What matters in free listing? A probabilistic interpretation of the salience index

ABSTRACT Free listing is a data collection technique used in different subject areas to characterize a given cultural domain. Analysis of a set of lists from a human population allows inferences to be made about the cultural salience of the items in that domain. However, the challenge that the salience index presents is establishing a threshold value for determining whether an item can be considered salient or not. The present analysis reveals how to determine which items of a list have non-randomly determined citation frequency and order. Monte Carlo techniques were used to create a hypothetical null scenario. The present analysis not only objectively identifies which items stand out in relation to the others, it also reveals which items can be considered idiosyncratic and how order and frequency independently influence the salience index. The present analysis represents a useful tool for analyzing data collected through free listing. It also can contribute to understanding processes related to the cultural relevance of items and to the test future hypotheses in different areas of knowledge.