The Two Types of Intelligence


One could argue that Intelligence is the ultimate holy grail of education. Granted, it is not the only goal of education; traits like conscientiousness and civic responsibility are also equally important. But if we view education as a preparation for a life well lived, Intelligence is a pretty good predictor of success over the long term. Naturally we are interested in the question of improving IQ levels through our education curriculums. What factors exactly influences Intelligence and can we improve upon them?To answer that question we need to answer another one first. What is Intelligence in the first place? Is the the assortment of a huge number of facts? Is it the ability to solve complex calculus problems? What about the street smart salesman who may not have aced his grades but is extremely effective at his job ? 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Intelligence as ‘The ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills’. This is a catch-all definition that seems to deem all the above as examples of intelligence and fairly so. But as far as definitions go, this definition doesn’t seem to be very useful; for our goal is to understand intelligence in a way that helps us actually improve it.

Raymond Cattell and John L Horn theorised that general Intelligence can be furthered factored into 2 subcategories namely – 

  1. Crystallized Intelligence
  2. Fluid Intelligence

Crystallized Intelligence is referred to as the ability to make use of acquired information or knowledge. It concerns with the knowledge that comes from prior learning and past experiences. Problems that require crystallized intelligence include reading comprehension and vocabulary exams. As we age and accumulate new knowledge and understanding, crystallized intelligence becomes stronger. This component of Intelligence increases with age as our experience tends to increase with time.

On the other hand, Fluid Intelligence is the ability to solve abstract problems independent of previous  domain-specific knowledge. According to Cattle described it as “…the ability to perceive relationships independent of previous specific practice or instruction concerning those relationships”. Examples of the use of fluid intelligence include solving puzzles and coming up with design patterns. It is the component of intelligence that we use when encountered with novel problems which we haven’t solved or encountered before. Unlike it’s counterpart, fluid intelligence doesn’t increase with rudimentary experience.

It becomes abundantly clear then that fluid intelligence is the specific area on which we need to put our efforts in, as crystallised intelligence can be reliably increased with time. Until fairly recently, fluid intelligence had been thought of as set in stone, influenced heavily by genetics. But recent studies indicate that targeted brain training programs can have a prominent effect on it. By putting ourselves in situations where we have to solve challenging problems, we train the working memory of our brains to reason abstractly and come up with solutions. Meanwhile long term memory can help us in improving crystallised intelligence. In case of children, exposing them to STEM education programs like Visual Programming, Robotics etc from a young age can fastback their development of fluid intelligence by exposing them to problem solving and critical thinking early in life. Their cognitive function is more adapted to solution oriented thinking and thus can reap rewards later in life.

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