Fluid Reasoning: What It Is, Why We Need It, and When to Use It

Fluid Reasoning: What It Is, Why We Need It, and When to Use It

Teen using fluid reasoning to solve homework problems

Fluid reasoning is an important part of your intelligence. Discover what it is, why you need it, and how you can improve it.

If you like challenges, are a creative problem solver, or are considered “street smart,” it may just mean that you have a high level of fluid reasoning.

Although it’s not a term commonly thrown around in everyday vernacular, what is it exactly? And why is it something that should be on your radar?

Here are the basics:

As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power.” But it’s only power if you use it and know how to improve it.

Here’s where you can begin.

Mother teaching child how to use fluid reasoning to solve a puzzle

What Is Fluid Reasoning?

Fluid reasoning is the ability to apply logic and reasoning to a new situation, right off the bat. It’s independent of any past knowledge and includes nonverbal, sequential, quantitative, and categorical reasoning.

Imagine you have a new project that requires skills and knowledge you haven’t had a chance to work on yet. What would be your strategy in this situation? How would you deal with it?

Fluid reasoning is exactly what comes into play when you can’t rely on your previous experience or knowledge. It’s what makes you good at recognizing patterns and relationships between seemingly unrelated things to come up with fresh solutions to a problem.

What is fluid intelligence in psychology?

Fluid reasoning is the main component of fluid intelligence. While they’re often used interchangeably, it really comes down to the meaning of intelligence versus reasoning. So here’s an analogy to paint a picture:

Intelligence is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
Reasoning is to know not to put it in a fruit salad.

It’s one of two types of intelligence as identified by Raymond Cattell back in 1963. The other type is crystallized intelligence (more commonly known as “book smarts”).

It’s defined by the American Psychological Association as “the set of mental processes that is used in dealing with relatively novel tasks.” It adds that this type of ability is used in the acquisition of its counterpart.

What are the main differences between fluid and crystallized intelligence?

The term “fluid” refers to the ability to flow easily, based on Google Dictionary’s definition. And “crystallized” is to make clear or solidify.

The differences, however, extend beyond its moniker. Here are a few more distinct traits:

Fluid IntelligenceCrystallized Intelligence
Uses your innate ability.Uses skills you learned and experienced in life.
Involves comprehension, reasoning, and problem-solving.Involves recalling stored knowledge and past experiences.
Can think speedily and reason flexibly.Recalls pre-existing information.
Examples include solving puzzles, constructing strategies to deal with new problems, and seeing patterns in statistical data.Examples include remembering geographical locations, building one’s vocabulary, and recalling historical events and dates.

It’s important to note that while both have distinct traits, many of life’s tasks involve using both. For example, if you’ve come across a math problem, you use fluid intelligence to come up with a strategy to solve it and crystallized intelligence to recall the exact formula you need to use.

Fluid Reasoning Index: What Is It?

Fluid reasoning is a crucial factor in a child’s cognitive development. So the Fluid Reasoning Index (FRI) aims to assess and measure children’s general thinking and reasoning skills. 

It’s one of five components of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children®-Fifth Edition (WISC-V), which is one of the most frequently used assessments for children in schools worldwide.

So what does fluid reasoning measure? The FRI looks at the child’s ability to detect the underlying connections between visual objects. It identifies whether or not the child can use reasoning to identify and follow those rules across novel settings and situations.

Fluid Reasoning Examples

In what scenarios can fluid reasoning be applied? Here are a few examples:

  • Playing a new game or solving a new puzzle such as the Rubik’s cube.
  • Solving a math or science question using a new procedure.
  • Traveling to a new city or town where you have to find your way around the streets.
  • Getting lost in an unfamiliar place.

So the next time you’re faced with a problem you’ve never come across before (like any one of the fluid reasoning examples listed), you now know that you have the innate ability to solve it.

Child using a science beaker to show why fluid reasoning is important

Why Is Fluid Reasoning Important?

Although fluid reasoning is important in adults when it comes to problem-solving, this intelligence type is more looked at in the cognitive development of children. 

That’s because children interact and experiment with their environment. And it’s through these experiences that they gain knowledge, learn new things, master new skills, and develop new abilities.

Fluid reasoning involves observing and identifying new patterns. Learning to understand and recognize these patterns helps improve children’s ability to analyze situations, therefore, improving their performance in academics as well as in day-to-day activities.

How does fluid reasoning impact learning?

The ability to apply fluid reasoning contributes to how children receive and process new information. It empowers them to use out-of-the-box thinking to resolve unique situations.

However, in some children, fluid reasoning isn’t a skill that comes naturally. There are some factors, like genetics and environment, that influence this innate ability.

For example, a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may experience difficulties in fluid reasoning. The findings of a 2018 research paper published in Applied Neuropsychology: Child suggests that these difficulties may be due to weaknesses in and insufficient investment of fluid reasoning,

Learning is not a spectator sport.

— Jim Kwik, trainer of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Quest

There is an ongoing debate among psychologists in regard to whether intelligence declines with age or not. Although research suggests that fluid intelligence is at its peak during childhood and starts to decline after adolescence, you can improve your fluid intelligence with brain training.

Fluid Reasoning Skills: How Do You Develop Them?

Fluid reasoning is an important skill that can improve or decline over time, which is why it’s important to work on your abilities. Here are a few suggestions for improving your fluid reasoning skills:

  • Try new and different activities every week.
  • Immerse in an unfamiliar environment – join a new hobby group or visit a new country.
  • Ask for more verbal explanations of new concepts than visual instructions.
  • Ask successful problem solvers to verbalize their reasoning when solving a problem. This will help you understand and internalize the process.
  • Practice sorting out useful from irrelevant information when solving a problem.

Explore new ideas and activities that will challenge your brain and make it work a bit harder. This will help you achieve your intellectual capacity and upgrade your thinking and reasoning skills.

Girl using fluid reasoning to solve Rubik's cube

Unlock Your Superbrain

When it comes to intelligence, there’s no one-size-fits-all. No matter if you’re street smart, book smart, or even people smart or emotional smart, it takes continual learning to supercharge your wonderful brain.

You can learn to unlimit and expand your mindset, your motivation, and your methods to create a limitless life.

— Jim Kwik, trainer of Mindvalley’s Superbrain Quest

You can learn to do so at Mindvalley. Sign in to the platform and sample Quest classes, like Jim Kwik’s Superbrain. What’s more, you can be part of Mindvalley’s community of transformational learners so that you can go through the courses together.

Remember: great change always starts with you. Welcome in.

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Written by
Jim Kwik
Tatiana Azman