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Sternberg wins 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Psychology

Robert Sternberg

Robert Sternberg, professor of human development at Cornell’s College of Human Ecology, has won the 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Psychology for his concept of “successful intelligence.”

The award, given by the University of Louisville, is in recognition of Sternberg’s view that intelligence encompasses several skills – including analytical reasoning, creative thinking, common sense, wisdom-based and ethical skills – that help people succeed. A command of those skills helps people adapt to a fast-changing world, capitalize on their strengths and compensate for or correct their weaknesses.

“Sternberg’s work has profoundly influenced the way we think about intelligence as something meaningful only if viewed in cultural context,” said Qi Wang, professor and chair of the Department of Human Development. “It has lasting impact on real-life practices from college admissions to the evaluation of social science theories.”

Because the educational system favors traditional learners who excel at memory and analytical reasoning, Sternberg asserts that the system needs better ways to reach, teach and test learners with practical or creative skills. Although usual measurements of “smartness” rely on the narrowly defined IQ and college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT, Sternberg contends that intelligence is complex and should not be evaluated in a single way. For example, college admission processes could be modified to include better predictors of student and future success.

“Sternberg is regarded as one of the giants of modern psychology, and he is listed among the most eminent living psychologists in various quantitative rankings,” said Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development. “The Grawemeyer Award corroborates his standing in the field as many of us regard it as the Nobel Prize of psychology.”

Sternberg, a College of Human Ecology faculty member since 2014, previously taught at and was an administrator for Oklahoma State, Tufts and Yale universities. He has more than 1,700 research publications, and his many honors include the Association for Psychological Science’s top awards for basic and for applied science, including the William James Award and the James McKeen Cattell Award and Ernest Hilgard Lifetime Achievement Award for Contributions to General Psychology.

Sternberg has earned 13 honorary doctorates and is an honorary professor at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science, as well as many other professional organizations.

Sternberg, author of the book “What Universities Can Be (2016), is the second Cornell University Press author to win the Grawemeyer Award this year, following Scott Straus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for his book, “Making and Unmaking Nations.”

The University of Louisville presents the prizes annually for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology and education, and it gives a religion prize jointly with Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The 2018 winners will present lectures in Louisville in April, when they accept their $100,000 prizes.

Stephen D'Angelo is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.

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