Decoding Fluid and Crystallized Intelligence in Athletes

representing the history and correlation between Fluid and Crystallized Intelligence in athletes.

Unraveling the complexities of human intelligence is always intriguing, particularly when it’s associated with sports performance. This blog aims to elucidate two major components of intelligence: Fluid and Crystallized. Moreover, how do these elements manifest among athletes? But before diving deep, let’s revisit a recent riddle I posted on our social platforms.

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The Power of Puzzles:

I was fascinated by how some followers swiftly decoded the brain teaser, while others, including myself, pondered over it for hours. Solving such puzzles taps into a unique facet of our intelligence.

Crystallized vs. Fluid Intelligence: A Distinction:

Renowned researcher Cattel’s 1977 work delineates intelligence into two kinds: ‘Crystallized’ and ‘Fluid’. Crystallized intelligence pertains to knowledge acquired from past experiences. In contrast, fluid intelligence emphasizes abstract reasoning and problem-solving without relying on previous knowledge. These intelligences operate independently; however, sometimes they intertwine. For instance, a previously conceived problem-solving strategy, stored in long-term memory, might aid fluid intelligence. As a result, this strategy can be re-employed in varying scenarios. Intriguingly, while crystallized intelligence can augment throughout life, fluid intelligence typically peaks by mid-twenties.

An Insightful Analogy:

Many scholars equate crystallized intelligence with long-term memory and fluid intelligence with working memory – a short-term storage and processing system. Kyllonen and Cristal’s 1990 expansive study explored this analogy. They gauged the working memory and reasoning capacities of US Airforce recruits. Surprisingly, a high correlation surfaced between these scores, leading the researchers to ponder if both capacities were essentially identical. However, other scientists couldn’t reinforce this correlation. Later, in 2005, researchers Ackerman, Beier, and Boyle identified a correlation between working memory and fluid intelligence, albeit without pinpointing a causal relationship.

Athletes and Intelligence:

Shifting focus to the realm of sports, a 2017 study by researcher Gieske introduced the Sport-Based Fluid Intelligence Test (SBFIT) to gauge fluid intelligence among athletes. The premise posited that athletes utilize fluid intelligence to discern environments, patterns, and movements in intricate situations, further formulating strategic actions. Examining various participants, including team and individual sports players, the SBFIT emerged as a reliable cognitive metric. However, discerning a difference between athletes and non-athletes remained elusive, emphasizing the need for more research on the SBFIT.

Concluding Thoughts:

In essence, Fluid and Crystallized intelligence aren’t novel concepts. I perceive them as overarching terms linked to executive functions, particularly associating fluid intelligence with working memory. On the other hand, crystallized intelligence relates to our long-term memory, where we archive experiences for future retrieval. The Sport-Based Fluid Intelligence Test, while promising, still has a long journey ahead to conclusively comment on athletes’ intelligence. Circling back to our initial puzzle, have you deciphered the answer yet? Here’s a hint: Ponder on your crystallized intelligence about lamps. Dive into your long-term memory. A lamp emits light, and…

Curious about the solution? Discover the comprehensive explanation in the video below:


Ackerman, P.L., Beier, M.E., & Boyle, M.O. (2005). Working Memory and Intelligence: The Same or Different Constructs? Duncan, J., Schramm, M., Thompson, R. & Dumontheil, I. (2012). Task rules, working memory, and fluid intelligence. 

Gieske, Brad. (2017). Fluid Intelligence in Sport: The Sport-Based Fluid Intelligence Test (SBFIT). 10.13140/RG.2.2.19934.13123.

Martinez, D. (2019). Immediate and Long-term Memory and Their Relation to Crystallized and Fluid Intelligence

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