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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 U.S. 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 behavior among only a thin slice of humanity.
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