Mental Self Government – Robert Sternberg


Background of Robert Sternberg

Dr. Robert Sternberg is a professor of psychology at Yale University and has published 750 books and articles in the fields of intelligence, creativity and love.  As an undergraduate, he performed so poorly in rote-based Introductory Psychology, that his professor urged him to pursue a career out of the field, but his innate desire for psychology made him ignore the advice.


Sternberg is the director of a research center at Yale which is concerned with problems of the human mind. His work bridges the areas of cognitive, developmental and social psychology.


According to Sternberg, "Real life is where intelligence operates and not in the classroom…the true measure of success is not how well one does in school, but how well one does in life.”  He is a widely known expert on intelligence testing, and had an early case of test anxiety and  scored poorly in an IQ test when he was six years old.


Theory Behind the Model

Sternberg developed the Mental Self-Government learning theory in 1994.  It is a concept of intelligence that equates to combinations of individual preferences from three levels of mental self-management. These three areas correspond with:

1.       Functions of governments of the mind

2.       Stylistic preferences

3.       Forms of mental self-government


People must organize or govern themselves and the way they do this corresponds to the kinds of governments and government braches that exist worldwide – legislative, executive, judicial, monarchic, hierarchic, and oligarchic.  There are 13 styles under five categories, and most people tend toward one style within each category, although these preferences may vary with the task and situation.  A child may be liberal in science class (enjoy doing things in new ways) and may be conservative in cooking class (prefers the familiar recipe).


Many of Sternberg's characterizations appear to equate to some of the aspects of personality type theory developed by Carl Jung.  For example, Jung's work on personality preferences are evident in Sternberg's SCOPE variables of internal and external.  These might equate to preferences for either introversion or extraversion in Jungian typology.


The Mental Self-Government Model


FUNCTIONS of governments of the mind:

§      Legislative - creating, planning, imagining, and formulating.

§      Executive - implementing and doing.

§      Judicial - judging, evaluating, and comparing.


FORMS of mental self-government:

§      Monarchic – These people perform best when goals are singular. They deal best with one goal or need at a time.

§      Hierarchic - These people can focus on multiple goals at once and recognize that all goals cannot be fulfilled equally. These people can prioritize goals easily.

§      Oligarchic – These people deal well with goals that are of equal weight, but they have difficulty prioritizing goals of different weight.

§      Anarchic – These people depart from form and precedent. Often they don't like or understand the need for rules and regulations. They operate without rules or structure, creating their own problem-solving techniques with insights that often easily break existing mindsets.

SCOPE - stylistic variables:

§      Internal – Like to be by themselves

§      External – Like to collaborate and work in groups


For example, a person might prefer Legislative FUNCTIONS, Internal SCOPE and Hierarchic FORMS of mental self-government while another individual might prefer Executive FUNCTIONS, External SCOPE and Anarchic FORMS.


The goal of the teacher is to accommodate the range of thinking and learning styles and develop teaching and assessment methods to reach every student.  However, most teachers teach based on their own Mental Self Government and often don’t reach those students who have different styles.

See the Mental Self Government Model in table form to get a description of each Style with its characteristics and examples.