Fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence: what are they and how to differentiate them?

Fluid intelligence makes use of intuition, while crystallized intelligence works from experience and reasoning. Find out more about their differences!

Last update: September 12, 2021

Fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence are two ways of using information to solve situations in our environment. In general terms, an intelligent person is the one who best adapts to changes. Therefore, one of the characteristics of the smart ones is problem solving.

The psychologist Raymond Cattell was able to show that there is no single intelligence. Cattell proposed that intelligence, when fluid, relies on logic to get out of unforeseen troubles. On the other hand, he talked about how crystallized it helps in familiar situations.

What is fluid intelligence?

This type of intelligence manifests itself when people are able to use logical resources to solve novel situations. In this sense, it is understood that previously acquired knowledge is not decisive.

Fluid intelligence peaks during the early stages of human development. Before reaching adolescence, young people solve most situations using primary skills. We are referring to the capacity for induction, deduction, figurative classifications, among others.

This kind of intelligence diminishes with the passing of the years. It is logical to think that you do not have the same flexibility of thought at age 60 as at 11. This occurs as a consequence of cognitive impairment.

To measure fluid intelligence there are various tests that are responsible for determining the biological capacity that people have to continue learning. In other words, these instruments measure the brain's potential to acquire new knowledge.

At an early age there is greater flexibility in acquiring knowledge.


What is crystallized intelligence?

As for crystallized intelligence, we have that it is the set of information that a person has obtained and can use to solve problems. It is based on the understanding of known meanings and the evaluation of previous experiences.

In this framework, knowledge allows solve situations mechanically. For example, driving a car is a process that once known can be repeated automatically. Something similar happens when traveling the same path several times.

Of course, to achieve crystallized intelligence, we must first use logical resources. Knowledge initially comes through fluid intelligence and then crystallizes. In neuroscience, this process is known as neural battery formation.

Summarizing what has been stated so far, the level of innate intelligence with which a person is born evolves according to their life experiences. Under normal conditions, we can all automate learning. While it is true that some do it more easily than others.

How to differentiate fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence?

It is easy to establish the main differences between the two intelligence models. It happens that fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence do not have much in common. As we have already mentioned, one works through logic, while the other operates from experience.

Let's see some examples to get all this clearer. The first case would be when a child explores his environment and learns from the things that surround him; In this stage, fluid intelligence is the protagonist. While in another case, a teenager who commutes to college employs crystallized intelligence.

1. One is innate and the other can be enhanced

All children have different abilities. Some are good at math; others are for art. Regardless of whether they are good at something, they can always empower (crystallize) that ability.

2. One is of genetic origin and the other comes from the environment

For years the origin of intelligence has been investigated. Before it was thought that it had a single match point. Now we know that one of them comes from the genetic load and the other depends on the experiences.

Intelligence depends on a number of factors that are not unique. Just as there is no single type of intelligence.


3. Crystallized intelligence improves with age and fluidity decreases

The deterioration in neuronal connectivity causes more complex to acquire new knowledge with aging. However, the information that has already been learned continues to be enhanced through experiences.

It is important to note that both intelligences have different functions. On the one hand, the fluid serves to solve problems, using intuition; helps to think abstractly. On the other hand, crystallized intelligence is more complex and is responsible for understanding the world through experience.

How to get the most out of these intelligences?

Depending on our age range, we can take more advantage of one intelligence than another. It is about doing an exercise in introspection and accepting that in the present moment we have more of one type of intelligence.

In the case of young people, between the ages of 12 and 25, it is advisable to choose to solve problems from creativity. Eventually, from those experiences the foundations of your crystallized intelligence will begin to emerge.

Once people reach a certain age, from age 26 onwards, strategies change. In this age range it is important to take advantage of the experience and focus on solving problems from logic.