Robert J. STERNBERG : Intelligence as a Unifying Theme for Teaching Cognitive Psychology

Journal article by Robert J. Sternberg ; Teaching of Psychology, Vol. 25, 1998

Intelligence As a Unifying Theme for Teaching Cognitive Psychology Robert J. Sternberg Jennifer Pardo Yale University

Teachers often seek unifying themes that help students develop an integrated and coherent mental representation of the course material, Without such themes, material that seem integrated to the teacher often can be disparate and incoherent to the student. In the study of cognitive psychology, the theme of intelligence provides a powerful way of unifying the disparate material of a wide-ranging course.

For the cognitive psychology instructor, intelligence is a powerful theme for integrating course material and fostering students’ awareness of conceptual interrelations. Few cognition textbooks contain a chapter on intelligence (however, see R. J. Sternberg, 1999 a), although it is an integral, implicit part of the study of cognition.

Although theorists may disagree in the details of their definitions of intelligence (e.g., see R. J. Sternberg & Detterman, 1986), they agree that intelligence comprises the mental abilities underlying adaptation to the environment (see Brody, 1992 ; R. J. Sternberg, 1999 b). Researchers can understand and analyze these mental abilities from a cognitive perspective. Thus, the relation between intelligence and cognition is bidirectional : The construct of intelligence provides a way of conceptualizing cognition at the same time that cognitive theories and methods help to understand intelligence.

We propose the construct of intelligence as a useful, unifying theme for the study of cognition, recognizing that different themes (e.g., information processing, working memory) highlight different aspects of the cognitive psychology course. What the theme of intelligence uniquely provides is a powerful connection between cognition and the everyday environment in which the students of the course live. The theme helps students see how cognitive psychology connects to their lives.

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