Fluid Intelligence: Reading vs Math | Visualized Health

Reviewed by The Clinical Committee

March 20, 2019

  • Fluid Intelligence represents your ability to reason and solve new problems.

  • Math and Reading are both associated with fluid intelligence.

  • Your ability to solve word problems are more important than your arithmetic skills.

Math vs Reading & Intelligence

Which is more important for intelligence: Math or Reading?

Many math whizzes believe that math requires a lot of intelligence. You have to be pretty smart to do calculus. Many mathematicians were geniuses in their own right, just look at Leonhard Euler, who published more than 500 books and papers.

Similarly, many writers and lawyers believe that language is challenging to master and requires a great deal of intelligence as well.

One could argue that computers have easily mastered mathematics. However, a well-read elementary school student could probably write a better essay than even our best algorithms.

math vs reading for intelligence

It turns out, both are very important for intelligence. Math and Reading abilities are both similarly correlated with fluid intelligence.

Math is just slightly more correlated than Reading, however this difference is so small that it is overshadowed by differences between different skills within these disciplines.

Researchers at UT Austin determined this through a thorough meta-analysis of 680 studies. They used statistics to combine the results from all of these studies in order to create a summary of what today's best research tells us about math vs. reading when it comes to intelligence.

While both correlations are highly significant, it's important to note that these are by no means perfect correlations. It is possible to be great at math and reading without extraordinary intelligence. Likewise, you can be terrible at math and reading while having high fluid intelligence.

Source: A meta-analysis on the relation between fluid intelligence and reading/mathematics: Effects of tasks, age, and social economics status.

Math Skills: Word Problems vs Arithmetic

word problems vs arithmetic

Within math, your ability to do word problems correlates most strongly with fluid intelligence. Your ability to read and understand a problem about when a train will arrive at a station matters more than your ability to crunch the numbers.

If you think about what it takes to do a word problem, this makes sense. In order to do word problems well, you need to take knowledge from multiple domains, quickly process abstract information into concrete numbers, and then do the arithmetic.

Reading Skills: Reading Comprehension vs Basic Reading

reading and intelligence

Within reading, your ability to comprehend concepts correlates more with intelligence than your ability to process and understand words.

Processing words quickly and efficiently is important for reading. But, it takes fluid intelligence to be able to accurately understand the concepts within.

Fluid Intelligence vs Crystallized Intelligence

Fluid intelligence vs crystallized intelligence

Fluid Intelligence refers to your ability to reason and solve new problems. This type of intelligence tends to be readily applicable to many types of problems.

On the other hand, crystallized intelligence represents your ability to solve problems based on your knowledge and skills.

Vocabulary is a classic example of crystallized intelligence. You generally acquire it over many years through learning. You also need it in order to be considered an intelligent member of society. However, you don't necessarily need good problem solving skills to have a great vocabulary. Likewise, many who are born brilliant may not have great vocabularies.

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