Fluid Intelligence and Crystallized Intelligence: What are they?

What are Fluid Intelligence and Crystallized Intelligence? We review both concepts. The word “intelligence” comes from the Latin term intelligentia. Some of the meanings that we are able to relate this to are the following:

  • Ability to understand or comprehend
  • Ability to solve problems
  • Knowledge, understanding
  • Ability, dexterity, and experience

What is intelligence?

Each of these meanings refers to a differentiated area in which intelligence routinely plays a fundamental role. From a rational perspective, understanding is an essential factor for problem-solving. The way in which human beings analyze the options we have to find the best procedure towards an outcome that we do not know assumes a high level of cognitive development. Ability and dexterity are also the product of one’s intelligence.

The experience finally has a two-way relationship with intelligence: develop in parallel and feed. However, the truth is that there must be a categorization that better understands the different kinds of intelligence that exist, in order to better understand the concept and the way it helps us solve tasks of such a disparate nature.

Intelligence-related skills

Traditionally, intelligence has been closely linked to these capabilities:

  • Think and establish associations between concepts
  • Solve everyday problems
  • Generate new problems (of greater complexity)
  • Create innovations and solve problems in the cultural sphere

Primary abilities of intelligence according to Thurstone

During the second third of the 20th century, the University of Chicago psychologist Louis Leon Thurstone (1887 – 1955) developed his studies on the primary abilities of intelligence, which resulted in the following:

  • Language comprehension
  • Perceptual agility
  • Logic reasoning
  • Numerical and mathematical ability
  • Verbal fluency
  • Spatial perception
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Raymond Cattell

More than three decades later, the British psychologist Raymond Cattell (1905 – 1998) established a novel distinction between two types of intelligence: fluid and crystallized intelligence.

Fluid intelligence, according to Cattell, refers to an inherited ability to think and reason in an abstract way, while crystallized intelligence is born from experience and embodies the level of acculturation, education, and learning.

Intelligence skills according to Robert Sternberg

It wasn’t until 1985 that Yale University psychologist Robert J. Sternberg (born 1949) categorized the different abilities emanating from intelligence into three groups:

  • Component intelligence: represents the ability to acquire and store information.
  • Experience intelligence: it is the skill-based on experience and that we use to choose, encode, combine and compare information in order to configure new concepts and impressions.
  • Contextual intelligence: refers to the adaptive behavior of the person in the natural and social environment that surrounds him.

Fluid Intelligence and Crystallized Intelligence

The difference between these two types of intelligence is usually linked to the age variable. However, it is more accurate to conceive the difference between fluid and crystallized intelligence based on the influence of heredity and/or environment.

→ Fluid Intelligence

Fluid intelligence refers to the ability of the individual to adapt and cope with new situations in a flexible way, without prior learning, experience, or the knowledge gained involving decisive support for its manifestation.

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Fluid intelligence is closely linked to neurophysiological variables (for example, with the development of neural connections), and its influence is more pronounced since its development depends largely on the genetic basis. The same is not the case with crystallized intelligence.

In this same sense, we can establish a link between the potential development of fluid intelligence and the growth of the child in an enriching environment. Living in a positive and nurturing environment correlates with the development of neural connections in the brain regions associated with memory, learning, and orientation in space.

Components of fluid intelligence

Fluid intelligence is composed of:

  • The ability to reason with abstract content
  • Logical reasoning
  • The ability to establish relationships or extract differences

Fluid intelligence reaches its peak of development early, around adolescence. This is a big difference from the peak moment of crystallized intelligence. In this way, during adult life, this ability tends to be progressively reduced as the body ages, as well as the neuronal structures, deteriorate.

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The decline in fluid intelligence can be due to several factors: normative aging, accidents, pathologies, drug use, and so on. These last three factors can cause injuries or alterations in the different structures of the brain and in the central nervous system.

→ Crystallized Intelligence

Crystallized intelligence is the set of capacities, strategies, and knowledge that constitute the degree of cognitive development achieved through a person’s learning history.

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Components of Crystallized Intelligence

Crystallized intelligence encompasses skills related to:

  • Understanding language
  • The degree of understanding and use of semantic relationships
  • The evaluation of the experience
  • The ability to make judgments and conclusions
  • Mechanical knowledge
  • Orientation in space

Crystallized intelligence depends to a high degree on the learning obtained from the experience of the person in the cultural context in which they live and interact.

The development of each person’s crystallized intelligence depends to a large extent on making a good investment of his historical fluid intelligence inhabits that allows him to learn new things.

In other words, the potential for intellectual development with which we are born (also called historical fluid intelligence) will reach a higher or lower level depending on the educational experiences that occur during life.

In fact, the development of intellectual capacities can progress during life to the extent that the experiential context and the motivation of the person to continue learning to allow it.

The way in which the life experience intervenes in the intelligence of a person can be known through the observation of the effects of stress in the deterioration of brain structures.

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According to a recent study from the University of Toronto, the hormones that the human body secretes when we are worried or nervous directly affect an area of ​​the brain linked to cognitive functions, such as memory or orientation in space.


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