Semantic Cueing

Definition


Semantic cueing is an interview technique that elicits free lists using semantic cues. Free listing is a way to get an interview participant or group to provide the names of items that they associate with a domain. Semantic cueing is an extension of this technique, by providing a participant probes to facilitate the listing, such as “Can you tell me all the kinds of X that is like Y?”[1] . The concept is based on semantic clustering, or a person’s tendency to list items that are similar to each other . By asking a group of participants to list items within a domain, a researcher can obtain valuable insight on how they conceptualize their world and organize information.

Relevant Characteristics


Semantic cueing uses domains -- sets of knowledge or socially-shared categories -- as prompts or probes during a free-listing exercise. Probes using domains can be something simple such as vehicles and fruits, or complex such as kinship relations or social roles. In ethnography, semantic cueing is particularly useful when a researcher is trying to get informants or study participants to describe cultural knowledge[2] [3] . However, anthropological research using this is usually grounded in participant observation. It is a useful method for confirming components of a cultural domain.

In anthropological research, semantically cued free lists can be used on their own, or triangulated with other techniques such as semi-structured interviews, focus groups, pile sorting, and ranking[4] [5] . Then, lists elicited through semantic cueing can be analyzed using the same methods as free listing.

In a study on drug abuse among Navajo youths, Trotter and colleagues[6] used free listing techniques in multiple focus groups to find out what their cultural models are for alcohol and substance abuse as well as their attitudes toward HIV/AIDS: “Each focus group utilized 4 focal questions, supplemented by six to eight major probes for each primary question. We also used multiple minor probes to assure comparable coverage of information between groups.” Trotter writes that these techniques create free lists that help guide future interview questions and as a way to ask sensitive questions without being too personal.
Besides anthropology, semantic cueing is used in studies of memory and memory loss, teaching, language therapy, social network analysis, etc.

“Method Made Easy”


First, research questions, a sample population and size must be determined. At the beginning of the activity, researchers can use a domain or theme (X) to elicit a free list. Then, use items on the free list to probe for similar items: “Can you tell me the kinds of X (domain) that are similar to Y (item on free list)?”

For example, a participant is asked to list the names of fruits they can think of. If an orange is listed, then the participant can be asked to name other fruits (domain) they think are similar to oranges (item).
If relevant, establish comparison groups. These can be established based on age, gender, income or education level, occupation, etc. Results can be compared across groups.

Advantages


Semantic cueing improves the total number of? recalled items by 40 percent compared to general free listing[7] . In free listing exercises, age and memory can limit the number of recalled items. Brewer found that compared to a general free list, and alphabetical cues, semantic cues are able to help study participants elicit more items. Semantic cueing activities are also flexible: it can be used as part of a semi-structured interview or an activity on its own, and conducted in individual interviews or in group settings. As Trotter, et al’s drug study[8] show, this technique is an effective way to elicit sensitive information without getting too personal. How so? Explain why here. Lastly, the ranking or order of items listed is significant in two ways: it can provide researchers with cognitive structures of a domain, or how people tend to think about a domain; and allows researchers a glimpse into the distance between items within a domain, or how people cognitively think about the items within a domain.

Limitations


Generational, age and developmental differences among participants can skew data[9] . Also, if the data gathered are not categorical, it can be difficult to analyze. Analysis can be complex depending on what is being measured and the amount of data generated, especially when analyzing for structures within domains, or ranking the order of how people organize their lists. Such analysis can be labor intensive.

Analysis


Similar to free lists, create an aggregate or reference list of the items elicited. While setting up the list, parameters can be used, e.g.: allow words that are only found in the dictionary. There are several types of analysis that can be done.

First, descriptive statistics can be established. This includes counting the frequency of the items listed, the frequency of the rankings of items, or an average listing order. Data can be expressed through tables, cluster analysis, multidimensional scaling etc. Research has shown that people tend to associate things in a probabilistic fashion, and the way items are ranked may provide valuable insight to a community. In Hough and Ferraris’[10] study of eliciting names of fruit with students in Argentina, researchers asked a group of students to write down the names of fruit that came to their minds. Next, the authors divided the students into two groups based on income. Then, the authors look at the types of fruit, and the order that they appeared in, among the student-generated lists, and among the two groups. Citing Bernard[11] , the authors hold that the “distance between items in a free list” provides a glimpse into the cognition of the respondents, or the distance between the items in their minds. To present that, the authors used a cluster analysis, descriptive statistic tables and charts.

Research has shown that people tend to associate items in a probabilistic fashion[12] and can be measured for its cognitive salience[13] . The frequency of an item on a set of lists procured through semantic cueing/free listing indicates its salience or importance[14] . The order in which the item appears on a set of lists also denotes its salience – this can be measured by the average rank of when that item appears. Software is available to help calculate instances of clustering or cluster patterns. Analytical tools such as Adjusted Ratio of Clustering (ARC), Ratio of Repetition (RR), Modified Ratio of Repetition, help model cluster patterns. Software available for such calculations includes SPSS, Aero Text, etc.

Method in Context


There was a boom in psychological research on cognition and memory in the 1970s. Researchers studied semantic clustering to examine the organization of memory[15] . However, in such studies, researchers tend to focus more on quick answers, as opposed to in-depth ones. These types of research mostly examined cognitive patterns and memory, and were not used to establish cultural domains.

Free listing has always been used an ethnographic data gathering method, even if not explicitly termed that by researchers. Conducting ethnography and using free listing as a data-gathering technique can be problematic in terms of gathering a sizeable group of informants to generate a list of salient items within a domain[16] . Sample size can be limited by factors such as age and occupation, and participants can forget items. Cues, when used during free listing activities, can help minimize such problems. To test what kinds of cues are the most effective, Brewer and colleagues[17] recruited a group of adults who participated in a larger study on memory for sexual and drug partners. Participants were divided into two groups and were asked to provide lists of drugs and fruits respectively. This experiment shows that free listing tasks that used cues were able to elicit more items, and that semantic cues elicited an average of one additional item than alphabetical cues[18] . Therefore, researchers can improve their informants’ recall rates during free listing by providing them with semantic cues.

Online Resources


Brewer’s research:
http://faculty.washington.edu/ddbrewer/smeappendix.htm

Analysis software:
http://academic.csuohio.edu/kneuendorf/content/cpuca/qtap.htm

Further Reading


Free listing, semantic cueing, alphabetical cueing and other elicitation techniques:

Brewer, Devon D., Sharon B. Garrett, and Giovanni Rinaldi
2002 Free-listed items are effective cues for eliciting additional items in semantic domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology 16(3):343-358.

Gronlund, Scott D., and Richard M. Shiffrin
1986 Retrieval strategies in recall of natural categories and categorized lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 12(4):550-561.

Use of semantic cues during free listing:

Trotter, Robert T., Jon E. Rolf, and Julie A. Baldwin
1997 Cultural Models of Inhalant Abuse Among Navajo Youth. Drugs & Society 10(1-2):39-59.

How to analyze data:

Hough, G., and D. Ferraris
2010 Free listing: A method to gain initial insight of a food category. Food quality and preference 21(3):295-301.

Kazen, Joseph K., and Hajime Otani
1997 Analyzing category clustering in free recall using an SPSS program. In Educational and Psychological Measurement. Pp. 879, Vol. 57.

References



  1. ^





    Bernard, Russell
    2011 Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Lanham, Maryland: Altamira Press.
  2. ^



    Brewer, Devon D., Sharon B. Garrett, and Giovanni Rinaldi
    2002 Free-listed items are effective cues for eliciting additional items in semantic domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology 16(3):343-358.
  3. ^ Bernard, Russell
    2011 Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Lanham, Maryland: Altamira Press.
  4. ^



    Trotter, Robert T., Jon E. Rolf, and Julie A. Baldwin
    1997 Cultural Models of Inhalant Abuse Among Navajo Youth. Drugs & Society 10(1-2):39-59.
  5. ^ Dressler, William
    2005 What’s cultural about biocultural research? Ethos 31(3):20-45.
  6. ^



    Trotter, Robert T., Jon E. Rolf, and Julie A. Baldwin
    1997 Cultural Models of Inhalant Abuse Among Navajo Youth. Drugs & Society 10(1-2):39-59.
  7. ^



    Brewer, Devon D., Sharon B. Garrett, and Giovanni Rinaldi
    2002 Free-listed items are effective cues for eliciting additional items in semantic domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology 16(3):343-358.
  8. ^ Trotter, Robert T., Jon E. Rolf, and Julie A. Baldwin
    1997 Cultural Models of Inhalant Abuse Among Navajo Youth. Drugs & Society 10(1-2):39-59.
  9. ^



    Schrauf, Robert
    2010 Age Effects and Sample Size in Free Listing. Field Methods 22(1):70-87.
  10. ^



    Hough, G., and D. Ferraris
    2010 Free listing: A method to gain initial insight of a food category. Food quality and preference 21(3):295-301.
  11. ^ Bernard, Russell
    2011 Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Lanham, Maryland: Altamira Press.
  12. ^



    Brewer, Devon D., Sharon B. Garrett, and Giovanni Rinaldi
    2002 Free-listed items are effective cues for eliciting additional items in semantic domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology 16(3):343-358.
  13. ^ Bernard, Russell
    2011 Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Lanham, Maryland: Altamira Press.
  14. ^ Bernard, Russell
    2011 Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and quantitative approaches. Lanham, Maryland: Altamira Press.
  15. ^



    Brewer, Devon D., Sharon B. Garrett, and Giovanni Rinaldi
    2002 Free-listed items are effective cues for eliciting additional items in semantic domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology 16(3):343-358.
  16. ^



    Brewer, Devon D., Sharon B. Garrett, and Giovanni Rinaldi
    2002 Free-listed items are effective cues for eliciting additional items in semantic domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology 16(3):343-358.
  17. ^



    Brewer, Devon D., Sharon B. Garrett, and Giovanni Rinaldi
    2002 Free-listed items are effective cues for eliciting additional items in semantic domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology 16(3):343-358.
  18. ^ Brewer, Devon D., Sharon B. Garrett, and Giovanni Rinaldi
    2002 Free-listed items are effective cues for eliciting additional items in semantic domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology 16(3):343-358.