Fluid intelligence and executive functioning more alike than different?

Acta Neuropsychiatr. 2016 Feb;28(1):31-7. doi: 10.1017/neu.2015.46. Epub 2015 Aug 18.


Objective: Fluid intelligence (Gf) has been related to executive functioning (EF) in previous studies, and it is also known to be correlated with crystallized intelligence (Gc). The present study includes representative measures of Gf, Gc, and EF frequently used in clinical practice to examine this Gf-EF relation. It is hypothesised that the Gf-EF relation is higher than the Gc-EF relation, and that working memory in particular (as a measure of EF) shows a high contribution to this relation.

Method: Confirmatory factor analysis was performed on a mixed neuropsychiatric and non-clinical sample consisting of 188 participants, using the Kaufman Adolescent and Adult Intelligence Test, and three executive tasks of the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery, covering working memory, planning skills, and set shifting.

Results: The model fitted the data well [χ²(24)=35.25, p=0.07, RMSEA=0.050]. A very high correlation between Gf and EF was found (0.91), with working memory being the most profound indicator. A moderate to high correlation between Gc and EF was present. Current results are consistent with findings of a strong relation between Gf and working memory.

Conclusion: Gf and EF are highly correlated. Gf dysfunction in neuropsychiatric patients warrants further EF examination and vice versa. It is discussed that results confirm the need to distinguish between specific versus general fluid/executive functioning, the latter being more involved when task complexity and novelty increase. This distinction can provide a more refined differential diagnosis and improve neuropsychiatric treatment indication.

Keywords: CANTAB; KAIT; confirmatory factor analysis; intelligence; neuropsychology.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence / classification*
  • Intelligence / physiology
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuropsychiatry / methods*
  • Neuropsychiatry / statistics & numerical data
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Task Performance and Analysis