Fluid Intelligence and Working Memory

Regular readers of the Healthymemory Blog should be familiar with the distinction between fluid and crystalized intelligence. Crystalized intelligence basically is a matter of what you know. Your vocabulary, for instance, reflects your crystalized intelligence. On the other hand, fluid intelligence reflects how well you deal with novel situations or solve novel problems. Absent pathology, crystalized intelligence does not decline significantly when we age. Fluid intelligence does decline with age. At times, crystalized intelligence can compensate for fluid intelligence. But ways of stemming losses in fluid intelligence as we age represent an important research problem.

Working memory refers to the information we can work with in what can be regarded as consciousness. In other words, it represents what we commonly experience as thinking. Working memory capacity has been found to bear a strong relationship to fluid intelligence. Now working memory itself can be divided into two factors: they are the number of components that can be maintained in working memory and the quality of those components. Recent research1 has indicated the role played by each of these factors. In a very clever, but complicated, experiment researchers were able to ferret out the respective contribution of each of these factors. They discovered that it was the number, and not the quality of the representations that played the important role in fluid intelligence.

Suppose that you are trying to solve some problem. There are a number of factors and potential hypotheses that need to be considered. How many of these can you keep in working memory at the same time. Of course, you can use transactive memory (write them down) to record the items that you cannot keep in working memory at the same time, but to bring them into working memory you need to move something out of working memory. So it would seem to be advantageous to be able to keep as many factors in mind at the same time when exercising your fluid intelligence. Now the quality of these representations is not important. So there might be an item with such poor resolution that you cannot recall what it is, but you know that it exists. Here you can use transactive memory to increase the resolution of the item. The important consideration for fluid intelligence was that you remembered that there was something else that was important.

Some interesting questions come to my mind. One question is whether the capacity of working memory can be increased. If the answer is yes, then I would like to know whether this might forestall or prevent losses in fluid intelligence as we age. If anyone knows of any relevant research on these issues I would appreciate your leaving a comment.

1Fukuda, K. Vogel, E., Mayr, U., & Awh, E. (2010). Quantity Not Quality: The Relationship Between Fluid Intelligence and Working Memory Capacity. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 17, 673-679.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



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