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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.

Coates, S. (1994). Ethology: Early Stress and Adult Emotional Reactivity in Rhesus Monkeys. S. J. Suomi. In Ciba Foundation Symposium 156: Childhood Environment and Adult Disease. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Pp. 171-188.. Psychoanal Q., 63:169.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Ethology: Early Stress and Adult Emotional Reactivity in Rhesus Monkeys. S. J. Suomi. In Ciba Foundation Symposium 156: Childhood Environment and Adult Disease. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Pp. 171-188.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 63:169

Ethology: Early Stress and Adult Emotional Reactivity in Rhesus Monkeys. S. J. Suomi. In Ciba Foundation Symposium 156: Childhood Environment and Adult Disease. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Pp. 171-188.

Susan Coates

In a subsequent experiment Suomi studied the interaction of temperament and early attachment experience. He divided the high and low reactives into two groups that were raised by two different types of mothers. The first were ordinary, competent mothers, and the second were mothers who were particularly nurturant. Being an unusually nurturant mother was defined by a willingness to wean the monkey baby slowly, rather than abruptly batting the infant off her breast as is typical of the species; and, in addition, the nurturant mothers remained accessible to their babies as they began to experiment with separating from her and exploring the environment on their own. Half of each group of high and low reactives were raised by each of these styles of mothering.

As they grew older, the monkeys were placed in a larger single group wherein adolescent Bonnet monkeys normally form dominance hierarchies. Status in the dominance hierarchy is determined by complex social skills and is a critical measure of adaptive competence in primates. In the group was also placed a pair of "foster grandparents," older monkeys whose presence served to keep control over levels of aggression. To Suomi's considerable surprise, the shy, high reactive monkeys raised by the nurturant mothers were the only monkeys to touch base with the "foster grandparents" (particularly the female), and it was these same monkeys who subsequently ended up and remained at the top of the hierarchy. The shy, high reactive ones raised by the ordinary mothers did not make use of the older parents and ended up at the bottom of the hierarchy. The low reactive or bold monkeys all ended up in the middle of the hierarchy, their status appearing to be relatively unaffected by parenting style.

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Article Citation

Coates, S. (1994). Ethology. Psychoanal. Q., 63:169

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