Interview With an Author – Daniel Nettle

Today, we published “Being there: a brief visit to a neighbourhood induces the social attitudes of that neighbourhood”. We were very interested in hearing more about this work, so we spoke with Prof. Daniel Nettle, corresponding author of the article.


Daniel Nettle is Professor of Behavioural Science and co-director of the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution at Newcastle University, UK. He studies people, European starlings and chimpanzees, though not usually simultaneously. His coauthors Gillian Pepper, Ruth Jobling, and Kari Britt Schroeder are all current or past members of Newcastle University. 

PJ: Can you tell us a bit about the research you published today? Why is it interesting?

DN: This study was about how we respond to the urban environment. We all know that cities have ‘good’ and ‘bad’ neighbourhoods, and that the kind of neighbourhood you live in probably affects the way you feel. In this study, we surveyed residents of a relatively high-crime and a relatively low-crime neighbourhood and found that those in the high-crime neighbourhood trusted people less and were more paranoid. That part was not very surprising. We then bussed volunteers to one or other neighbourhood at random, and had them walk around for 45 minutes. We found that by the end of the walk, the volunteers in the high-crime neighbourhood also said they trusted others less, and felt more paranoid. In other words, a short visit to an environment made people feel much like the residents who lived there.

It’s interesting because it shows not just that our environment affects our state of mind, but that it does so very rapidly. The volunteers didn’t really interact with anyone in their visit. They were just there, seeing what the residents see every day, and this was enough to influence their expectations about the behaviour of others.

PJ: What challenges did you face while doing this research?

DN: These studies went very smoothly, thanks to the efficient organization of my coauthors. They posted over a thousand surveys, printed out dozens of different maps, coordinated numerous minibuses and taxis, and all of our volunteers ended up back where they needed to be. Thanks especially to all of our participants, neighbourhood residents and bus-riders alike.

A real challenge for me in doing this work has been seeking to present it in a way that does not stigmatize our neighbourhood B or its residents. The point of this research is not that the people in neighbourhood B are bad people. On the contrary, it’s a story about how anyone would be affected by certain types of economic deprivation. As a society, we need to come up with economic systems that do not produce concentrated deprivation in this way.  People should not be blamed for the structural conditions they are dealt.

PJ: What is the audience that you wish to reach when publishing with us, and what kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from the research?

DN: We like to publish in PeerJ because we don’t feel exclusive allegiance to any particular discipline or its literature – we are an interdisciplinary group influenced by psychology, biology, anthropology and social science, and we don’t want to choose between the different specialist outlets. We hope our paper might be of interest to all kinds of people, regardless of traditional disciplinary boundaries. We also like the idea that anyone – our participants for example – can download the research, including the data, without any need for a subscription. This is how it should be.

PJ: What persuaded you to submit to us?

DN: Two things characterize my research group: commitment to interdisciplinarity innovation, and almost total lack of money. It’s clearly a marriage made in heaven.

PJ: As a PeerJ Author, how would you describe your overall experience with us, in terms of submission, review, and production?

DN: We’ve appreciated how fast the process has gone, both for this paper and another one, which is forthcoming. And the papers look great.

PJ: You have submitted several preprints to PeerJ PrePrints. What advantages does the preprint server provide you?

DN: The publication process is often slow, and it is helpful to be able to cite and share data that are still going through peer review, especially when you have a program of research where the different studies refer to one another. Students also need to be able to showcase what they do, and preprints are very useful for that.

PJ: Many thanks for your time!

Dont forget that from now until end-March 2014, we are running a special offer for free PeerJ Publications.

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