Models of Intelligence by Sternberg, Gardner, and Spearman Essay

Models of Intelligence by Sternberg, Gardner, and Spearman Essay

Psychologists have long been interested in why people have certain unique abilities and levels of intelligence. Why is one person smarter than another with computers? How can some people play music by ear? Psychologists administer intelligence tests and collect data in order to figure out why each individual person has abilities and strengths that are like no one else. Three prominent psychologists, Spearman, Gardner, and Sternberg, have put forth useful models to help explain intelligence.

Spearman’s theory from the early 1900s still has practical applications today. Spearman’s model consists of two types of intelligence: general intelligence and specific abilities. He found that people who did well on intelligence tests did better on other types of tests as well, and he realized that this correlation was significant. Spearman believed that the important information to have about a person’s intellectual ability is an estimate of their general intelligence, because good performance on one test could predict future success on other tests.

In 1983, Howard Gardner proposed his theory of multiple intelligence. He felt that the current models of intelligence did not show all of the ways that humans can excel. Gardner argued that human beings did not have underlying general intelligence, but rather each person possessed different areas of a specific list of intelligences. Each type of intelligence is part of an independent system in the brain, and since every person is “wired” differently, each person has unique abilities. Gardner proposed seven intelligences in his model. One intelligence is linguistic intelligence, which involves aptitude with speech and language. Logical-mathematical intelligence is the ability to reason abstractly and solve mathematical and logical problems. Spatial Intelligence is used to perceive visual and spatial information and to conceptualize the world in tasks such as navigation or art. Musical Intelligence is the ability to perform, read, write, or decipher music. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is what people use in activities such as sports, dancing, etc. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to understand others. Naturalist intelligence is the ability to recognize and classify plant life.

Sternberg’s research in 2003 led him to propose a model of intelligence that is called the Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence. The three components of his theory are analytical intelligence, which is the ability to break down a problem or situation into its components; creative intelligence, the ability to cope with novelty and solve problems in new and unusual ways; and practical intelligence, also known as common sense. Sternberg’s Triachic Theory can be applied to teaching and evaluating students. It can be used to design instruction focusing on strengths that students exhibit in each component of the intelligence model.

All three theories try to put some measurable value on intelligence, and try to understand the nature of the human brain. Sternberg and Spearman both have a component of common sense or general intelligence that aims to measure a person’s general understanding and intelligence. All three theorists came to the conclusion that there is more to a person’s abilities than general knowledge. While Spearman lumped all of intelligence into two categories, Sternberg tried to take it a step farther an outline a third area where people can excel. Gardner’s theory is much more specific because it lists seven different types of intelligence a person can have, instead of lumping all intelligences into a couple of areas.

Sternberg’s theory is the most comprehensive as it takes into account every area of life. While Gardner’s model includes a number of different intelligences, his model is so specific it leaves out areas such as common sense and everyday problem solving. The three areas of intelligence included in Sternberg’s model incorporate all of Gardner’s multiple intelligences, as well as the general intelligence component from Spearman’s model. His model gives a basis for intelligence that is comprehensive and allows for simpler abilities to be measured and appreciated.

Models for intelligence have been used since the turn of the century and help psychologies quantify the unique and extraordinary idea of human intelligence. Three models have stood out to help psychologists figure out what abilities are more common, and why certain people have abilities beyond the normal standards. Sternberg, Gardner, and Spearman each put forth a model of intelligence that helped pave the way to the intelligence testing done today.


Motley, S. (2006). The Intelligence Theories of Charles Spearman and Howard Gardner.

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