研究人员提出了几种理论来解释弗林效应。一种解释与健康和营养的改善有关。例如，在过去的一个世纪中，怀孕期间吸烟和饮酒的使用减少，停止使用有害的含铅涂料，改善传染病的预防和治疗以及改善营养。正如Scott Barry Kaufman为今日心理学写的那样，“弗林效应提醒人们，当我们给人们更多的繁荣机会时，更多人会兴旺发达。”换句话说，弗林效应可能部分归因于以下事实：二十世纪，我们开始解决许多阻碍前几代人充分发挥潜力的公共卫生问题。对弗林效应的另一种解释与过去一个世纪因工业革命而发生的社会变革有关。在TED演讲中，弗林解释说，今天的世界是“一个我们不得不养成新的心理习惯，新思维习惯的世界。”弗林发现，在要求我们找到的问题上，智商得分增长最快不同事物之间的相似性，以及解决问题的更抽象类型 – 这两者都是我们在现代世界中需要做更多的事情。已经提出了几个想法来解释为什么现代社会可能会导致智商测试得分更高。例如，今天，我们中的许多人都有苛刻的，智力严谨的工作。学校也发生了变化：虽然20世纪初的学校考试可能更侧重于记忆，但最近的一项考试可能更侧重于解释某些事情的原因。此外，今天更多的人可能会完成高中并继续上大学。家庭规模往往较小，并且有人建议这可以让孩子在与父母互动的同时学习新的词汇。甚至有人认为我们消费的娱乐今天更加复杂。试图理解和预测喜欢的书或电视剧中的情节点可能实际上让我们变得更聪明。
Researchers have put forward several theories to explain the Flynn effect. One explanation has to do with improvements in health and nutrition. For example, the past century has seen a decrease in smoking and alcohol use in pregnancy, discontinuation of the use of harmful lead paint, improvements in the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases, and improvements in nutrition. As Scott Barry Kaufman writes for Psychology Today, “The Flynn effect serves as a reminder that when we give people more opportunities to prosper, more people do prosper.” In other words, the Flynn effect could be partially due to the fact that, over the twentieth century, we’ve started addressing many of the public health issues that prevented people in earlier generations from reaching their full potential. Another explanation for the Flynn effect has to do with societal changes that have occurred in the past century as a result of the Industrial Revolution. In a TED talk, Flynn explains that the world today is “a world where we’ve had to develop new mental habits, new habits of mind.” Flynn has found that IQ scores have increased the most rapidly on questions that ask us to find similarities between different things, and more abstract types of problem solving — both of which are things that we need to do more of in the modern world. Several ideas have been put forward to explain why modern society might lead to higher scores on IQ tests. For example, today, many more of us have demanding, intellectually rigorous jobs. Schools have also changed: whereas a test at school in the early 1900s might have been more focused on memorization, a recent test might be more likely to focus on explaining the reasons for something. Additionally, more people today are likely to finish high school and go on to college. Family sizes tend to be smaller, and it has been suggested that this may allow children to pick up on new vocabulary words while interacting with their parents. It’s even been suggested that the entertainment we consume is more complex today. Trying to understand and anticipate plot points in a favorite book or TV drama may actually be making us smarter.