In this lesson, we will look at Raymond Cattell’s two types of intelligence: fluid and crystallized. We will also look at convergent and divergent ways of thinking and changes in intelligence over time.

Fluid and Crystallized Intelligence

You know how some people seem to be more intelligent in certain ways and not as intelligent in others? Maybe someone you know is great at figuring out how to write a personal reflection in class, but not so good at remembering facts studied for a test.

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Psychologist Raymond Cattell believed there are two types of intelligence: fluid and crystallized. Fluid intelligence refers to the mental abilities used to solve problems and tackle new situations. Maybe you can come up with several courses of action to consider when faced with a situation, even if you’ve never faced this situation before. If you can, then you are adept at fluid intelligence.

Here is Mark to give us an example. Mark just became the journalist for a pet magazine. His job is to create cute, funny captions for the photos that come in. Each photo presents a new situation for Mark to come up with ideas. He is now looking at one of a dog laying on the ground and covering his ears, and is imagining several reasons he could be doing this, like being tired of hearing the cat meowing nearby. Mark’s ability to think creatively displays his high level of fluid intelligence.

The other type, crystallized intelligence, refers to being able to use already learned knowledge, skills and experience. Are you someone who can tackle situations by applying what you’ve learned in the past? If you are good at drawing from previous learning, whether it be in social or academic situations, you have a knack for crystallized intelligence.

Here is Bob to illustrate. He is fixing a pipe in the home that has sprung a leak for the third time, as his teenage son is complaining about a difficult teacher. Bob begins to tell his son what he did with a difficult teacher when he was a teenager, believing he could use the same strategy. In this scenario, both Bob’s instructions to his son and fixing leaky pipes are based on prior learning that he applies today.

As far as how the types show themselves in academic exercises, fluid can be compared to working on a new project, whereas crystallized can be displayed in filling out definitions for memorized terms. Since the combination of fluid and crystallized intelligence display a well-rounded intellect, many IQ tests measure both. Along with two types of intelligence, we have two different ways of thinking. These lead us to different ways of tackling questions or problems. They are referred to as divergent and convergent ways of thinking.

Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Divergent thinking refers to the thinking we use to come up with various answers to a question or situation. Convergent thinking refers to the thinking we use to come up with one right answer. Let’s meet Stacey and Regina who each represent a different type of thinking.

Stacey is a student who likes to do things outside of the box. She is a painter, and she believes there are several ways of solving problems. She likes to think of other people’s perspectives, and she likes assignments where she can explore her personal thoughts on issues.

Her friend Regina, however, likes structure. She likes it when teachers tell her exact assignments rather than just giving her guidelines to work around. When there is a problem to solve, she believes there is one answer to it, and she tends to prefer math equations over free writing. Stacey is someone who shows divergent ways of thinking in multiple areas of her life, whereas Regina displays convergent thinking in multiple areas.

Later on, you’ll take a quiz for this video. The multiple-choice questions are designed to lead you to one specific answer, so it requires that you use convergent thinking. In order to use divergent thinking, you would need to do something like respond to a hypothetical story for which you come up with possible solutions.

Intelligence Changes Over Time

Researchers have seen that our intelligence goes through changes over time. When Thomas is a baby, his brain is forming and neurons are beginning to connect. His fluid intelligence is growing quickly because he is interacting in new ways with the world and having to adapt to new experiences.

With further brain development and school learning during childhood and adolescence, Thomas will continue to grow his crystallized intelligence. He learns his math tables and vocabulary definitions in school, and he is ready to absorb and remember what he studies. Both types of his intelligence will then peak in young adulthood during Thomas’ college career, while fluid often begins to gradually decline after this time.

Years later when Thomas is in his 50s, he finds that he relies on what he has already learned about life and uses past experiences when approaching new situations. This is in contrast to his son, Jeremy, who is in his 20s and enjoys tackling new situations while acquiring new ideas and opinions.

It is not until around 70 that Tom notices his crystallized intelligence noticeably decline, as he can’t remember facts the way he used to. He therefore tries to exercise his mind with puzzles, games and helping others with problem solving. These techniques will help both his crystallized and fluid intelligence.

Research is actually mixed with regard to changes in crystallized intelligence over time. Some say there is the potential for some growth or at least maintenance through adulthood. Other research shows that crystallized intelligence declines earlier than 70. Most agree that usually after this age it declines to some degree. The degree and speed is dependent on individual situations and whether or not people exercise their mind as Tom did. Of course, intelligence is greatly affected if there are illnesses present, like dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Lesson Summary

To review, Raymond Cattell proposed two different types of intelligence that combine to form one’s overall intelligence. These are called fluid and crystallized intelligence. Fluid refers to the ability to think creatively and tackle new or varied situations. Crystallized refers to the ability to draw on past knowledge and apply it presently.

There are also two types of thinking we can use to address questions or issues: convergent and divergent. Convergent is more structured and applies to the thinking we use to come up with one right answer. Divergent is more free flowing and applies to the thinking we use to come up with various answers.

Learning Outcomes

When this lesson is over, you should be able to:

  • Define fluid and crystallized intelligence and provide examples of each
  • Compare and contrast convergent and divergent thinking
  • Understand how intelligence changes with age