Cognitive Flexibility Is More Predictive of Future Success Than IQ

Cognitive flexibility is a skill that not only allows us to make better decisions, but also has an impact on our emotional well-being. It can also be developed and is more significant in predicting our future success than IQ.
Cognitive Flexibility Is More Predictive of Future Success Than IQ

Last update: 14 December, 2021

IQ is seen as a synonym for success or the necessary condition for success. However, many great works and discoveries have been carried out by people who didn’t stand out for having the traditionally considered form of intelligence.

Cognitive flexibility involves traits such as imagination, creativity, empathy, and curiosity. It implies the ability to learn how to learn and to adapt to changing dynamics. These virtues, together with perseverance, are at the core of many human advances.

Currently, Cambridge University and Nanyang Technological University are conducting a study on cognitive flexibility. They have no doubts that cognitive flexibility is more important than IQ, which is why they’re endeavoring to find the means to help develop it. Let’s take a closer look.

Cognitive flexibility is essential for society to prosper. It can help maximize people’s potential to create innovative ideas and creative inventions. Ultimately, it’s those qualities that we need to solve the great challenges of today .”

-Beth Daley-

Concentrated woman at the computer thinking

Cognitive flexibility

Cognitive flexibility can be defined as a skill that favors changing points of view and adapting behavior in order to cope with a new environment. However, as a rule, people seek to apply learned schemes or concepts to new situations. This isn’t particularly helpful.

For example, many people have to resolve real internal conflicts in order to make changes that allow them to adapt to new circumstances. The same happens in companies, institutions, and organizations. As a matter of fact, researchers have found that, rather than working to adapt to new situations, many people preferred to remain unemployed, yearning to return to their previous state. Furthermore, they felt they’d be unable to bear it if they couldn’t do this.

Let’s imagine a not-so-extreme example. Imagine you always take the same route to go to work. One day, you find that some works are being done along the way, so you have two paths to choose between. You can take the same route and be late. Or, you can find an alternative route. This is precisely where cognitive flexibility comes in.

Rationality and creativity

Researchers have indicated that cognitive flexibility is associated with the frontal and striatal brain regions. The former is connected with the higher cognitive processes and the latter with reward and motivation. It’s been proven that if two people have the same IQ, the one who also possesses cognitive flexibility will perform better.

Apparently, this ability results in something known as ‘cold cognition’. This is a form of pragmatic rationality, in which there’s little or no influence of emotions. It corresponds to direct processing of the data, without fear or anger. For example, you see a pan on fire in the kitchen and throw a wet cloth over it to put it out. That’s cold cognition. On the other hand, ‘hot cognition’ would mean you call the fire department.

Overall, cognitive flexibility places more emphasis on information processing than other factors. The result is a more rational response to new situations. Likewise, as long as the process and not prior learning prevails, creative and innovative solutions are more easily reached.

Boy thinking

Empathy and resilience

In general, IQ is more associated with ‘crystallized intelligence’. It highlights an individual’s ability to understand new content, assimilate, and apply it. Likewise, to judge a situation and draw conclusions from it.

On the other hand, fluid intelligence, which corresponds to cognitive flexibility, implies the ability to reason and contrast data. In turn, it has repercussions not only on cognition but also on emotional and social skills. This basic capacity for adaptation has the effect of greater resilience. In other words, a greater ability to deal with and overcome difficult situations.

On the other hand, cognitive flexibility also makes people develop more empathy. Indeed, they generate a more open mind with which to judge others. This drives away prejudices. In fact, both empathy and resilience mean a person has greater emotional well-being.

The Cambridge and Nanyang study has shown that cognitive flexibility training generates significant progress in children with autism and in older adults. As a matter of fact, we all benefit when we strengthen and develop our abilities for adapting and finding new ways out of difficult situations.

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  • Introzzi, I., Canet-Juric, L., Montes, S., López, S., & Mascarello, G. (2015). Procesos Inhibitorios y flexibilidad cognitiva: evidencia a favor de la Teoría de la Inercia Atencional. International journal of psychological research, 8(2), 60-74.