Are you smarter than a six year old? Maybe not.

are you smarter than a six year old?

When my daughter was six years old, she was railing against me for some reason or another and in conclusion she proclaimed that she was smarter than me. My mother-in-law, who was with us, chuckled and said, “I don’t think so, honey.”

Well, it turns out the six year old may have been right!

Crystallized and Fluid Intelligence

According to the Cattell-Horn theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence, intelligence is composed of different abilities that work together to produce overall individual intelligence.

Gf – known as fluid intelligence, is characterized as the ability to deal with novel intellectual problems – which is something that children are particularly good at, since everything is new to them.

Gc – known as crystallized intelligence, is the ability to use things you already know, to solve for things you haven’t previously encountered – something that adults can do with their years of experience and learning.

The ability to “reason” is considered to be a characteristic of fluid intelligence because reasoning can be applied to (almost) any problem. You would think it would be characteristic of crystallized intelligence because one is capable of reasoning due to the quantities of “known information” one can relate the new dilemma to. But you would be wrong.

Fluid intelligence helps us to be capable of reasoning, analyzing and solving problems precisely because we cannot rely on preexisting knowledge (a ‘la children). We have to “think it through.”


Fluid intelligence diminishes as we get older. This is probably why grandparents always think their grandchildren are “so smart!” It’s because the young’un is using their reasoning skills to figure out new things every day. That is an amazing thing to see happen right before your eyes.

On the other hand, crystallized intelligence continues to grow as we get older and have a broader range of experiences and learning opportunities to draw upon. Crystallized intelligence is a measure of the knowledge, understanding, and abilities we have already acquired. Which is why, by the time we are in our 20’s we never run with scissors (most of us, anyway).

Fluid and crystallized intelligence can work together to help you be a better thinker. Together they give you the breadth of knowledge you need, as well as the open-mindedness required to decipher complex and unknown situations. To achieve “optimal thinking ability,” you have to keep nurturing your fluid intelligence as you get older.

According to author Mike Clayton, “It takes wisdom to understand how to deal with situations where the rules no longer apply, in complex, evolving domains, where the patterns are subtle and new;” and to grow wisdom you need to maintain your fluid intelligence.

So, in fact, your six year old may be smarter than you are (today).