Difference between Crystallized and Fluid Intelligence

Updated on June 1, 2017

Psychologists believe that general intelligence is determined by the two factors, which are crystallized and fluid intelligence. Let’s find out what these concepts are as measures of one’s general intellect.


Driving is an example of crystallized intelligence

Crystallized intelligence refers to an individual’s ability to use knowledge, skills, and experience. Although not the same as memory, crystallized intelligence relies on information derived from long-term memory. It is the intellectual growth and achievement throughout an individual’s lifetime as determined by acquired general knowledge and vocabulary. Crystallized intelligence is believed to improve over time as experiences would contribute to the growth of one’s knowledge. Thus, an individual’s ability to reason using numbers and words, and the extent of general knowledge and vocabulary, are indicators of crystallized intelligence.

Crystallized intelligence is more likely amenable to change as it is based on specific and acquired knowledge. This is evidenced by the expansion of an individual’s repository of knowledge as new learnings are acquired. It is also believed that crystallized intelligence is related to the study of aging, that it steadily declines as a person ages, and that this knowledge and skills can be forgotten when they are no longer used. Experts believe there is a certain age where crystallized intelligence peaks. It then declines as forgetting outpaces the acquisition of new knowledge.

Fluid intelligence
A child learning chess improves fluid intelligence

Fluid intelligence (i.e. fluid reasoning) is an individual’s capability to reason and solve out-of-the-box problems. A person with a high fluid intelligence can sift through new problems and create logical solutions by identifying patterns and relationships that cause such problems. It includes inductive and deductive reasoning; thus, fluid intelligence is essential in problem-solving that requires logical thinking (e.g. technical, scientific, mathematical problems).

Fluid intelligence is also defined as a person’s innate and inherent capacity to learn. This type of intelligence is not dependent on educational attainment, acquired experiences, and stock knowledge. Fluid intelligence is a person’s ability to think on his/her feet and demonstrates the mind’s ability to process information. Fluid intelligence is also indicative of one’s memory capacity and ability to focus and sort through information.

Psychologists believe that fluid intelligence is governed by regions of the brain responsible for attention and short-term memory such as the anterior cingulate cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Mental activities that make use of, and improve fluid intelligence include problem-solving, learning, and pattern recognition.

Crystallized vs Fluid Intelligence

Now, what’s the difference between crystallized and fluid intelligence? At this point, it can be said that crystallized knowledge is a result of learning new things – otherwise known as fluid intelligence.

Crystallized intelligence is one’s capacity to put knowledge, reasoning, and skills to use. While it is not synonymous to memory, crystallized intelligence is dependent on long-term memory. Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, is an individual’s ability to reason logically and solve new, novel, out-of-the-box problems. Thus, it is one’s ability to resolve new problems outside of any previously acquired knowledge Crystallized intelligence is an individual’s lifetime of intellectual achievements as exhibited mostly by a person’s general knowledge, vocabulary, and capability to reason using words and numbers.

Comparison Chart

Crystallized IntelligenceFluid Intelligence
Ability to apply knowledge, reasoning, and skillAbility to learn and solve new problems using logic
Speaking one’s native language, driving skills, readingA child learning new skills, a person learning to play cards for the first time
Related to knowledge and experienceRelated to abstract reasoning, pattern recognition, creativity, and puzzle solving
Declines with age (usually around 70) and non-usage of skillsUsually peaks at age 20 and may decline further due to brain damage or mental disorder


Here are more details about crystallized and fluid intelligence.