For society to flourish, cognitive flexibility is essential. However, with IQ in the limelight over the past couple of decades, it’s all people can think about. Whenever people discuss intelligence, IQ is the first thing mentioned. Everyone uses the number as a guideline to determine how intelligent someone is. According to the Standford-Binet test, if you have an IQ above 132, you can get into Mensa (the High IQ Society).

Having a high IQ seems to be everything you could ever want if you aspire to be the brightest in the room. But lately, that perception has started shifting. Even though IQ can be an excellent measurement of your reasoning ability, that can give you a general idea regarding how well you’ll use the information to make predictions and answer questions. But IQ doesn’t consider many important attributes, like knowledge, ambition, and drive.

And IQ tests favor people who can think on the spot. While they can show you some essential details, these tests can also be arbitrary. The results can change depending on the conditions taken in, and they can also fluctuate as time passes. But neurologists seem to believe that they have found something as important, if not more important, than IQ. Cognitive flexibility, or adapting to your environment, can also tell you some essential things about human intelligence.

What Is Cognitive Flexibility?

Cognitive flexibility measures how well people adapt to their environment and respond to it. It occurs either when you think about multiple things at once or when you modify your thoughts in response to changes in demands. In a nutshell, it’s all about flexible thinking.

Cognitive flexibility is considered a core aspect of executive functioning (the processes that allow people to plan, focus, and juggle more tasks at once). Because of this, people with attention disorders, hyperactivity, or learning disabilities show lower levels of cognitive flexibility. Thus, these people will have trouble with their executive functioning.

In comparison, IQ levels are more like a number that compares you with people in your age range. They show you how well you do on a test compared to the people in that range. They test math and language skills and memory and information processing speed. But IQ scores don’t and can’t measure practical intelligence. They can’t determine if you will or won’t do things well in your life. Not just that, but it doesn’t measure your artistic skills, your creativity, or your curiosity.

It’s also dependent on your mindset when you take the test. If you are in a bad mood and your thoughts are distracting you, your IQ score will be lower than it should be. But cognitive flexibility isn’t measured by a number. It isn’t determined using a test. It’s just something that describes someone’s ability to juggle many thoughts at once efficiently. Sure, you might have some off days if you have high cognitive flexibility, but it won’t matter.

cognitive flexibility

How Cognitive Flexibility Might Be as Important as IQ

On a typical day, you will still be able to display all the abilities of a cognitively flexible person. But why are those abilities even desirable? What can they tell you about how smart and resourceful you are?

1.    It Shows How Well You Can Concentrate

IQ levels show how well you can solve a problem on the spot. But, in real life, it’s not as important as concentrating and sticking to the job. In life, “eureka” moments can be helpful, but people appreciate a person who can be present and dedicated much more.

When you have high cognitive flexibility, you can adapt to the ever-changing environment. Even when the things around you get crazy or when distractions surround you, you can still focus on your work. You can work around those distractions and tune them out. That’s something that isn’t intrinsic to having a high IQ.

A person with a high IQ might be more likely to get distracted. All the information around them might way too stimulate their brain. But a person with high cognitive flexibility will look past the complications and stick to the safest course of action. They are the people who can concentrate the best and will navigate most situations smoothly.

2.    It Makes You More Reliable

People with high cognitive flexibility are the people you know you can count on no matter what. Because of how well they can adapt to their environment, they can overcome whatever obstacles they need to to get things done.

When you adapt to your environment and juggle many thoughts at once, you can become an incredible problem-solver. Even though this seems valid only for people with a high IQ, that’s not the case. Maybe people with a high IQ can solve problems better, but that’s not always true. As long as there are intuitive and logical problems, they can solve them. Otherwise, that might not even be the case.

But cognitively flexible people are the ones who will be able to juggle an issue as well as other responsibilities at the same time. Thus, the likelihood of solving all of them is higher. Plus, if they can’t solve a problem, they will adapt. Maybe they’ll ask someone for help or research how to solve the issue. That makes them very reliable people, on a personal and professional level.

cognitive flexibility

3.    Cognitive Flexibility Signals A Higher Creativity Level

The IQ tests only measure limited math and language knowledge and some logic and memory skills. But they have no way through which they can ever take into account things like creativity and artistry. And a number couldn’t ever be able to determine something as subjective as creativity.

When creativity comes into the discussion, most people assume that it means artistry. You can be creative only if you can draw, paint, sing, play instruments, or otherwise be artistic. But that’s not the case at all. An engineer can be highly creative, and they can use that creativity to find a better, more efficient way to do their job. They might find a new, innovative way to do something routine or even come up with an entirely new concept.

Of course, artists are also very creative, though not all have to be. Some of them learn artistry methodically, though their creativity levels are low. So, creativity does not necessarily tie to artistry.

But IQ tests don’t consider this side. They dismiss people based on their logical abilities alone. If you aren’t the most rational person and can’t come up with answers on the spot, you are labeled as being less competent than your peers. But creativity is just as important as logic, if not more important sometimes, and it should never be dismissed.

4.    Cognitive Flexibility Helps You Overcome Negative Life Events

Just because you have a high IQ level, it doesn’t mean that you are better suited to get over the hurdles you stumble upon throughout your life. Sometimes, people with higher IQ scores can even be detached emotionally or have trouble adapting. But cognitively flexible people have been shown to deal with adverse life events more efficiently.

Because you are flexible to changes in the environment, changes and negative situations will not impact you as harshly. You will have the ability to get over the initial shock and try to make sense of all that’s happening. Cognitive flexibility can also be beneficial in an emotionally charged situation. It helps you take all those emotions and try to rationalize them all simultaneously. Cognitive flexibility has links to a better ability to understand the feelings and thoughts of the people around you.

This can mean that you fit in better in your groups and are better suited to handle critical situations. Cognitive flexibility can also help protect you against several biases. For example, it will make you less vulnerable to confirmation bias. These people are better at spotting flaws in the world around them and themselves. This allows them to devise better strategies and overcome those flaws.

Unlike people with high IQ, cognitive flexibility allows you to be more emotionally available. It will also help you be more self-critical, but in a healthy way that will enable you to become a better version of yourself.

cognitive flexibility

Final Thoughts On How Cognitive Flexibility Might Be as Important as IQ

IQ has been used for over 100 years to determine how intelligent people are. But that’s a bit reductive, and it leans towards false advertising. In reality, while IQ tests can show you some essential details about yourself, they never tell you the whole story. For example, they don’t consider general knowledge, creativity, and artistry skills. They only take into account language and math skills, as well as your memory and how quickly you solve problems.

Plus, the tests depend on how you feel when you take the test one day. This means that if you are stressed or distracted, your IQ test will show a lower score than you are. But that’s not the case when it comes to cognitive flexibility. This is not determined by a number but rather an observation of a person’s ability to juggle multiple thoughts at once. As long as you can adapt and modify your thinking in response to your environment, you are considered flexible. This concept might be even more helpful than IQ is for a few reasons.

Being cognitively flexible shows that you can stay focused and that you are reliable. But more importantly, it takes into account essential attributes, like creativity and artistry. It gives meaning to being creative instead of brushing over it as IQ does. And most importantly, it helps you manage adverse life events better. It can help you understand emotions, socialize more efficiently, and avoid biases. Cognitive flexibility is a great thing to consider when considering factors like intelligence.