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Fluid and crystallized intelligence: understanding the differences



Intelligence can be defined as the ability to act according to circumstances and in a way that enables the individual to solve puzzles or everyday problems


According to renowned psychologist Raymond Cattell, a person's general intelligence comes into play when he or she tackles general problems that are not linked to specific skills or knowledge.


The two main categories of general intelligence are fluid intelligence and crystallized intelligence.


Fluid intelligence manifests itself in the ability to think abstractly and solve simple or complex problems, while crystallized intelligence represents the accumulation of knowledge and skills over time.


Fluid intelligence is more closely linked to information processing speed and working memory, while crystallized intelligence is more closely linked to long-term memory.


Crystallized intelligence and long-term memory are in fact deeply intertwined, with the impact of previous experiences helping to build the foundation of crystallized intelligence.


With the passage of time, fluid intelligence tends to decline, while crystallized intelligence tends to increase.

One of the differences between fluid and crystallized intelligence lies in the fact that fluid intelligence remains constant throughout life, while crystallized intelligence continues to evolve over time.


Indeed, crystallized intelligence is subject to the influence of age. Conversely, fluid intelligence undergoes little change with the passage of years.


Portrait of fluid intelligence


Fluid intelligence, also known as "Gf" (general fluency), is conceptualized by Cattell as "the innate ability to deal with situations independently of how a similar situation has been approached in the past".


This type of intelligence is mainly called upon in developing planning strategies, solving reasoning problems such as logic challenges or quizzes, and performing unexpected activities requiring the application of mental skills or abilities.


Making connections and analyzing scientific questions is difficult without this form of intelligence, since inductive or deductive reasoning must be deployed in this context.


The use of thought patterns is possible, however, as this intelligence enables the smooth transfer of mental logic to simple problem-solving over time.


Etymologically, the term fluid evokes a continuous flow. We could conceive of fluid intelligence as a river flowing through life, accumulating everything in its path.


Its decline with age is due to the diminishing performance of brain cells. Over the years, this form of intelligence diminishes, as the use of logical reasoning is not constant in all individuals.


Portrait of crystallized intelligence


Crystallized intelligence, also known as "Gc" (general crystallized intelligence), mobilizes previously acquired knowledge to navigate through life's situations.


Formal education and moral principles inculcated in childhood contribute to the development of crystallized intelligence.


Prior knowledge, rooted in the foundation of learning, is relevant when similar problems have already arisen. The memory of previous experiences in turn helps an individual to maintain his or her level of knowledge.


For example, a person who developed comprehension skills when learning to read (a childhood experience) will later exploit this "prior knowledge" when dealing with comprehension questions posed in competitions or learning activities. Recourse to memorized information in another context helps to reactivate this knowledge.


The growth of crystallized intelligence with age can be attributed to an increase in mental capacity to memorize more data and to assimilate experience-based learning more deeply.


Various tests can be conducted to examine the effect of aging on this capacity. However, the conclusions drawn from ageing may differ from one individual to another, and may be called into question in the case of diseases such as Alzheimer's.


One thing is certain: crystallized intelligence is inseparable from fluid intelligence, with the two intertwining in a complementary fashion.


Summary of the main differences between fluid and crystallized intelligence


1. Foundation :

- Fluid intelligence is based on personal skills and thinking ability.

- Crystallized intelligence is based on past knowledge that can be applied to cope with present situations.


2. Impact of age:

- Fluid intelligence decreases with age.

- Crystallized intelligence continues to increase with age and the accumulation of experience.


3. Problem-solving approach:

- Fluid intelligence requires the application of logic in problem solving.

- Crystallized intelligence relies solely on existing knowledge, without requiring precise mental capacity.


4. Influence of past experience:

- Fluid intelligence is not motivated by past experiences.

- Life experiences are essential for crystallized intelligence.


5. Concrete examples of use :

- Examples of situations in which fluid intelligence is called upon: solving logical reasoning tests, solving puzzles.

- Examples of situations in which crystallized intelligence is called upon: memorizing historical facts, recalling documents memorized during an exam, etc.

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