Navigating Fluid and Crystallised Intelligence

Navigating Fluid and Crystallised Intelligence


Navigating Fluid and Crystallised Intelligence

Intelligence is a word so vague that it essentially captures all the phenomena that psychology concerns itself with.


Did you know? Intelligence, as a term, wasn’t explained as a psychological concept until the 1920s. While no definition was present, it still existed. And today, since the 1920s, several remarkable discoveries and progress have been made in the study of human intelligence. We have progressed past the point of trying to come up with definitions and define the notion of intelligence and moved to measure it in quantifiable terms, to understand the cognitive processes behind it, and to study whether intelligence is a single entity or does different kinds of intelligence exist.

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Today, we try to delve into one such aspect of intelligence — the theory of fluid and crystallised intelligence. To understand this subject, we will first try to briefly explain the timeline of studies conducted on intelligence, to help you not only understand how this theory distinguishes from that of others but also point out how multiple theories of intelligence exist, each with their criticism and all of them contribute to the holistic understanding of the concept intelligence.

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A Brief Introduction to Intelligence

Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, introduced the concept of reason, which he believed was the ability to resist instincts and distinguish humans from animals. Charles Darwin later introduced the concept of “mental powers” in the 1800s, based on his observations of evolution. The term “intelligence” was introduced by George Romanes, referring to adaptability, or the ability to succeed in one’s environment. The Industrial Age further expanded the concept of intelligence as adaptability, as it was easier to quantify and compare success in similar jobs.

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Francis Galton became the first individual to study Intelligence. His method of studying it is considered rather controversial as he focused on physical attributes rather than cognitive ones to determine and measure intelligence. A revolution in the study of intelligence was seen in the year of 1903 when Alfred Binet published the first intellectual test. Later, IQ (intelligence quotient) was born, as a way to measure a large mass of people and to have a standard to measure them against.

Since then, several theories have been established. We have Gardner’s theory of multiple Intelligence, Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence, Spearman’s two-factor theory of intelligence, as well as, Catell’s theory of fluid and crystallised intelligence, the latter of which, we will discuss below. Even, today, Intelligence is still being studied, conceptualised, and defined but as Dazinger (1997) writes — “Intelligence is a word so vague that it essentially captures all the phenomena that psychology concerns itself with.”

Fluid and Crystallised Intelligence

Raymond Cattell introduced fluid intelligence (gf) and crystallized intelligence (gc) in 1963, dividing general intelligence into gf and gc. Fluid intelligence involves solving novel reasoning problems, while crystallized intelligence deduces secondary relational abstractions.

Catell worked with his student John Horn to develop this theory of intelligence. The basis of this theory states that intelligence is not just a single ability but rather made up of different abilities that work together and interact with each other and this coordination and interaction of different abilities produces an individual’s overall intelligence (Horn & Catell, 1967). Both crystallised and fluid intelligence are a part of a bigger concept — general intelligence.

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David Geary (2005) identifies fluid and crystallised intelligence as distinct brain systems, with fluid intelligence involving the prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex, and crystallised intelligence involving the hippocampus (related to the storage of long-term memory).

1. Defining Fluid Intelligence

Fluid intelligence involves basic reasoning processes, requiring minimal prior learning, and is formless, allowing for abstract problem-solving in various cognitive activities. For example, when someone comes across a complex situation that they have no previous knowledge about or any past experiences, they will have to use their fluid intelligence to get out of that situation.

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Some of the situations where one would use fluid intelligence include—

  • Solving a Complex Puzzle
  • Navigating through a new city without a map, relying on real-time problem-solving and spatial awareness.
  • Adjusting a new recipe (that you’ve never made before) on the fly when a key ingredient is missing.

Fluid intelligence peaks around age 20 (some research has also shown that it peaks around 40 years of age) and gradually declines due to diminished brain activity in the right cerebellum, a lack of practice (which means our brain is engaged less), or age-related brain changes (Cavanaugh, 2006). Raven’s Progressive Matrices Test (SPM), Woodcock-Johnson Test of Cognitive Abilities, and Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) are non-verbal assessments used to measure fluid intelligence.

2. Defining Crystallised Intelligence

In contrast to fluid intelligence, crystallised intelligence is based on our experience, learning, memory, and knowledge. Crystallised intelligence refers to the accumulation of knowledge, facts, and skills acquired through learning and experience over time. It involves the ability to use information, acquired through education and life experiences, to solve problems and make decisions. This type of intelligence tends to increase with age as individuals accumulate more knowledge and expertise in various domains.

Situations, where one might use crystallised intelligence, include —

  • In participating in a quiz, one needs to have a good memory and recall of historical facts, geographical facts or general awareness.
  • Solving crossword puzzles related to vocabulary.
  • Engaging in a debate

General vocabulary tests, memorization tests, language comprehension tests, and general knowledge tests as well as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) are tests that can be used to measure crystallised intelligence.

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How Fluid and Crystallised Intelligence Works

Piaget’s theory of cognitive development and the theory of fluid and crystallised skills have been connected by researchers. Logical reasoning and the “education of relations”—a term Cattell used to describe the inferring of relationships—are important to both Piaget’s operational intelligence and fluid ability (Cherry, 2022). The experience leaves its mark on both Piaget’s approach to ordinary learning and crystallised ability. Similar to the relationship between fluid ability and crystallised intelligence, Piaget’s operativity is regarded as coming before and eventually serving as the basis for everyday learning.

While fluid and crystallised intelligence are distinct skills, they can be used together in various tasks, such as taking a maths exam, where fluid intelligence helps construct strategies, while crystallised intelligence aids in recalling mathematical concepts. Fluid intelligence, traditionally believed to be static and largely genetic, can be improved through daily tasks and regular training, according to research by psychologist Susanne M.

Jaeggi (2008) and Qiu, Wei, Zhao, and Lin (2009). Both studies have found significant increases in fluid intelligence are possible if training is provided. Research suggests training to enhance working memory capacity may positively impact fluid intelligence (gf), but long-lasting results are questioned, especially when used by healthy individuals without cognitive deficiencies.

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Summing Up

In conclusion, the study of intelligence has evolved significantly since its conceptualization. Fluid intelligence, with its adaptability and problem-solving prowess, complements crystallised intelligence, rooted in accumulated knowledge and experience. Both are integral components of general intelligence, shaping how individuals navigate life.

References +
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