Stavroula Kousta is the Chief Editor of Nature Human Behaviour. Prior to joining the Nature Portfolio, she was the Editor of Trends in Cognitive Sciences, one of the leading reviews outlets in the behavioural sciences. She then joined PLOS Biology, managing the journal’s magazine section, handling research manuscripts in neuroscience and introducing meta-science as a core discipline covered in the journal. Throughout her editorial career, Stavroula has been a strong advocate for rigorous research practices, the responsible communication of science, and interdisciplinary research that directly addresses the most pressing social challenges of our times. Stavroula’s academic background is in linguistics, experimental psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. She obtained a PhD in English and Applied Linguistics (psycholinguistics) from the University of Cambridge and then spent four years doing post-doctoral research on the psychological and neural underpinnings of language and semantic knowledge at University College London.


Kousta briefly described her research background in psycholinguistics, focusing on the psychology of language, cognitive neuroscience, and the neural underpinnings of semantic knowledge, and her subsequent transition to academic editor at Trends in Cognitive Sciences, PLOS Biology, and, for the past six years, Nature Human Behaviour. NB: CMB Network members joining in the discussion who are also journal editors included:

Qualitative Research in a Quantitatively Dominated Landscape

Nature Human Behaviour encourages and supports interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, or transdisciplinary and mixed-methods research on human behaviour, but it primarily publishes quantitative studies, according to Kousta. Sheo nonetheless firmly believes that heterogeneity/context – hence qualitative research – matters, noting that neuroscience tends to limit its focus to what is invariant across populations (“the Holy Grail”). Downey agreed that there are significant gaps in research methods and sensibility and genuine interest and belief in human diversity. Kousta said you cannot reduce human diversity into WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic) and non-WEIRD (e.g., behavioral economics looks at “actual, not idealized, humans”). In response to Kohrt, Kousta said she has gone back to a few authors to request qualitative data because sometimes the quantitative data don’t make sense by themselves.

On the other hand, with regard to NHB, Kousta said, “People don’t come to us to publish qualitative research,” a sentiment shared by Kitayama with regard to JPSP. Kitayama noted that the short page count of NHB articles makes it difficult to accommodate richly descriptive qualitative-focused contributions. Kitayama noted that editors of top APA journals are not enthusiastic about qualitative research (especially if it’s standalone qualitative research) and, instead, need to respond to their constituency, namely researchers (of traditional topics) who generate quantitative research and reviewers who need solid evidence before anything is published and may not be familiar with qualitative methods and research. Kousta said that when NHB gets a psychology paper that has a qualitative component, it usually functions as a starting-off point, and the rest of the paper describes a quantitative approach. Thus far, NHB has only published one mixed-methods paper incorporating ethnographic methods, a syndemic-theoretic study  (“A mixed-methods, population-based study of a syndemic in Soweto, South Africa”) and one ethnography using a network analysis (“Social support networks and religiosity in rural South India“). Gendron said that she doesn’t think there’s much of an appetite for qualitative work that doesn’t also have a quantitative component. Gendron said people value qualitative work that can be condensed and quantified. Downey expressed deep concern about pushing out groups that have contributed so much to how we understand brain and behavior (communities of practice, e.g., musicians and perception; taxicab drivers and navigation; divers and memory). Downey said he has become much less optimistic about reaching an audience beyond anthropology or just slightly outside. Kitayama said that for diversity and equity considerations, APA leadership wants to increase mixed-methods papers. Kitayama said research on non-traditional topics tend to be qualitative.

Kousta said NHB is looking to publish more qualitative studies (not only opinion pieces), based on the following criteria:

  • Is the question important?
  • Is it of relevance beyond the specific discipline?
  • Is it a substantive project or is it relatively preliminary?
  • Does it make an advance conceptually or does it make an advance in terms of policy relevance?

See also NHB Criteria for evaluating manuscripts:

Open Science, Data Sharing, and Ownership

Kohrt broached the subject of the push for open data in qualitative work (“how far do you go with that?”). Kousta said that she is a firm believer in open science, but that the rights of participants trump any open science mandates because qualitative research on people deals with first-hand, individual-level data where individuals are, in principle, identifiable; hence data can’t be shared in the same way, at least publicly. Kousta said another of her concerns is who pays for the overhead of open science. Members who conduct qualitative research discussed their own concerns with open science.

Concern centered around sharing (data, materials, tools), levels of sharing, and data ownership.

  • Kohrt: Are the data to be made fully available, with English translations for cross-site qualitative data?
  • Lende: We have not thought enough about how we would try to make qualitative data shareable in an open science way, other than coding data to facilitate analysis. Data could be shared as long as people give permission for it. This type of effort would require funders to provide more support.
  • Snodgrass: (1) With whom do you share data? (2) Why are you sharing data (from the replicability issue in psychology)? (3) Nested designs explode a project in terms of sample size and authorship credit. He raised the question of equity for those who have collected hard-won data and are asked to share data, e.g., co-authorship on writings of scholars who do secondary analysis of these data.

There were ideas for addressing issues surrounding data sharing and ownership.

  • Kousta: Data access committees, or create gated data repositories where institutional review boards (IRBs) or ethics committees would be the holders of the data. This would be a route for sensitive, personally identifiable data.
  • Snodgrass: Use a collaborator contract and a tiered ownership of the data based on level of investment.
  • Kousta said on the issue of co-production, Nature Human Behaviour is adopting a global code for research in resource-poor settings to combat helicopter research, where scientists from the Global North go to countries in the Global South or resource-poor settings and engage local partners on unequal terms, e.g., not including local partners as co-authors in their publications, which Snodgrass said is not standard in anthropology at all (i.e., the lone ethnographer model). Snodgrass said true co-production is the ideal but difficult to achieve.
  • Standards are always changing, Kitayama said. Also, how to handle co-authors credits fairly, esp. in the case of an extremely rare/valuable data set? For NHB, hard-won data, such as ethnographic data vs. secondary data, has priority.

There are implications for issues surrounding data sharing and ownership.

  • Kousta: A single-authored paper has more value than multi-authored papers. Author contribution statements help to clarify what each author did for the research, though Snodgrass noted that there can be negative consequences for junior authors, e.g., claims that they did not write the paper.
  • In terms of the calculation used by hiring committees, Kitayama said that the addition of authors on a publication may impact the job candidate.
  • Kousta: There may be grant committee considerations with regard to data sharing and ownership

Kousta urged the group to get in touch if they wanted informal feedback on a possible submission to NHB. Her email is email hidden; JavaScript is required.