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Two Types of Intelligence: Fluid and Crystallized Intelligence

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  1. 0:08 What Is Intelligence?
  2. 0:50 Fluid vs. Crystallized
  3. 3:08 Intelligence and Age
  4. 4:53 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Wind Goodfriend

Are you better at memorizing facts or at assembling a piece of equipment using a diagram? These two tasks illustrate two different types of intelligence proposed by Raymond Cattell known as 'fluid intelligence' and 'crystallized intelligence.' This lesson covers both types and how each type might change over one's lifespan.

What Is Intelligence?

When you think about intelligence, what kind of tasks come to mind as ways of demonstrating how smart you are? Some people might show their intelligence by demonstrating how many languages they speak or by solving complicated algebraic equations. However, other people might show their intelligence by navigating a complicated subway system in a new city. Which person is smarter in your opinion?

Psychology has offered many theories about intelligence over the years, including ideas about how there are different forms of intelligence. Some people might be very high in all the different forms, some people might be relatively low across the board, and others might have an interesting mix. This lesson focuses on two specific types of intelligence, called 'fluid' and 'crystallized.'

Fluid vs. Crystallized

All the way back in 1963, a psychologist named Raymond Cattell noticed that there are two distinct forms of intelligence that he wanted to identify and study. The first type is what he called fluid intelligence.

Fluid intelligence is defined as the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, and identify patterns.

Using a complicated subway system in a new city is a good example of how you might need to use fluid intelligence. The first time you use the subway, you have to figure out the names of the stops you need, which train will take you there, if you need to transfer in the middle, and so on. This type of intelligence is sort of like 'street smarts,' where you need to figure things out that moment and adapt to your situation.

One way you can think of fluid intelligence is that you'll use it slightly differently each time you're in a new situation, so it's flexible and adaptive - like water in its fluid form.

In contrast, Cattell also named a second, different type of intelligence that he called crystallized intelligence.

Crystallized intelligence is defined as the ability to use learned knowledge and experience. When you're taking a class at school, you use crystallized intelligence all the time. When you're learning a new language, you memorize the new vocabulary words and increase your vocabulary over time. You also learn the theory behind solving algebraic equations, or how to do long division, or the general rules of grammar when using a sentence.

Crystallized intelligence is like water as it turns into ice, or a solid form. Over time it gets more and more stable, like a crystal.

When you're learning a new task you'll usually need to start with fluid intelligence, but once that task is learned, you can probably rely on your crystallized intelligence. For example, if you grew up learning English as your first language, you might have trouble learning a language with different grammatical patterns or concepts, like nouns in Spanish being 'masculine' or 'feminine.' Making this adaptation will require your brain to be a little flexible as you think about the new ideas. However, once you get the basics of the new language down, you can add to your knowledge and vocabulary by memorizing words, which relies on crystallized intelligence. So often these two types of intelligence work together, especially in settings like a school classroom.

Intelligence and Age

Relevant to educational psychology is the idea that these two types of intelligence have different patterns of change as people get older. In general, people's amount of crystallized intelligence grows steadily over time. You learn more facts, you learn more vocabulary words, you learn the geography of more cities, and so on. These facts are stored in your head and increase as you age.

In contrast, fluid intelligence is much less stable. Young children increase steadily in their amount of fluid intelligence because their brains are still forming and neurons are still connecting. Because they are children and almost every situation is new, young children must have a high amount of fluid intelligence in order to make sense of the world. Thus, fluid intelligence grows from young childhood to the teenage years.

However, once people reach late adolescence, their fluid intelligence peaks, then starts to rapidly slow down. Then, from early to older adulthood, fluid intelligence unfortunately starts to decline. As we age in older adulthood, we become less flexible, less able to adapt to new situations. Part of this is simply because we get used to our lives and our habits. However, part of it is also biological. As we age, the neurons in our brains start to shrink, the protective layer around each neuron erodes, and our brains are exposed to diseases such as Alzheimer's. All of these biological changes cause our fluid intelligence to decline.

So basically, as you age through adulthood, your crystallized intelligence is increasing, whereas your fluid intelligence is decreasing after late adolescence. Be sure to appreciate any forms of intelligence you have!

Lesson Summary

In summary, the psychologist Cattell suggested two different forms of intelligence. Fluid intelligence is defined as the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, and identify patterns. In contrast, crystallized intelligence is defined as the ability to use learned knowledge and experience.

In general, crystallized intelligence increases throughout the lifespan, whereas fluid intelligence peaks in late adolescence and then decreases with age. Both types of intelligence are important to successfully navigate the world.

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