Information Retrieval during Free Listing Is Biased by Memory: Evidence from Medicinal PlantsReport as inadecuate

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Free listing is a methodological tool that is widely used in various scientific disciplines. A typical assumption of this approach is that individual lists reflect a subset of total knowledge and that the first items listed are the most culturally important. However, little is known about how cognitive processes influence free lists. In this study, we assess how recent memory of use, autonoetic and anoetic memory, and long-term associative memory can affect the composition and order of items in free lists and evaluate whether free lists indicate the most important items. Based on a model of local knowledge about medicinal plants and their therapeutic targets, which was collected via individual semi-structured interviews, we classify each item recorded in free lists according to the last time that the item was used by the informant recently or long ago, the type of relevant memory autonoetic or anoetic memory and the existing associations between therapeutic targets similar or random. We find that individuals have a tendency to recall information about medicinal plants used during the preceding year and that the recalled plants were also the most important plants during this period. However, we find no trend in the recall of plants from long-term associative memory, although this phenomenon is well established in studies on cognitive psychology. We suggest that such evidence should be considered in studies that use lists of medicinal plants because this temporal cognitive limit on the retrieval of knowledge affects data interpretation.

Author: Daniel Carvalho Pires de Sousa, Gustavo Taboada Soldati, Julio Marcelino Monteiro, Thiago Antonio de Sousa Araújo, Ulysses Pauli



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