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Tip: Understanding Rank

PEP-Web Tip of the Day

When you do a search, you can sort the results bibliographically alphabetical or by “rank”. What is Rank?

Rank refers to the search engine’s “best guess” as to the relevance of the result to the search you specified. The exact method of ranking used varies a bit depending on the search. In its most basic level, when you specify a single search term, rank looks at the density of the matches for the word in the document, and how close to the beginning of the document they appear as a measure of importance to the paper’s topic. The documents with the most matches and where the term is deemed to have the most importance, have the highest “relevance” and are ranked first (presented first).

When you specify more than one term to appear anywhere in the article, the method is similar, but the search engine looks at how many of those terms appear, and how close together they appear, how close to the beginning of the document, and can even take into account the relative rarity of the search terms and their density in the retrieved file, where infrequent terms count more heavily than common terms.

To see a simple example of this, search for the words (not the phrase, so no quotes):

unconscious communications

Look at the density of matches in each document on the first page of the hits. Then go to the last page of matched documents, and observe the density of matches within the documents.

A more complex search illustrates this nicely with a single page and only 15 matches:

counter*tr* w/25 “liv* out” w/25 enact*

There are a lot of word forms and variants of the words (due to the * wildcards) above that can match, but the proximity (w/25) clause limits the potential for matching. What’s interesting here though is how easily you can see the match density decrease as you view down the short list.

The end result of selecting order by rank is that the search engine’s best “guess” as to which articles are more relevant appear higher on the list than less relevant articles.

For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.

Distel, L.M. Shepard, J. Malone, J. Waldinger, R.J. (2015). Life Span Trajectories of Depressive Symptomatology and Personality Functioning. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 63(3):NP10-NP14.

(2015). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 63(3):NP10-NP14

Life Span Trajectories of Depressive Symptomatology and Personality Functioning

Laura M.L. Distel, John Shepard, Johanna Malone and Robert J. Waldinger

Underlying personality characteristics influence the presentation of depressive symptomatology in clinical settings (see, e.g., Luyten and Blatt 2007). Depression may appear differently across individuals depending on a person's specific constellation of defense mechanisms and personality traits (Mullen et al. 1999). While the relationship between personality and depression has been studied in cross-sectional (Bloch et al. 1993) and short-term longitudinal studies, no research to date has examined prospectively coded life span trajectories of depression in relation to personality functioning. A life span developmental approach may clarify whether personality characteristics are related not only to the presence of depression but also to the way depression unfolds in an individual across time.

The present study examines 75-year trajectories of depressive symptomatology in relation to personality functioning. We examine trajectories in relation to both defense mechanisms and personality traits. Participants were part of the Study of Adult Development (Vaillant 2012), which has followed a sample of 268 men from their sophomore year of college starting in 1938 until the present. At the project's outset, these men were assessed by internists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and anthropologists. Since that time, the men have completed questionnaires approximately every two years, their medical records have been obtained every five years, and they have been interviewed by study staff every ten to fifteen years. Using the data from these sources, we have coded the presence of depressive symptomatology at five-year intervals across the life span, giving us fifteen waves of dimensional data.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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