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Fluid Intelligence: Definition & Examples

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Instructor: Chris Clause

Chris is an educator with a background in psychology and counseling. He also holds a PhD in public affairs, and has worked as a counselor and teacher for community college students for more than 10 years.

In this lesson, you will learn to define fluid intelligence and give examples of its use in everyday situations. Following the lesson, you will have a chance to test your new knowledge with a short quiz.

What is Intelligence?

What is intelligence? Is it getting a perfect score on the ACT? Is it having the ability to play a complex piano sonata? Or does being able to solve complex puzzles make you intelligent? Actually, it is a little bit of all of these things and more.

As cognitive psychologists began to better understand intelligence, it quickly became clear that there are many distinct sub-types of intelligence. It is generally agreed that intelligence is not one thing, but rather intelligence comes in many forms and is comprised of a variety of cognitive skills and abilities.

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  • 0:00 What Is Intelligence?
  • 0:41 What Is Fluid Intelligence?
  • 2:37 Examples of Fluid Intelligence
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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What is Fluid Intelligence?

The study of intelligence and how we measure it is still a relatively new field, only around 100 years old. The intelligence quotient (IQ) was proposed as a way to measure a person's cognitive abilities as compared to others of the same age. When early theorists were assessing IQ, a variety of factors were taken into account, but initially only one score, or IQ, was derived. However, two people with the same IQ can function very differently, which led researchers to examine why these differences might exist in spite of the same overall IQ score. Raymond Cattell was one of the first psychologists to describe intelligence as being comprised of multiple constructs.

Cattell proposed the idea that intelligence can be divided into two types, which he referred to as fluid and crystallized. Crystallized intelligence is what Cattell referred to as the ability to make use of acquired information or knowledge. Crystallized intelligence is still what many think of when they think of someone who is intelligent and is sometimes referred to as book smarts.

Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, has to do with the ability to be adaptable and solve problems, even in an unfamiliar situation. If you hear people talk about street smarts, they are more or less describing fluid intelligence. People who possess high levels of fluid intelligence are people who are good at solving problems and spend time thinking outside the box. Fluid intelligence gets its name from the non-linear nature of these thought processes, which are ever changing, just as the nature of fluid is always changing to adapt to the shape of its container. Fluid intelligence requires a sense of awareness and open-mindedness, neither of which are necessarily required of crystallized intelligence.

Examples of Fluid Intelligence

Let's look at a couple of examples to help drive home the meaning of fluid intelligence. As mentioned, fluid intelligence represents the ability to think on your feet, think outside the box, and develop creative approaches in new situations. As an example of fluid intelligence in action, think of your favorite modern luxury. Maybe it's the airplane or possibly something newer like Facebook. It doesn't really matter what it is; the people behind those creations possessed, among other things, a certain degree of fluid intelligence.

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