Crystallized intelligence refers to the knowledge and skills a person develops throughout their lifespan.
People use crystallized intelligence when recalling facts or applying skills they have acquired in the past.
It is the opposite of fluid intelligence, which is the ability to solve newly encountered problems based on logic and reason.
Crystallized Intelligence Definition
Crystallized intelligence was originally proposed by Cattell (1963) as a more specific form of general intelligence, which was the prominent view at the time.
Cattell proposed two types of intelligence:
- fluid (Gf), and
- crystallized (Gc).
Crystallized intelligence (Gc)
Crystallized intelligence involves recalling facts and information from a stored base of knowledge. That data can then be applied to new situations.
Because crystallized intelligence is the accumulation of knowledge and skills, it tends to increase with age. As people grow older, they are able to utilize what they have learned to deal more effectively with problems and situations they encounter.
Fluid intelligence (Gf)
Fluid intelligence involves drawing inferences, quantitative and deductive reasoning, generating and testing hypotheses, identifying relations among variables, problem-solving, and extrapolating possible ramifications.
Cattell’s theory was later combined with the research of Horn, and Carroll, to produce a more comprehensive and updated iteration known as the Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory of cognitive abilities.
Crystallized Intelligence Examples
- Jasmine has been cooking for decades. She no longer needs any cookbooks because she has so many recipes memorized.
- Some children learn to read quickly because they can easily recall the phoneme for each letter.
- Jamal and his buddies have hiked the Appalachian trail so many times they really don’t need a map.
- The McNeils play trivial pursuit every Saturday night. It’s a great way for the family to bond and an even better reason to turn off smartphones.
- Bill could be a great American football sportscaster because he can remember the scores and circumstances of nearly every game for the last two decades.
- Maria is a European history buff. She has memorized all the key dates and figures of The Middle Ages, The Renaissance, and the emergence of modern Europe.
- Kumar has read the Mahabharata so many times he can quote all the key passages and recall the main events with amazing accuracy.
- Adrian memorized the periodic table in third grade and can easily visualize the molecular structure of all 118 elements.
- Whenever the Acharya’s need to buy birthday gifts for their 27 relatives, they always consult their son. He knows when everyone’s birthday is and what gifts they were given for the last 5 years.
- Although James is not a skilled litigator, the law firm he works for puts him on a lot of cases because he has an incredible memory of case law and pertinent statutes.
Case Studies of Crystallized Intelligence
1. Project Management
In simple terms, project management is the process of leading a team to reach various milestones on schedule and produce a final deliverable within a set timeframe. It requires numerous skills, such as tracking progress, communication, and team-building.
Each one of these components benefit from crystallized intelligence. Having an experienced project manager at the helm means the person in charge already knows what works and what doesn’t.
Tracking the progress of a project is essential to meeting targets and keeping on schedule. An experienced leader will know which metrics are most important and which are less critical.
Communication skills are both a product of innate verbal skills, and practice over a period of years. Experience allows a person to know what to say, when to say it, and, sometimes more importantly, what not to say.
Of course, team-building is crucial. Keeping members of the team working as a whole and striving towards a common goal can be the difference between success and failure.
Even though fluid intelligence is needed for basic problem-solving, crystallized intelligence ensures that a project leader has a store of tools and techniques that have been tested and refined over time.
2. Wisdom and Crystallized Intelligence
The Cambridge dictionary defines wisdom as the ability to use knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgments.
While philosophers and regular, everyday people have tried to define wisdom, researchers have been focused on identifying the role of various factors, such as intelligence and age.
For example, Glück and Scherpf (2022) postulated that:
“Wisdom is typically applied to uncertain and complex problems where fast reactions or short-term memory capacity are less important than knowledge, expertise, or metacognition” (p. 7).
To investigate the role of fluid and crystallized intelligence, the researchers assessed both types of intelligence in 318 participants, ages 15-70 years old, and divided them into 3 age groups.
The participants then responded to the hypothetical scenarios found in the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm (Baltes & Staudinger, 2000).
Their responses were evaluated on a variety of dimensions by trained raters to measure level of wisdom.
“Crystallized intelligence was necessary but not sufficient for wisdom in all three age groups, and a certain minimum level of fluid intelligence was necessary for wisdom in adolescents and younger adults” (p. 19).
3. Primary Care Physician (PCP)
A primary care physician (PCP) is the main doctor a person sees for health checks. This type of doctor has comprehensive training across the spectrum of healthcare issues. Sometimes they are referred to as a general practitioner.
When experiencing a medical issue, the PCP is the person to see first. They will diagnose the issue and then be able to refer the patient to the appropriate specialist.
Although some people would rather see a younger doctor, others might feel more confident seeing a doctor with a wealth of experience. Over decades of seeing patients, their knowledge base becomes quite expansive.
That experience will enable them to identify issues that are urgent and distinguish them from minor ailments they have witnessed many times before.
An experienced doctor will also be aware of issues that might be unanticipated by a less-experienced practitioner.
4. A Ship’s Captain
There are many different types of seafaring vessels. From sailboats that participate in international competitions to cruise ships and humongous cargo vessels, it takes time and experience before reaching the rank of captain.
The largest vessels require a license as a Master Mariner, which can take a decade or more of experience to obtain. The skills needed to navigate the seas can only be obtained through direct experience.
That experience includes how to handle dangerous swells and circumvent fast-approaching storms. Unfortunately, when at sea, there are no second chances. Any mistake could easily be the last, not only for the captain but for all those on board as well.
This is where crystallized intelligence becomes so vital.
If you have any doubt, just ask yourself this question: If you are about to go out on the high seas and there are two boats at the dock, which one are you going to get on? The one captained by someone with two years of experience or the one with 20?
5. Supreme Court Justice
The Supreme Court in the U.S. is the highest court in the country. It’s two main functions include being the final interpreter of state and federal law, and defining procedural rules for federal courts. Those are some hefty responsibilities.
Being appointed to the Supreme Court is reserved from those that have one thing in common: experience. Having decades of legal experience means amassing an incredible amount of legal expertise.
When listening to arguments in legal proceedings, a justice must have an expansive store of legal precedence from which to process those arguments.
Reading the points of view of the legal teams arguing the cases requires a justice to be well-versed in all references to case law. The justice has to know if the arguments being presented have a foundation in the law or if the lawyers are just exercising their verbal dexterity.
Crystallized intelligence is the core of a justice’s ability to impact the most significant legal proceedings in the country.
Crystallized intelligence involves recalling information from a base of knowledge. That knowledge could include historical facts and figures, or an understanding of basic principles based on years of experience.
While a lot of situations require both fluid and crystallized intelligence, there are definite differences in their form and function.
As we get older, our crystallized intelligence grows, while our speed of cognitive processing begins to slow.
Fortunately, there are many professions in which speed of thinking is not the essential requirement. For example, experience gives the primary care physician insight into what issues are urgent and which treatment strategy is most effective.
Experience teaches the ship’s captain the best way to handle emergencies at sea, or better yet, how to avoid them altogether. While being an experienced project manager means they already know how to keep the team on track and in a collaborative spirit.
Baltes, P. B., & Staudinger, U. M. (2000). Wisdom: A metaheuristic (pragmatic) to orchestrate mind and virtue toward excellence. American Psychologist, 55(1), 122–136.
Brown, R. (2016). Hebb and Cattell: The genesis of the theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 606. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00606
Cattell, R. (1987). Intelligence: Its Structure, Growth, and Action. Elsevier Science Publishers,
Cattell, R. B. (1963). Theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence: A critical experiment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 54(1), 1–22.
Glück, J., & Scherpf, A. (2022). Intelligence and wisdom: Age-related differences and nonlinear relationships. Psychology and Aging, 37. https://doi.org/10.1037/pag0000692
Webster, J. D. (2003). An exploratory analysis of a self-assessed wisdom scale. Journal of Adult Development, 10(1), 13–22.
Webster, J. D. (2007). Measuring the character strength of wisdom. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 65(2), 163–183. https://doi.org/10.2190/AG.65.2.d