Articles > The Influence of Visual Stimuli in Ethnobotanical Data Collection Using the Listing Task Method

The Influence of Visual Stimuli in Ethnobotanical Data Collection Using the Listing Task Method

The Influence of Visual Stimuli in Ethnobotanical Data Collection Using the Listing Task Method



Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina–Campus Trindade



Universidade Estadual Paulista–Campus Rio Claro


Opus Software

The listing task, a method used in social and behavioral sciences, is frequently used in ethnobotanical research to construct folk taxonomies and select relevant items for subsequent research. The objective of the present study was to determine whether visual stimuli are associated with responses to the theme “plants” or if context influences the answers. Interviews were conducted with 400 women in Rio Claro, São Paulo, Brazil, in four different locations: three with a visible presence of plants (a plant store, a supermarket, and a public plaza) and one with no plants (a street corner in the center of the city). The women were asked to name plants. Analysis indicates that visual stimuli influenced responses and that this is more marked in the plant store than in the other locations. The plants cited most often—roses, orchids, ferns, violets, and daisies—were, with little variation, the same in all the locales studied.

Keywords: ethnobotany; field methods; listing tasks; visual stimuli



Free listing is widely used in cognitive social and behavioral science as well as in ethnobotany and ethnozoology (Bernard 1988) to determine the contents of a cultural domain (Weller and Romney 1988; Borgatti 1994). The frequency of items mentioned and the order in which they are used measure the items’ cultural relevance or salience (Weller and Romney 1988; Martin 1995; Cotton 1996; Sutrop 2001).

Listing tasks have generally been used in combination with other methods in ethnobotanical research, designed not only for folk classification (e.g., Boster 1984; Berlin 1992) but also for understanding the content of traditional knowledge about the uses and care of plants and animals and how that knowledge changes over time (Nolan 1998; Benz et al. 2000). We know from Brewer’s work (2002; Brewer, Garrett, and Rinaldi 2002) that the list length is substantially influenced by probing. The content of lists, however, may be influenced by the physical context in which they are gathered. We report here on a test of this potential response effect. There are threats to the validity of our findings, but the overall pattern suggests strongly that environmental cues in the direct or peripheral vision of informants do have an effect on the content of their lists. Specifically, in ethnobotanical studies, it is not unusual (perhaps not even unexpected) to conduct interviews in situations in which plants are within sight of the informant. We investigate here the extent to which this may influence the results of a listing task.

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