Generalizability is not optional: Insights from a cross-cultural study of social discounting

Leonid Tiokhin, Joseph Hackman, Shirajum Munira, Khaleda Jesmin, Daniel Hruschka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Current scientific reforms focus more on solutions to the problem of reliability (e.g. direct replications) than generalizability. Here, we use a cross-cultural study of social discounting to illustrate the utility of a complementary focus on generalizability across diverse human populations. Social discounting is the tendency to sacrifice more for socially close individuals-a phenomenon replicated across countries and laboratories. Yet, when adapting a typical protocol to low-literacy, resource-scarce settings in Bangladesh and Indonesia, we find no independent effect of social distance on generosity, despite still documenting this effect among US participants. Several reliability and validity checks suggest that methodological issues alone cannot explain this finding. These results illustrate why we must complement replication efforts with investment in strong checks on generalizability. By failing to do so, we risk developing theories of human nature that reliably explain behaviour among only a thin slice of humanity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number181386
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019


  • Cross-cultural differences
  • Generalizability
  • Replication
  • Sample diversity
  • Social discounting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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