from correlational data, which is what all their data are, is statistically incorrect. Another thing that many may not realize is that virtually all their data are based on one study, the National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY), which was not a study that was particularly representative of the United States population.
Skeptic: In what sense?
Sternberg: The mean was low. I think the mean IQ in that group was around 94 and the standard deviation was not 15 or 16. It was not a typical US population. Another thing they do, in comparing correlations, is that they don't take into account the reliability and precision of the measures being used. For example, almost every measure we use is a proxy for something else. If you ask yourself, "How good is 'number of years of schooling' for measuring how much education a person has?" it's not a very good measure. Two people could each have 16 years of schooling, but if you compare somebody who was a straight A student in a really good college with someone who was a D student in a really poor college, the number of years of education will be the same but their educational attainments will be vastly different. So as a measure of how much schooling you have really had, years of education is extremely imprecise and it's not going to look very good in correlational analyses. In contrast, IQ is a pretty good measure of that narrow construct, compared to the other types of measurement that we have. That will make IQ look more powerful than the other measures because the other measures are such crude proxies for the constructs that they are trying to measure.
Skeptic: Do we have better measures of what a person has accomplished?
Sternberg: You could certainly measure their achievements with a variety of kinds of tests. Those kinds of tests are available. Herrnstein and Murray did not use them, but they are available. I'm not saying that they are perfect, but what I am saying is that the kinds of variables Herrnstein and Murray use, in contrast to IQ, are generally not very reliable and not very good as proxies of the constructs they are trying to measure. In terms of interpretation another thing that I found strange was that the data suggest that IQs generally have been going up (the Flynn Effect). Herrnstein and Murray cite Flynn's work and they agree with it, but they then find themselves in the awkward position of explaining why IQs are going up when (according to Herrnstein and Murray), IQs should have been going down. They then use very weak arguments to try to dismiss the Flynn Effect, after making a big deal about its existence. In other words, having committed themselves to a position, if the data are consistent with their position, they cite them, and if the data are inconsistent, they try to come up with what I think are fairly hare-brained interpretations of how that could happen.
Skeptic: You refer in your review to Binet's "Mental Orthopedics" and also to the work of Lev Vygotsky. These seem to be part of a different paradigm that sees intelligence as something that grows or forms in a social setting, and that sort of interpretation makes sense to most of us. You even mention that Herrnstein at one point developed one of the better programs for helping to raise IQ. Can you explain that further?
Sternberg: Some years back in the early 1980s the government of Venezuela initiated a country-wide drive to improve the intellectual abilities of the children. They invited a number of researchers from Venezuela and abroad to come in. One program was initiated by Harvard, and Herrnstein was the head of that program. It was successful. They published the results in American Psychologist, which is a leading psychological journal, showing that there had been significant and impressive gains in IQ.
Skeptic: How do you square that with, for example, Herman Spitz (who signed the The Wall Street Journal statement) or even Zigler, who is one of the gurus of Head Start, who says, "It does great things for keeping children in school and out of jail, but IQ isn't something that we can really move around a lot, we just don't know how to do it." Again, there appears to be a contradiction between what the authorities say.
Sternberg: I don't think there would be that big a difference between me and Zigler. You can get some increases. I don't think we know how to get really large, long term increases. On the other hand, we're talking about work that's been around for maybe 30 years. If you ask, "how far had medicine gone in 30 years after its inception, say in Ancient Greece in terms of curing illness," it wasn't that hot either. We have just started on this kind of work. You can't expect that in a fairly short amount of time we will have figured exactly what to do. This field just isn't at that point yet.
Skeptic: Would you agree that the burden of proof should be on those who claim, at this point, that they can raise IQ?
Sternberg: Yes. And I think that it has been there. There have been programs, Ramey's Carolina Abecedarian Project is another, that have worked. I think it's hard to maintain the IQ gains. But if you think environment is important in the development of intelligence, and you put people in a really good program and you raise their IQ, and then take them out of the program and put them back in the poor environment in which they started, chances are you are going to lose a lot of the beneficial effect. If you give someone antibiotics for a disease, cure them, then put them back in the original septic environment, the disease will return. We've seen this when we work with children with parasitic infections. We can give them Albendazol and it will cure their parasitic infection. But if you put them back in the environment in which they acquired the infection, they will just acquire it again.
Skeptic: In another quote from your article, you say, "How strange that we have become a society that values what someone might do more than what he has done." Isn't that what all science is about-trying to predict in advance? Isn't the final practical test whether it works economically in the real world? Isn't that what physics, astronomy, and chemistry, all strive for?
Sternberg: No. And if you were to tell someone in physics that the final test is whether it works economically in the real world, they would tell you that that has nothing to do with truth at all. It's totally irrelevant to what is scientifically true. There is a question of what is true and then there is a question of how you use it. But I don't think any physicist would believe that the ultimate test of truth in physical science is economic exploitation or usefulness.
Skeptic: Do you agree that science tries to predict things?
Sternberg: Sure, one of the goals of science is prediction.
Skeptic: Then is your quotation a criticism of psychometrics as a science or of what we do with its results?
Sternberg: My criticism has nothing to do with scientific truth. It has a lot to do with what I see as a maladaptive oddity in our society. We often seem to value the ability to do something more than what people actually do, and there are lots of examples of that. We are one of the few societies that place so much emphasis on intelligence tests. In most societies there is more emphasis on what people accomplish. I do think there is something to be said for emphasizing what people actually do, rather than what they might or might not do. We have gotten into the somewhat ridiculous situation of even having constructs like "overachiever," which is talked about in education. Most societies wouldn't have that construct. What does it mean? An overachiever is somebody whose IQ is lower than their achievement scores. The idea is that they are achieving too much and that there is something wrong with them, and that they ought to be pushed back to their own size.
Skeptic: It seems logically impossible.
Sternberg: It is! So where do we get that idea? We got that idea from valuing the predictive test more than the achievement. You get a lot of people who work in admissions who will count SAT scores or IQ tests or ACT tests more than they count actual individual accomplishment. I think that that is a backward way of looking at things.
Skeptic: The other side of the argument came out when I interviewed Douglas Detterman, the editor of Intelligence. He reviewed for me the work at Brooks Air Force Base where g proves to be far and away the best predictor of pilot training and a whole host of other things. So getting back to the question of economic reality, the Dallas Cowboys want to know who's going to make the team before they go through training (if possible). When I was in the Air Force we had big problems with washouts from pilot training. It costs a huge amount of money to put someone through that training. So isn't it just economic good sense to use the best tests and measures for prediction?
Sternberg: I am not disagreeing that IQ is predictive of a lot of things. I'm not one of the extreme left-wingers who say that IQ tells you absolutely nothing. I don't agree with that. So to the extent that it predicts some level of success in pilot training, I don't have any argument with that. But I do argue with the idea that IQ is the end of the line. We have been working for about 10 years in the field of practical intelligence, predicting, for example, the success of managers and sales people, which are pretty practical occupations. We actually did a study at Brooks AFB and found that our measures of practical intelligence-that is, measures of how well you can go into an environment and figure out what you need to succeed in that environment and then actually do it-predict job success in managerial jobs and in sales jobs at least as well and arguably better than IQ tests. Moreover they do not correlate with IQ tests, which means that (a) IQ is not the only predictor, and (b) the kinds of predictors we have are relatively independent of IQ. That's not to say that one is important and the other is not. Rather, it says that both are important and that there's more to predicting success than just using IQs. If you want to predict success in jobs, I'm not saying that IQ is worthless, but I am saying that it's not the only thing you can use.
Skeptic: Don't we find the situation in sports all the time where we say, "Hey, this guy came in with great abilities-he runs fast, and so on-but he just isn't a player, he just doesn't come through. And there are in baseball, for example, these Billy Martin-type players, who you think will never make the team, but they play their heart out on every play. When it's the World Series I know who I want in my lineup. Is that the sort of argument that you are making?
Sternberg: I think you are talking about something slightly different. Practical intelligence is different from academic intelligence, and motivation is something different again. And motivation is also very important.
Skeptic: But what about those things in sports like knowing the game, knowing the tricks of the trade?
Sternberg: That's what I am talking about when I speak of practical intelligence as opposed to academic intelligence.
Skeptic: Often the guys who aren't the best players are the best managers because they've had to learn all this in order to stay in the league.
Sternberg: And some of them are good players too. You don't need research to tell you that. We all know people who had very high scores on SATs, GREs, and IQ tests, who don't seem to be able to translate it into any kind of success in their lives. It's not to say that everyone with a high IQ is going to fail. Obviously, that's not true. The other thing is that a lot of what is said about prediction is, in my view, somewhat shaded and one can even argue falsified, by the fact that we have already been using IQ in our society in its various disguises to create the truth of what is being predicted. Imagine that we had decided that in order for someone to succeed in college they had to be over six feet tall and so you only accepted people who were over six feet tall. Well, within a generation or two, you would find that most of the people who were in the high paying jobs were over six feet tall. And you would note a correlation between success and being over six feet tall. But why did you get that correlation? Because you created a system to make that come true. We have created the kind of system that Herrnstein and Murray talk about by using SATs for college and GREs for graduate school, LSATs for law school, and GMATs for business school. In other words, almost any access route to the high-paying occupations requires you to do well on these tests. That will artificially and spuriously create the correlation between high scores and entering into top jobs. So what Herrnstein and Murray are talking about when they describe the cognitive stratification of modern America, is, in fact, an invention of our society.
Skeptic: But haven't path analysis studies shown that even IQ measured at an early age is a better predictor than a host of other things measured later on?
Sternberg: Early childhood IQs do not predict anything accurately. By around the age of eight, when IQ becomes stable, you are predicting about 50% of the variation in adult IQ.
Skeptic: I'm referring to studies that show that childhood IQ predicts adult earnings. In other words, IQ, rather than being reared in an affluent home, led to higher adult earnings.
Sternberg: Certainly IQ will be somewhat predictive of earnings. That's not inconsistent with what I just said. If you have a high IQ, even if you come from a not very affluent home, you are going to be rewarded by our society for it. If you come from a poor home and you do well on the SATs, Yale and Harvard and Princeton will all be begging to have you so that they can claim diversity. That's the ticket to success.
Skeptic: Yes. And wouldn't a lot of people say that that's all for the better? That it is extending opportunity in our society beyond what it was 100 years ago, when everybody at Harvard came from a rich home?
Sternberg: If you ask me, "Is it better to use family affluence or IQ," I'd say that its better to use IQ. But if you were to ask me, "Is it better to use IQ or demonstrated accomplishments?" I would say it is better to use demonstrated accomplishments. My concern is not that there will be people with high IQs who don't do so well. That's not the problem. The bigger problem, in my view, is the people who don't test particularly well, who are going to be screwed. I've seen a lot of them, including me in my very early years of school.
Sternberg: When I was very young, I did poorly on IQ tests because I was test anxious. The result was that teachers had low expectations for me and I wanted to please my teachers. So I met their low expectations. They were happy and I was happy that they were happy. I've been there and I've seen it happen to lots of people I know. I got over my test anxiety and then did extremely well on tests. All of a sudden the expectations were high. To a large extent it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, either way. So when you tell me that IQ predicts later success, sure it does. You get low scores on your tests, everything starts to change in your life and you're on a downhill slide. It's not a controlled experiment, because the very score itself is having an effect on where you're going to be allowed to go.
Skeptic: Do you think it's just as simple as you said, or were you just citing one specific example?
Sternberg: There are many, many examples of that. Anyone who has ever worked in college or graduate school admissions, which I have, will see cases of people who don't test well and therefore aren't accepted. You can understand the constraints on them. If they let the average scores go too low, they're going to start losing prestige and their best students will go somewhere else. So there's pressure to keep the scores up and there are lots and lots of people who don't score well on those tests who can't get in anywhere. You don't even have to do a scientific study to know that. Suppose you're very creative but you don't test well. You're out of the game. (And no one is arguing that those tests measure creativity.) So, some people who are very creative or very good at practical intelligence are not allowed access and don't make it through that kind of a system. Later when they are not in such good occupations or making as high a salary, someone will point out that there is a correlation between IQ and salary and they will be right-we created it.
Skeptic: Let me turn briefly to Howard Gardner's "Multiple Intelligences." In The Triarchic Mind, you say that they should actually be referred to as talents, rather than intelligences. How is your criticism of Gardner's model different from the g-theorists' criticism of Gardner-namely that he is arguing for independence of things we really wouldn't call intelligences?
Sternberg: There is no absolute, agreed-on definition of "intelligence." One of the battles in the field, arguably the battle, even more than the heredity-environment issue, is what you include under the definition of intelligence. There's no final answer to that because God doesn't tell us what he means. To a large extent, intelligence is our own creation. It is a creation to describe the fact that in terms of adaptive skills, some people have more than others. I think that you can argue that practical abilities are adaptive. We showed that they are adaptive for everybody. Everybody needs the ability to be able to work with other people, to be able to figure out the environment that they are in. It doesn't matter who you are. I'm supposedly in the ivory tower, but if you don't have practical ability, you don't stay here very long. You also need creative intelligence in the vast majority of jobs and in your life, because you can't always use solutions that you or someone else came up with before. Life just isn't that way, especially in very quickly changing times such as those in which we live. To me, something is a part of intelligence if it's necessary for adaptation. What I argue is that something like musical talent-or musical intelligence-is not in the same class as practical intelligence. A talent to me is something that is important in the lives of some people. If you want to go into music, musical talent or musical intelligence is important. But for my career even if I was totally tone deaf and never played any music at all, it wouldn't make any difference to my life or the life of anyone else.
Skeptic: This is very similar to what Charles Murray told me when I interviewed him and asked him about Gardner's work. He said, "g is the only one that if you do badly enough on it, you end up in a home for the retarded."
Sternberg: I don't think it is true that g is the only one that if you do badly, you are screwed in life.
Skeptic: What other ones are there?
Sternberg: I just told you. You get people who have very high g who may not end up in a home for the retarded, but their lives don't differ a whole lot. They keep screwing up everything they do. And I've seen them in my own field. People who are very bitter because they can't get along with anyone. All of a sudden they find that no one is inviting them to give talks, they don't stay very long in a job, no one wants their articles, they don't know how to communicate, they don't know how to argue for a position effectively, and all the g in the world doesn't save them.
Skeptic: Some would say that what you're focusing on are really personality measures.
Sternberg: Personality is very important for life too, but it's different from our tests of tacit knowledge. The tests of tacit knowledge that we use to measure practical intelligence measure what you know. They do not measure your personality. Introversion and extroversion are personality measures. The difference is that you can be very successful in life as an introvert or an extrovert. You can be successful in life being somewhat altruistic or not very altruistic. You can't be successful in life if you lack practical intelligence.
Skeptic: We live in the computer and information age and although there are individual differences in speed of learning, so what if it takes John 100 trials to learn the alphabet but Mary only needs 15. When we were in school, the kid who took longer or who couldn't throw a baseball as far was ridiculed and embarrassed. But computer assisted, self-paced learning systems let you go at your own rate. There's lots of time in childhood, so what's the problem?
Sternberg: You're arguing with the wrong guy. I agree with you. I've made the same point in some of my writings. Our society is a little bit unusual in putting so much emphasis on speed.
Skeptic: It seems to me that a lot of the things that you are complaining about are the result of a social setting in which we teach people instead of letting them go at their own rate. If they make a mistake, they can try it again, but no one gets laughed at. So how much of your own work has gone towards developing computer-assisted training systems?
Sternberg: I do a lot of work on training systems, but for the most part they are not computerized. But the characteristics you're talking about are not limited to computerized systems. You're talking about values, not the necessity of using the computer as a medium. I think the computer is a good medium, but there are other ones as well.
Skeptic: Turning to your own work, one of the criticisms would be, "What have you added beyond what's in, say, John B. Carroll's extensive factor analysis in the domain of abilities?" Or are we going back to the earlier question in which you said that the practical intelligence is an equal ability with g, and not just a personality factor or "tricks of the trade" or just accumulated job knowledge? Are your tests in fact just job knowledge, rather than a continuing capacity of the individual?
Sternberg: That criticism is simply false. If you look at the correlation between tacit knowledge for being an academic researcher and tacit knowledge for being an executive, the correlation was pretty high-about .5 to .6. But in terms of teaching job knowledge, probably no one who is a psychologist went to business school or vice versa. Tacit knowledge is something you pick up from the environment. I don't care what you call it. If you want to call it job knowledge or the ability to use job knowledge or the ability to use common sense knowledge that you pick up, the name isn't important. What I'm saying is, whatever you want to call it, it's at least as important as the academic sort of intelligence and it's not the same thing as that. I don't need to argue about the name attached to it.
Skeptic: Let me turn this around. Suppose that I do great on the SAT and the GREs and the IQ tests, but I do terribly on Sternberg's practical knowledge tests. Does that mean that I'm not going to be allowed to go to graduate school, and instead just sit home and watch quiz shows? What's your remedy or treatment for that?
Sternberg: Well, I'll tell you what we did. In the program that we have run for the past two summers here, based on my own model, students were given my abilities test (which had analytical, creative, and practical sections), and we admitted kids in the experimental groups in one of four ways-either very high analytic, very high creative, very high practical, or balanced. In other words, the model is that very few people are going to be good in everything. I wasn't interested in taking an average. Rather, what I was interested in is the fact that people have different patterns of strength. What you want to do is to help them capitalize on whatever their pattern of strength is. So, if you're very good in analytic, not so high in practical, that's fine. That's an important kind of skill too. Analytical skills should not have absolute preference over creative or practical skills. I'm not saying that these other skills should have absolute preference over analytical skills.
Skeptic: Another criticism of your work-I think this was stated by Messick of the Educational Testing Service-is that you are actually invoking more explanatory entities than you are measuring, thereby violating Occam's Razor. In other words, you have come up with fewer test measures than entities you have invoked to explain the measurements you have.
Sternberg: I've talked about analytical, creative, and practical intelligence and I have measures of all three. If you look at the Triarchic Theory and you look at all the constructs, for example, metacomponents (higher order processes) like defining problems, or setting up strategies to solve problems and you ask if I have a measure that isolates every single one of those, I don't. Nor do I particularly want to do what J.P. Guilford did in his career, which was to spend his whole career filling in the blanks. That's the sign of an uncreative career, at least in my view. If we talk about the basic structure of the theory and the three parts of it, I have measures for all of these, we've used them, and they work. The fact that Messick works at the Educational Testing Service might give him a certain vested interest in what ETS does.
Skeptic: One of the criticisms of The Bell Curve, especially the now infamous Chapter 13 on race differences that the popular press makes a lot of, is that Herrnstein and Murray have cited the so-called "Tainted Sources," particularly people who have been funded by the Pioneer Fund. But some of the individuals funded by the Pioneer Fund have articles in your own Encyclopedia of Intelligence. Do you want to comment on their work?
Sternberg: I have been offered funds by an organization and I didn't take the funding because I didn't like the organization. That was my personal choice. If they funded my work, the fact that they funded it doesn't mean that the work is therefore invalid. Work stands or falls on its own, regardless of who funded it. For example, Messick is at ETS, so I tend to be somewhat skeptical of people at ETS. But that doesn't mean that because they're at ETS, what they say is wrong. It just makes me think twice about what they say.
Skeptic: The same thing could be turned around said about Sternberg or Gardner. They have their vested interests.
Sternberg: Absolutely. I agree with that. If you are coming from the other point of view, you ought to say that I have a vested interest. That's why I say arguments stand or fall on their own.
Skeptic: In the Encyclopedia of Intelligence you do have articles and I think even biographies of Arthur Jensen and Hans Eysenck and others. So you must have some respect for the work they have done, at least in specific areas.
Sternberg: Even though I may not agree with a lot of what Jensen has said, the importance of a person's contribution is not determined by how much I agree with what they say. I think that he's made a contribution. His work on race I utterly don't like, but I don't think that that's where his scientific contribution lies. I think his contribution is the work he's done on reaction time and intelligence.
Skeptic: If I can summarize, it seems that your main interest is in the nature of intelligence rather than in the differences between individuals and groups. Is that right?
Sternberg: I'm interested in both. I just think that what has happened is that a small part of the question has been treated as if it is the entire story and it's not.
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