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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.

W., H. (1948). Weeping and Laughing: Endre Petö. Int. J. Psa., XXVII, 1946, pp. 129–133.. Psychoanal Q., 17:556-557.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Weeping and Laughing: Endre Petö. Int. J. Psa., XXVII, 1946, pp. 129–133.

(1948). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 17:556-557

Weeping and Laughing: Endre Petö. Int. J. Psa., XXVII, 1946, pp. 129–133.

H. W.

Petö studied,in painstaking detail, the various muscular movements which take place during the acts of laughing and crying from earliest infancy onward. From these observations he draws the twin conclusions that in infancy crying is the expression of an effort to eject and externalize painful stimuli, while laughing is the expression of attempts at introjection of 'good', satisfying, external reality. At birth, infants, in opposition to any need for self-preservation, refuse the nipple and cry. They try to eject the painful stimulus of hunger—which must seem to come in part from the outside breast—in an effort to return to a stimulus-free intrauterine state. Gradually 'under the overwhelming stream of external stimuli the organism partially introjects them, this being its only means of self-preservation'. In the light of these conclusions Petö modifies Ferenczi's theory that 'the newborn infant cannot distinguish the subjective psychical processes, the emotions, from the sensations excited by the outside world', with the observation, 'If we recognize weeping as a projection-function we must concede great importance to it as a warding-off function even from the moment of birth, for it indicates the beginning of the reality sense and therefore the existence of positive and negative object relations immediately after birth'.

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Article Citation

W., H. (1948). Weeping and Laughing. Psychoanal. Q., 17:556-557

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