Fluid Intelligence: Characteristics and Examples to understand it better

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Editorial Team

Consider the following scenario –

“You work for a courier company, and a huge consignment is waiting to be delivered. Everything is sorted, but all of a sudden, you learn of a glitch that will impact the delivery of the consignment. As there is no scope for late delivery, you start figuring out what you can do next.”

This is the moment your fluid intelligence kicks in. It is a person’s ability to adapt to changing environments and navigate through new situations through critical thinking, problem-solving, and abstract reasoning. It helps you solve an entirely new problem even when you don’t have prior experience tackling it.

The theory of intelligence comprising fluid and crystallized intelligence was developed by a British-American psychologist, Raymond B. Cattell. Fluid intelligence is key to an individual’s academic and professional success. This post covers the various characteristics of fluid intelligence and gives a few examples to help you understand it better.  

Fluid intelligence: Exploring its different characteristics

1. Ability to learn new things

Fluid intelligence imparts a person the ability to acquire new skills and knowledge. Therefore, people with high fluid intelligence are better at handling situations where they need to learn skills or concepts and apply the acquired knowledge instantly. They are also proficient learners who don’t shy away from learning things in varied disciplines.

2. Adaptability and flexibility

With fluid intelligence comes the capacity to adapt to new situations and challenges. Individuals with high fluid intelligence are flexible with their approach to working on unfamiliar scenarios and are able to quickly and easily analyze, process, and respond to new situations.

3. Critical thinking

Fluid intelligence empowers a person to think critically and derive solutions to novel problems. It allows individuals to address challenging situations with an open mind and use their critical thinking skills to solve complex issues by breaking them down into manageable components.

4. Problem-solving

Excellent problem-solving skills are closely related to high fluid intelligence. When people endowed with high fluid intelligence face a problem, they use their inherent cognitive skills to identify patterns, foresee consequences, and figure out strategies to solve the problem at hand. Take a look at some examples of problem-solving skills in action.

Identifying patterns and solving problems

5. Abstract reasoning

Fluid intelligence also involves abstract reasoning. It allows individuals to make connections between abstract concepts and derive meaningful information from complex and unconventional formats. This competency, along with logical reasoning skills, helps them dissect unfamiliar information to deal with new situations or problems.  

6. Involvement of working memory

When someone applies their fluid intelligence, they rely heavily on their working memory. This temporary memory stores multiple types of information at a time and allows people to manipulate it to aid in various complex cognitive tasks.

7. Speed of information processing

Typically, people work at different speeds to process a given piece of information. As fluid intelligence is linked to quick information processing, those with top-notch fluid intelligence can swiftly extrapolate and synthesize information and figure out solutions or conclusions better than those with comparatively less fluid intelligence.

8. Reliance on past acquired knowledge

Fluid intelligence is not dependent on pre-existing knowledge. When a person employs this form of intelligence, they do not merely rely on learned facts but more on the information available at hand, which enables them to tackle challenges with a fresh perspective and find out-of-the-box solutions.

9. Declines with age

Another characteristic typical of fluid intelligence is that this type of intelligence peaks when a person is in their early 20s and then starts declining throughout adulthood[1]. This happens because older individuals are more inclined to use their crystallized intelligence, which is the knowledge they acquire through experience and learning.

Examples suggesting the use of fluid intelligence

1. Debating

Engaging in a debate is a fine example of fluid intelligence. Debates require a person to think quickly and present arguments on the spot. Fluid intelligence allows you to understand the opponent’s ideas swiftly, adapt to changing discussions, think logically, and counter their arguments so you can speak your ideas persuasively.

2. Solving mazes

Mazes require spatial visualization, pattern recognition, and the manipulation of pathways. Fluid intelligence supports all these competencies and helps in quickly identifying possible routes to get out of the maze. It also aids in decision-making and strategizing to solve the maze as soon as possible.  

3. Solving puzzles and riddles

When solving puzzles and riddles, you utilize your fluid intelligence. It helps in finding hidden connections and uses problem-solving to find solutions. As puzzles come in different formats and require you to think critically, your fluid intelligence helps you adapt to the changing scenarios and approach each of them with a fresh viewpoint.

4. Playing strategy games

Fluid intelligence comes into action when playing strategy games like chess or Ages of Empire. Your fluid intelligence helps you anticipate your opponent’s moves, devise long-term strategies, and make adjustments when needed. You are also able to think flexibly about all the possible outcomes of every single move.

Playing strategy board games

5. Weather forecasting

Working in the meteorological department requires a person to employ fluid intelligence. Weather-related data and trends are constantly changing. So, in order to make accurate predictions, one has to comprehend dynamic meteorological factors and weather patterns using fluid intelligence.

6. Interior designing

Fluid intelligence has a role to play when you decorate your home or that of a client. It makes it easier for you to imagine different design layouts and conceptualize arrangements so they are functional and look aesthetic. You are also able to easily adapt to changing client needs and make changes accordingly.

7. Interpreting graphs

Reading and comprehending complex graphical data is another example suggesting the use of fluid intelligence. It facilitates quick interpretation of data, grasping relationships between variables, noticing trends, and drawing inferences that otherwise go unnoticed if you do not have high fluid intelligence.

8. Scientific Exploration

Scientific research relies greatly on fluid intelligence. Using this type of intelligence, scientists develop hypotheses and experiment with different methodologies to obtain the desired results. When things don’t go as expected, fluid intelligence helps them manipulate their approaches so they can get expected outcomes and, if not, draw conclusions on why the results are not turning out as expected.

Is it possible to enhance fluid intelligence?

Though it was not established earlier, some studies now indicate that it is indeed possible to enhance fluid intelligence. A study[2] revealed that relevant training can significantly improve a person’s fluid intelligence. It is said that the more a person trains, the better their fluid intelligence will be. For significant gains, one must train their working memory, as it is now considered a key determiner of fluid intelligence.

In fact, another study[3] that aimed at improving children’s fluid intelligence through working memory training revealed that working memory training does enhance a child’s fluid intelligence. Taking this into consideration, adults can involve themselves in fun working memory games and activities to reap their benefits. Plus, there are a few other ways that can possibly improve an individual’s fluid intelligence:

  • Practice creative thinking.
  • Take on new challenges.
  • Engage in new activities, hobbies, and experiences.
  • Socialize to challenge your brain to adapt to new environments and opportunities.
  • Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and don’t choose the simplest option.

Final Word

So, do you see the role fluid intelligence plays in our lives? Without it, our ability to stay on our feet to address the challenges of this ever-changing world will not prevail. Fluid intelligence allows us to think independently without being influenced by our past experiences so that we can come up with innovative solutions to novel problems. The cognitive flexibility it provides encourages us to figure things out on our own. 

Probably that’s why people with high fluid intelligence choose career options like scientists, lawyers, financial analysts, and others. Although fluid intelligence tends to decline over time, there are ways to improve it. Individuals must involve themselves in activities that bring novelty into their lives so their brains continue to get the exercise it need to sustain and improve their fluid intelligence.


  1. Tucker-Drob, E. M., Köhncke, Y., Brandmaier, A. M., Nyberg, L., & Lindenberger, U. (2022). A strong dependency between changes in fluid and crystallized abilities in human cognitive aging. Science Advances, 8(5). https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abj2422
  2. Sternberg, R. J. (2008). Increasing fluid intelligence is possible after all. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105(19), 6791-6792. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0803396105
  3. Wang, L., Sheng, A., Chang, L., & Zhou, R. (2022). Improving fluid intelligence of children through working memory training: The role of inhibition control. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 1025036. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.1025036

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