In a digital age—that puts a premium on facts, figures, and data—crystallized intelligence has become disproportionately valued over fluid intelligence. This creates a backlash from overemphasizing grades and standardized testing wherein students gain crystallized intelligence at the expense of fluid intelligence.
What is crystallized and fluid intelligence anyway?
Crystallized intelligence is the ability to utilize information, skills, knowledge, and experience in a way that could be measured on a standardized test. Crystallized intelligence represents your lifetime of cerebral knowledge, as reflected through your vocabulary, general explicit knowledge and Trivial Pursuit types of declarative memory of people, places, things…
Students who develop crystallized intelligence often ace standardized tests, become merit scholars and earn the respect and admiration of their peers, teachers and parents (much to the dismay of their lesser-performing classmates and siblings).
Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, is the capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, independent of acquired knowledge. Fluid intelligence involves the ability to identify patterns and relationships that underpin novel problems and to extrapolate these findings using logic. this type of intelligence cannot be measured by a standardized test. It could manifest in good hand-eye coordination, motor skills and street smarts. These are students who probably did terribly in standardized tests, preferred playing outside, listening to music or just hanging out with friends. parents and teachers would often get frustrated with them for not ‘flexing’ their cerebral muscle and not using their cerebrum .
To a degree, that is probably right, since scientists do acknowledge atrophy which is brought about my disuse.
When I was growing up, my parents and teachers emphasized only one kind of intelligence — the kind that can be measured in periodic tests and are quantified by a grade. That pattern went on all the way until I entered college and found myself taking pre-med where I had to cram my head full of crystallized facts, go on sleepless nights to memorize and take a test which would measure how well I could regurgitate the information I’d crammed in my head in the past few nights. At that point, I started to get disillusioned and longed to go back to my first love, writing. After careful deliberation, I finally mustered the nerve to transfer to the the Creative Writing program where I got the chance to flex my creative muscles writing poetry and other genres of literature, daydream, engage in physical activity and get a good night’s sleep.
I realised that knowing is not enough. I was still getting crystallized information from learning principles but, more than anything, it taught to to filter that crystallized information through my own unique lens of experience and connect the dots in new and original ways. it developed my fluid intelligence which is linked to creativity and innovation. Looking back, I realise that the ideal is to engage in a healthy balance of cognitive and physical abilities.
As I am writing this, I am watching American Ninja Warriors where athletes, rock climbers, parkour enthusiasts, gym and fitness rats or anyone with a taste for adventure, young and old alike battle it out in mind-boggling, heart-stopping physical obstacles for a chance to bag the title of the first ever American Ninja Warrior. In this show, I’ve seen young men fall behind their older counterparts in terms of performance. I’ve witnessed 60-year olds complete an obstacle and the younger ones lag behind and fall on the water all on the account of experience in training for the Ninja Warrior and coming back to compete year after year. It’s muscle memory over youth and vigor. Although occasionally, a contender would come and surprise everyone by rising to the ranks, most completers are experienced Ninja Warrior competitors.
Although this is not a illustration of cognitive abilities, I believe we can derive the same conclusion about aging vis-a-vis cognitive abilities in this show. Memory loss or decline may as well be overstimated in older adults, perhaps due to stereotype about aging; but
- the pragmatics of intelligence continue to grow
- abilities to do daily living functions may suffer with age, but one’s wisdom and ability to solve interpersonal and emotionally-charged problems get better with age
- older people benefit from lifelong learning activities to keep themselves mentally alert