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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.

Mahler, M.S. La Perriere, K. (1965). Mother-Child Interaction During Separation-Individuation. Psychoanal Q., 34:483-498.

(1965). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 34:483-498

Mother-Child Interaction During Separation-Individuation

Margaret S. Mahler, M.D. and Kitty La Perriere, Ph.D.


The first weeks of extrauterine life of the infant were designated as the stage of normal autism by Mahler. This normal autistic phase, from birth until about the second month of life, corresponds to the 'undifferentiated phase' of Hartmann, Kris, and Loewenstein (4). During this phase there is no discernible distinction for the infant between inner and outer reality, nor does there seem to be any distinction for him between himself and his inanimate surroundings.

As the infant gradually passes into the symbiotic phase, he seems to become dimly aware that what relieves his instinctual tensions (hunger and other needs) comes from the outside world, whereas painful accumulation of tension is generated within himself. For this dim recognition to exist there must be, during the symbiotic phase, some rudimentary differentiation of the ego. In the intrapsychic organization of the infant, the boundaries of self and mother are still more or less confluent and fused. They are distinct for him when he is, for a short time, in a state of affect hunger (7), and they disappear again when he experiences gratification and satisfaction.


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