Crystallized Intelligence. This week I want to talk about intelligence.

There are some who think our brains are in decline as we age. I’m more of a believer of whether you think it is, or not, you are right.

Looking to history, Both Charles Darwin and Johann Sebastian Bach were highly gifted but as they reached midlife, Darwin became depressed after hitting a wall in his research and fell into inactivity, whereas Bach reinvented himself from a composer to a master instructor.

This ties in nicely with two different types of intelligence.

Raymond B Catell (1963) developed the theory of fluid v crystallized intelligence as two categories of general intelligence and explained this in depth in his book ‘Intelligence, its Structure, Growth, and Action’ published in 1987.

Fluid intelligence

Fluid intelligence is the capacity to think speedily and reason flexibly in order to solve new problems without relying on past experience and accumulated knowledge. It is correlated with a number of important skills such as comprehension, problem solving, and learning. High fluid intelligence can often be found in fields such as theoretical physics and pure maths.

Fluid intelligence is a capacity to ‘perceive relationships independent of previous specific practice or instruction related to those relationships’ (Catell, 1967). It helps us to see patterns and solve problems and peaks in our 30s before heading into decline, although the actual age of decline is subject to debate and now could be seen to peak around the age of 40.

Fluid intelligence is a predictor of a person’s capacity to work well in environments characterised by complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity. This creative intelligence is useful for entrepreneurs and could be a reason why so many tech entrepreneurs reach success in their 20s.

Crystallized Intelligence

Crystallized intelligence is the ability to utilize skills and knowledge acquired via prior learning (Horn, 1969). It is based on accumulated knowledge and is linked to education and experience including skills learned. As we age and accumulate new knowledge and understanding, crystallized intelligence becomes stronger. Disciplines such as history and philosophy fit well with this.

This intelligence rises through adulthood and declines much later in life. It’s peak is not yet clear but likely to be around the age of 60 or 70 (Desjardins, Warnke & Jonas, 2012).

Being a life-long learning will increase and improve our crystallized intelligence through gaining knowledge and experience. The more accumulated knowledge we have, the more crystallized intelligence we will possess. It doesn’t have to be formal learning, but it is around remaining curious and seeking to learn and understand more.

This crystallized intelligence will help us move towards the role of wise elder, with wisdom to share. It’s an important life stage to move beyond the striving for career success (and how exhausting is that!) to a new stage where we can learn and share and focus on what is truly important.

As we age this could be the time to focus less on ‘resume virtues’ – the accomplishments valued in the workplace that lead to career success, and more to ‘eulogy virtues’ aspects of our character such as kindness and bravery.

I’ve been making the move to a wise elder alongside my doctoral studies, and I want to carry on learning more and sharing more. The next stage will be to publish my research, but that’s a long process.

What do you think about the move to teaching and sharing knowledge rather than a focus on career progression?

Are you doing this? Does it interest you? I’d love to read your views.



Prera, A (2020, Oct 26). Fluid vs crystallized intelligence. Simply Psychology.

Cattell, R. B. (1963). Theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence: A critical experiment. Journal of Educational Psychology, 54(1), 1–22.

Cattell, R. B. Intelligence: Its Structure, Growth and Action. Elsevier, 1987.

Desjardins, R., & Warnke, A.J. (2012). Ageing and Skills (PDF). OECD Education Working Papers.

Horn, J. L. (1969). Intelligence: Why it grows. Why it declines. Transaction, 4, 23-31.

Published On: May 7th, 2022 / Categories: Personal Development, Retirement /

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