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What is a Limitation that Affects the Generalizability of Research Results?

What is a Limitation that Affects the Generalizability of Research Results?

Limitation that Affects the Generalizability of Research Results

Generalizability is a measure of how useful the results of a study are for a broader group of people or situations.

It’s also the process by which conclusions are drawn from research results to create a statistically probable theory.

Conclusions drawn from these research results can be applied to a larger population to make a general conclusion. Issues based on gender, age, and location can provide less scope for the results.

If the results can only be applied to a very narrow population, then the results have poor generalizability.

A large and randomly selected sample is most likely to produce generalizable results. 

Another name for Generalizability is External Validity.

While external validity is defined as the extent to which the results of a study can be generalized to other people, situations, and stimuli, internal validity is the validity of conclusions drawn within a particular context of a specific study.

A major limitation that often affects the generalizability of results is a small sample size.

Research limitations are methodological or design features that have influenced the interpretation of the research result.

In most cases, the generalizability of the research result becomes limited when the effect of one factor (the independent variable) depends on other factors.

Therefore, all threats (limitations) to external validity can be termed statistical interactions.

What is a Limitation that Affects the Generalizability of Research Results?

Examples of limitations in research may include general methodological limitations, sampling, and sampling problems.

The insufficient sample size for statistical measurements, lack of previous research on the topic, limited access to data, time limitations, disagreements often caused by cultural prejudices, and other personal problems.

Some of these examples may include (but are not limited to) the following;

  1. All situational specifics, e.g., location, lighting, treatment administration, timing, the extent of measurement, et cetera of a study, limit generalizability.
  2. If cause-and-effect relationships can only be found when pretests are carried out, then this also limits the generalizability of the findings. This sometimes goes under the label “sensitization” because the pretest makes people more sensitive to treatment manipulation. 
  3. The sample may have certain features that interact with the independent variable, limiting generalizability. For example, comparative psychotherapy studies often employ specific samples (e.g., volunteers, highly depressed, no comorbidity). If psychotherapy is effective for these sample patients, will it also be effective for non-volunteers, the mildly depressed, or patients with concurrent other disorders? If not, the external validity of the study would be limited.
  4. Selection bias is also considered a threat to internal validity; selection bias describes differences between groups in a study that may relate to the independent variable. Once again, something like motivation or willingness to participate in the study, specific demographics of individuals are more likely to take part in an online survey.

Factors that Improve Generalizability of Research Results

What can you do to improve the external validity of your study?

Make sure that participants are experiencing the events of a study as real by telling them a “cover story” about the aim of the study.

Otherwise, in some cases, participants might behave differently than in real life if they knew what to expect or the study’s aim.

Use statistical methods to adjust for problems related to external validity. For example, reweighting might be used if a study had uneven groups for some characteristics, such as age.

Conduct the study again with different samples or settings to see if you get the same results. When many studies have been conducted, meta-analysis can also be used to determine if the effect of an independent variable is reliable (based on examining the findings of a large number of studies on one topic).

Conduct your study outside the laboratory in a natural setting.

The inclusion and exclusion criteria will ensure that you have clearly defined the population that you are studying in your research.


Factors such as sample size and a host of others are limitations that frequently affect the generalizability of research results.

To carry out proper research devoid of limitations, you must spend extra time considering the limitations that affect the generalizability of the research results listed in this article. 

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