16 Fluid Intelligence Examples

crystallized intelligence vs fluid intelligence

Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve newly encountered problems based on logic and reason.

It is the opposite of crystallized intelligence which involves stored intelligence based on experience and wisdom.

An example of fluid intelligence is the ability to solve a puzzle in a computer game by using lateral and divergent thinking.

Fluid Intelligence Definition

The concept of fluid intelligence refers to the ability to solve problems in novel situations using cognitive skills.

It was originally proposed by Cattell (1963). At the time, the notion of general intelligence was prominent, but in Cattell’s view, incomplete.

Cattell proposed two types of intelligence:

  • Fluid intelligence (Gf) and
  • crystallized intelligence (Gc).

While fluid intelligence concerns drawing inferences in a novel situation to solve a problem, crystallized intelligence involves relying on accumulated knowledge and past experiences.

Over time, Cattell, one of his students (Horn), and fellow researcher (Carroll) collaborated to produce what is referred to today as the Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory of cognitive abilities.

Fluid intelligence uses mental operations such as:

Fluid Intelligence Examples

  • Solving mysteries: Susan and her friends love to go to murder-mystery dinners and try to solve crimes before anyone else.
  • Making weather forecasts: A meteorologist must examine a large amount of weather data for a given day, filter out what’s not relevant, and then formulate a weather forecast for the next week.  
  • Solving puzzles: Children love to do puzzle mazes because they have to solve the problem of how to get from point A to point B.
  • Solving riddles: Jamal and his buddies like to read the riddles used by Shakespeare in his plays and then try to create modern versions.  
  • Doing jigsaw puzzles: The McNeils put together a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle every Saturday night as a family activity and a reason to turn off everyone’s smartphone.  
  • Figuring things out: Bill could use the instructions to put together his son’s new bike, but he prefers to try to figure it out on his own.  
  • Identifying expressions in communication: While watching recordings of therapy sessions between therapists and patients, Haggard and Isaacs (1966) noticed a pattern of super-quick facial expressions at certain moments during the sessions. Today, we call them “micro-expressions”.
  • Syllogisms: Kumar loves syllogisms; he can spend hours at a time working through different types and trying to write some of his own.  
  • Arranging: Whenever the Acharya’s send gifts back home, they let their son pack the boxes because he is really good at arranging the packages to fit into shipping box.   
  • Spatial design: James is gifted at staging the interiors of a home for sale so they look their best for an open house.

Case Studies of Fluid Intelligence

1. Interpreting Graphs

Depending on its level of complexity, a lot of information can be acquired from a single graph. From simple bar graphs to 3D visualizations that depict changing variables across time, interpreting graphic data can require a lot of cognitive processing.  

The ability to look at a graph and almost immediately understand it is an example of fluid intelligence. It is a problem-solving situation that requires processing visual information and then translating that into a verbal understanding.

In terms of fluid intelligence, the quicker a person can look at a graph and understand it, the higher their level of fluid intelligence. Someone with a high degree of fluid intelligence can process the visual components quickly and efficiently.

Others however, may need additional time to examine each component of the graph. They may take a very deliberative and sequential approach that takes time and absorbs cognitive capacity.

If you need to make a graph, then take a look at the above video which describes several types of graphs and the guidelines for constructing each one.

2. Abstract Reasoning

Abstract reasoning refers to the ability to understand or think about concepts that are hypothetical.

Those concepts are not necessarily tied to physical objects. Abstract reasoning is considered a higher-order thinking skill that is more complex than memorization or recalling facts and dates.

When thinking about the ideals or principles involved in a situation, one must consider different possibilities, identify pros and cons, analyze the situation from different angles, and finally identify the logical conclusions.

These cognitive processes are at the heart of fluid intelligence. Some people will be able to engage these processes quickly and thoroughly, while others may have difficulty conducting one or all of these mental operations.

Many intelligence tests assess abstract reasoning by presenting a series of figures and asking the test-taker to identify the pattern and choose among several options that complete the pattern.

3. Perceptual Reasoning

The ability to think and reason in tasks that contain visual information and images is called perceptual reasoning. The mental operations necessary in perceptual reasoning include organizing visual information and the ability to manipulate them mentally.

These skills are often assessed in intelligence tests for children. For example, the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) has a PRI (Perceptual Reasoning Index) scale that contain many items directly assessing a child’s nonverbal fluid reasoning skills.

The PRI contains three subtests: Block Design, Picture Concepts, and Matrix Reasoning. Each of these subtests are designed to measure a child’s ability to identify the rules and logical relationships that exist in a set of images.

These are the types of skills that are typically not taught in school, and are therefore considered valuable measurements of fluid intelligence.

4. Thinking Outside the Box

Although this may be one of the most overused phrases in the business world, it does actually represent a form of fluid intelligence. Being able to generate a novel solution to an existing problem often involves thinking abstractly and generating a unique logical perspective.

This is an ability that not all people possess. It combines creativity, divergent thinking, and an ability to break free of the status quo.

Thinking outside the box is often accomplished by reframing the problem to examine it from a different angle. The problem may be defined to certain conditions and assumptions that are not as laid in stone as previously understood.

Previous attempts at problem-solving were limited by these constraints. Someone with a high degree of fluid intelligence however, will be able to put aside those limiting parameters and generate a truly viable solution. 

5. In Debate

Fluid intelligence is sometimes characterized as the ability to “think on one’s feet”. This means a person has the ability to quickly respond to a statement or challenging question.

Being able to generate a quick response demonstrates mental agility. The fact that a person’s analysis of the challenging comment/question, and the subsequent rapid-fire rebuttal, is what makes it an example of fluid intelligence.

In a way, this kind of cognitive flexibility conveys the true meaning of “fluid” in the term fluid intelligence.

The “on-the-spot” responsiveness demonstrates how fluid intelligence is distinct from crystallized intelligence, which is cemented in experience and a previous store of knowledge.

Of course, any given task may involve both types of intelligence. In debate, a person does have to think on their feet, but they also rely on retrieved facts to support their contentions.

6. Detective Work  

Working as a detective might be one of the most interesting jobs a person could have. Detectives get to do work that has real meaning and makes a positive contribution to society.

It’s also a job that requires a great deal of fluid intelligence. Solving a crime is like solving a giant puzzle with a lot of missing pieces. This means that a detective must be very good at analyzing complex problems, thinking through various logical conclusions, and considering evidence that both confirms and disconfirms a given hypothesis.

Advanced critical-thinking skills are imperative. There can be countless pieces of evidence that must be analyzed thoroughly to eventually piece together the puzzle and identify the right culprit.

As an investigation progress over a period of weeks or months, the detective must continuously adjust their hypotheses about what and why the crime transpired.

Critical thinking, continuous processing, and hypothesis testing are all key characteristics of fluid intelligence.


Fluid intelligence is the ability to mentally juggle multiple stimuli to comprehend or solve a problem. It involves abstract reasoning, extrapolating logical conclusions, or identifying patterns and connections between seemingly unrelated variables.

Strictly speaking, fluid intelligence does not rely on previous knowledge or experience. There are many occupations that utilize fluid intelligence, such as detective work, interior design, or working as a research scientist.

Fluid intelligence helps us interpret complex graphs, solve riddles, puzzles and syllogisms, as well as generate novel solutions to old problems in what is often referred to as “thinking outside the box.”


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.

Dowell, L.R., Mahone, E.M. (2011). Perceptual Reasoning Index. In: Kreutzer, J.S., DeLuca, J., Caplan, B. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-79948-3_1582

Haggard, E.A. and Isaacs, K.S. (1966) Micro-momentary facial expressions as indicators of ego mechanisms in psychotherapy. In L. A. Gottschalk and A. H. Auerbach (Eds.), Methods of Research in Psychotherapy (pp. 143-165). Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4684-6045-2_14

Unsworth, N., Fukuda, K., Awh, E., Vogel, E. K. (2014). Working memory and fluid intelligence: Capacity, attention control, and secondary memory retrieval. Cognitive Psychology, 71, 1–26.

Dave Cornell (PhD)
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Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

Chris Drew (PhD)
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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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