TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Your Emotional IQ Predicts How Much You’ll Make

Colleagues at work
Getty Images

Social skills at work lead to a bigger paycheck

How good are you at reading another person’s emotions? $50,000-a-year good? Or $150,000? Your level of emotional intelligence may predict how much you earn, finds a new study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

The researchers looked at a trait called “emotion recognition ability,” responsible for how well you can sense (and make sense of) another person’s emotions from their face and voice. Researchers tested and measured it along with other interpersonal skills—such as how socially astute they were, their networking savvy and how seemingly trustworthy they were—in 142 German workers.

High emotional recognition was linked to a higher salary, even after controlling for salary-bumping factors like age, gender, education, work experience and work hours.

“This very basic ability has effects on the interpersonal facilitation facet of job performance and, most notably, even on annual income, an objective indicator of career success,” the study authors wrote. “The better people are at recognizing emotions, the better they handle the politics in organizations and the interpersonal aspects of work life, and thus the more they earn in their jobs.”

That could give women, who may recognize emotions better than men, an edge—in theory, at least. One study found that female managers who could more accurately assess nonverbal cues got better satisfaction ratings from their subordinates—an advantage that wasn’t detected in men.

TIME

Mothers Talk Differently to Daughters than Sons: Study

Young school girl holding mother's hand, close-up
Lisa Stirling—Getty Images

They use more emotional language, which has an effect on girls' worldview

Most mothers would tell you they speak to all their children the same way. A new study suggests they might be deceived. In a study published yesterday in The British Journal of Developmental Psychology, authors Ana Aznar and Harriet Tenenbaum found that mothers are more likely to use emotional words and emotional content when speaking with their 4-year-old daughters than with their 4-year-old sons.

What’s more, since mothers tend to use more emotion-laden language than fathers do, they are often unknowingly perpetuating gender stereotypes in their children. On the plus side, though, it may be why women tend to have a higher emotional intelligence than men.

“We know…that children imitate same-gendered models [i.e. girls imitate moms and boys imitate dads] more than different-gendered models,” says Tenenbaum, associate professor of psychology at the University of Surrey, in an interview with TIME. “So they are taught that emotions are more acceptable for women than for men.” (Insert emotionally-unavailable husband/father/boyfriend joke here.)

Tenenbaum points out that learning emotional intelligence is incredibly important for children in terms of school success, getting along with teachers and having good peer relations. “[Past studies have shown that] children who are better able to show emotions in kindergarten did better in the 4th grade than kids who didn’t,” she says. Moreover, “children who use more emotional words are more popular in nursery school. People would rather be around someone who can understand and interpret emotions.” And kids who understand emotions better tend to have higher performance in school even after controlling for intelligence, she notes.

In this new study, researchers videotaped 65 Spanish mothers and fathers along with their 4-year-old and 6-year-old children during a storytelling task and then during a conversation about a past experience. The subjects lived in middle-to-upper-class neighborhoods. On the first visit, the mother or the father and the child were taped in conversation. Within a week, the other parent and the child came in and talked about a similar subject. The videotaped conversations were transcribed and emotion words like “happy,” “sad,” “angry,” “love,” “concern,” and “fear,” were singled out.

Mothers used a higher proportion of emotional words than fathers did with both 4 and 6-year olds, which is consistent with studies performed in the U.S. But they were particularly expressive with their 4-year old daughters. “American mothers and fathers do similar things in enforcing emotions,” says Tenenbaum. The theory is that mothers may be more comfortable talking about their emotions than fathers. Children might therefore think it is more appropriate for girls to talk about feelings. In fact, daughters were more likely than sons to speak about their emotions with their fathers when talking about past experiences. And during these reminiscing conversations, fathers used more emotion-laden words with their 4-year-old daughters than with their 4-year-old sons.

Aznar and Tenenbaum did a few things in this study that made it different from previous ones. They added fathers to the equation, when most studies looking at emotions have focused only on mothers, and they examined Spanish families, which hadn’t been looked at before, because they wanted to see how patterns played out across different cultures.

And most importantly, the authors tested the children to determine their baseline emotional comprehension. They quizzed them on what people in various situations might be feeling and found that emotional understanding was the same for 4-year-old boys and girls. Thus, emotional intelligence is not an innate quality of females. Since the pretest didn’t show that 4-year-old girls understand emotions any better than boys, the fact that parents talk in more emotional terms to daughters over sons can’t be explained away by saying parents do this because they believe girls understand emotions better. “We didn’t find any difference in the children’s understanding of emotions in the pretest,” says Tenenbaum.

Tenenbaum was surprised that mothers and fathers continue to perpetuate the stereotypes. “Most parents say they want boys to be more expressive, but don’t know [they] are speaking differently to them,” she says.

Parents should try to teach boys about emotion as much as possible, says Tenenbaum, and use emotion-laden language with both sons and daughters. “We are beyond the point in society where boys are taught never to express emotions,” she says. “We need to model for them how to appropriately express emotions. These are learned stereotypes and we are reinforcing them as a society.”

TIME child development

Babies Identify Emotions by Looking at the Whites of Our Eyes

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

Study shows the unique response of human babies to eye expressions

Babies, as anyone who has had one might have noticed, are not that good at stuff. They can’t talk to you, they suck on everything no matter what it’s supposed to be used for, they can’t run errands, they soil themselves. But they can recognize different facial expressions just from looking at someone’s eyes, apparently as early as seven months. How? It’s all to do with the whites of the eyes.

A new study out of the University of Virginia and that Max Planck Institute that was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that babies respond differently to eyes alone, if the eyes were showing different expressions. “Their brains clearly responded to social cues conveyed through the eyes,” said Tobias Grossmann, one of the study’s authors, “indicating that even without conscious awareness, human infants are able to detect subtle social cues.”

Humans, it turns out, are the only primates in which the whites of the eye are visible. The amount of sclera, as the white is known, is often an indicator of the emotions of a person. Wide open eyes, with a lot of visible white, express surprise or fear. When people smile, on the other hand, their eyes often narrow, hiding the whites. Fellow humans use the eyes a lot to detect what a person is really feeling, which is why movie villains, prison guards, and Vogue editor Anna Wintour wear mirrored or dark glasses even inside and on overcast days. If people can’t see the whites of each other’s eyes, they’re not really communicating.

The sociologists were trying to establish how consciously or unconsciously humans respond to eye expressions, whether it’s learned behavior or innate to the human condition. So they hooked the babies up to shower cap like EEG devices that measure brain activity and showed them pictures of eyes for 50 milliseconds—way too short a time for the conscious brain of a baby of that age to have any idea of what was going on. Some of the eyes were wide open showing a lot of white, some were narrowly opened, some looked straight ahead, and some had an averted gaze.

The babies’ brains responded differently to each type. “This demonstrates that, like adults, infants are sensitive to eye expressions of fear and direction of focus, and that these responses operate without conscious awareness,” Grossmann said. “The existence of such brain mechanisms in infants likely provides a vital foundation for the development of social interactive skills in humans.”

The moral of the story is: you may want to ditch the mirrored sunglasses when playing with your baby. He or she would probably just suck on them anyway.

TIME Family

Why Access to Screens Is Lowering Kids’ Social Skills

Brothers Watching TV
Chris Stein—Getty Images

Kids read emotions better after being deprived of electronic media

People have long suspected that there’s a cost to all this digital data all the time, right at our fingertips. Now there’s a study out of UCLA that might prove those digital skeptics right. In the study, kids who were deprived of screens for five days got much better at reading people’s emotions than kids who continued their normal screen-filled lives.

The California research team’s findings, published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior this month tries to analyze the impact digital media has on humans’ ability to communicate face-to-face.

As an experiment, 51 sixth graders from a public school in Southern California were sent to outdoor education camp, spending five whole days completely deprived of TV, phone and Internet. Contrary to the kids’ expectations, they survived just fine and actually had genuine fun.

The first pool of kids was then compared to another group of 54 sixth graders from the same school who had not yet attended the camp, but had spent the previous five days with their normal amount of screen time.

Both sets of students were given photos of people expressing emotions—sadness, anger, joy, anxiety and so on, before the camp and after the camp. Both sets of students were also shown video of people interacting and displaying emotions. The students who had been to camp got much better at discerning how the people in the photos and the videos were feeling after that five day period. They scored much higher at recognizing non-verbal emotional cues (facial expressions, body language, gestures) than they had before the camp, while the scores of the students who had not been deprived of screens did not change at all.

With online training courses being used for almost everything now, this new study may give teachers, parents and administrators pause on such widespread use of digital media in education. “Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs,” said Patricia M. Greenfield, a distinguished professor of psychology at UCLA and senior author of the study. “Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues is one of the costs—understanding the emotions of other people. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills.”

Lead author Yalda T. Uhls, a senior researcher with the Children’s Digital Media Center, said she hopes that people won’t merely take away the idea that all screens are bad, but that face-to-face time for young people is an important part of the socialization process.

According to a survey given to the study’s participants, the kids spent an average of four-and-a-half hours texting, watching television and playing video games during a single typical school day. According to Uhls, this is on the low end–many children and teenagers spend more than seven-and-a-half-hours a day interacting with a screen of some sort. And when interacting with a screen, they aren’t interacting with a human.

“You can’t learn non-verbal emotional cues from a screen in the way you can learn it from face-to-face communication,” Uhls said.

MONEY consumer psychology

Hey, Impulse Spenders: Here’s a Solution to Your Bad Habit

shopping bags
Martin Barraud—Getty Images

If you make too many impulse purchases and later regret them, there is a simple cure: gratitude.

A study recently published in Psychological Science shows that an attitude of gratitude tempers impulsive urges. In the study, participants had the option of receiving $54 now or $80 in a month. The researchers then induced moods of happiness, neutrality, or gratitude. Participants in the happy or neutral groups preferred the smaller sum immediately—the typical response in delayed gratification experiments.

The surprise came from those who felt grateful. They preferred to wait for the larger sum, which is the smarter, if less immediately gratifying, option.

The authors don’t say why gratitude forestalls impulsiveness, but their findings make sense within the context of my own research. I’ve found that people typically purchase impulsively for one of two reasons. They do so 1) to counteract a sense of emptiness, boredom, or void in their lives; or 2) because they are not fully focused when making a purchase. Gratitude can be the antidote in both of these scenarios.

Fill the Void
Impulsively snapping up a bargain or a trinket (or more) can provide an emotional boost, even a genuine momentary thrill. A void you feel—which can range in magnitude from simple boredom to a deep emotional need for human connection—is temporarily filled in the act. Sometimes the pleasure of some new “find,” or just the distraction of the transaction is subconsciously more what people are shopping for than whatever it is that’s actually being purchased.

People that “fill up” with impulsive purchases in this manner are often thought to be motivated by simple greed. What I’ve found, though, is that the catalyst is not so much greed or materialism, but emotional relief. Momentary lapses of impulse control are frequently fueled by an urge to feel something different—to get out of a funk and change your mood.

Feelings of gratitude, not just for possessions, but for almost anything—a friendly encounter, a cool breeze, a tasty lunch, a nice text from your kid, a beautiful landscape—are nourishing. It’s harder to feel a void or sense of emptiness when you pause and notice how much you have. It makes sense that everyone, not just shoppers, exhibit greater levels of impulse control when they feel thankful.

Get in Focus
Consumers’ minds nowadays are drawn in different directions by nonstop multitasking, and anxiety and sleep deficiencies are on the rise as a result. Focused decision-making, particularly on seemingly non-urgent tasks such as shopping, is on the decline, as is truly focusing on anything, it seems. No wonder I increasingly hear, “What was I thinking when I bought this?” from shoppers I interview. An exhausted, distracted brain pays less attention to everything and therefore has less bandwidth to forestall impulsive purchasing.

The calming focus of gratitude can help. A few seconds of thankfulness is not only a mood elevator, it’s a fast and simple mindfulness exercise that improves focus and can stave off mindless, impulsive spending.

But if you’re trying to rein in impulse spending, wouldn’t it make more sense to simply force yourself to pay closer attention to purchases, rather than trying to focus on feelings of gratitude? Well, no. Focusing on purchases is actually harder than it seems. Why? It’s boring when compared to the thrill of the purchase, and therefore consumers are apt to forget they’re supposed to be mindful and think twice about what they’re buying.

Also, paying close attention to purchases comes with the possibility of arousing negative emotions—feelings concerning problems with debt or budgeting, or pressures about responsibility and what you should or should not do. Our self-protective, irrational brains are likely to look for an easy “out” to get rid of these bad feelings, ironically often by simply losing focus and doing things mindlessly, impulsively. That’s why so many consumers experience a mismatch between their good intentions and ultimate actions when it comes to shopping.

Gratitude is a gentle way to force focus, and it creates a sense of abundance that transcends the need for a momentary shopping boost. As a bonus, there are lots of other benefits to feeling and expressing gratitude—most notably, happiness.

_____________________________________________________

Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., is a consumer psychologist who is obsessed with all things related to how, when and why we shop and buy. She conducts research through her professorship at Golden Gate University and shares her findings in speeches, consulting work, and her books, Decoding the New Consumer Mind and Gen BuY.

TIME Social Media

Manipulate Your Own Mood, Before Facebook Does

Lauren McCarthy

But how do you mute engagement photos?

The uproar following the news that Facebook had manipulated the emotions of some of its users by curating the posts they saw in their newsfeed according to specific emotions was understandable. We like to believe that our social networks are indifferent platforms that don’t play with our feelings the way our friends can. In reality, Facebook strictly controls every factor of its website’s experience—it’s far from impartial.

So why not take control into our own hands? Artist Lauren McCarthy’s Facebook Mood Manipulator gives you access to the same technology that the study used to control its subjects emotions. A sliding scale on the website allows users to select what kinds of posts they want, with factors including positive, emotional, aggressive, and open. Turn the positive slide all the way up, and all that appears are happy posts. Turn it down, and negativity replaces all the good vibes.

McCarthy’s app suggests a kind of self-censoring. If you’re feeling down, then maybe you don’t want to see anything sad in your feed. Sure, the app performs a neat trick by scanning posts for emotive keywords and filtering them based on that vocabulary, but it also has a deeper meaning. It shows just how much our lives are contingent on what we experience online—we’re not communicating on social networks so much as living through them.

TIME Social Media

Calm Down: Facebook Isn’t Manipulating Your Emotions

Yes, they played with your News Feeds. Yes, that’s creepy. But here’s why you shouldn’t be so shocked and upset

Have you heard that you might have been Facebook’s guinea pig? That the company, working with some scientists, fiddled around with 698,003 people’s News Feeds in January 2012 and tried to make the users feel sadder (or happier) by manipulating what members read?

Shocked? Violated? Creeped out? Well, be prepared to be even more shocked, violated and creeped out. Because what Facebook did was scientifically acceptable, ethically allowable and, let’s face it, probably among the more innocuous ways that you’re being manipulated in nearly every aspect of your life.

First things first. The researchers didn’t “make” users feel sadder or happier. What they did was make it more or less likely for them to see posts that contained either slightly more negative language or slightly more positive language. Overall, those who had emotionally charged messages hidden from their News Feed used fewer words when posting, and those who did see emotional words tended to reflect the tone of their feeds when they posted. But there’s a difference between using, as the study found, one more negative word per 1,000 in a week of posts, and what psychologists would call feeling sad or depressed.

Adam Kramer of Facebook, one of the study’s co-authors, posted on an apology of sorts, for the way the study was presented. “My co-authors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused,” he wrote.

But the study is not without value, says Dr. Nicholas Christakis, director of the Human Nature Lab at Yale University who has studied emotional contagion across social networks. “The scientific concerns that have been raised are mostly without merit,” he says. He points out that while the positivity or negativity of words may not be a validated measure of mood, the fact that the study found similar effects in both directions – people were affected in similar ways when the number of negative and positive words were manipulated in their feeds – suggests emotional contagion on social media is, indeed, real.

Concerns about people’s privacy being violated by the experiment may also be unwarranted. First, Facebook users know that their data is no longer exclusively their own once it’s on the site. And the whole premise of News Feed is that it’s a curated glance at the most appealing or engaging updates your network of friends might post. That’s why the Cornell University Institutional Review Board (IRB), which reviews and approves all human research studies conducted by its members, gave the experiment the green light. They determined that the study posed minimal risk of disrupting people’s normal environments or behavior, and therefore waived the need for getting informed consent from each participant (something that IRBs routinely do for studies involving medical records, prison records and educational information as long as the scientists maintain the anonymity of the owners of the data).

Should the 698,003 users have been told once the study was done? Perhaps, but only out of courtesy, and not for any legal or ethical reasons. “Certain items weren’t shown to people in their News Feed,” says James Fowler, professor of medical genetics and political science at University of California San Diego, who has collaborated with Christakis and has spoken with Facebook about the company’s research. “This sounds like something that happens to people ordinarily. As a consequence, I’m having a hard time understanding why people are so upset.”

“Things that happen to you that you aren’t aware of can be scary to people,” says Fowler. That could explain why, despite the fact that Fowler and Christakis conducted a similar intervention by seeding Facebook users’ accounts with messages from friends asking them to vote at an election, they weren’t accused of manipulating people in the same way. “It’s fascinating to me that everyone is piling on [this study] when we have already done it,” Fowler says of tweaking people’s social network to see how it influences their reactions.

It’s not that anyone condones the fact that we’re being studied and analyzed all the time (the fact that you clicked on this story was recorded by this site’s administrators, as well as how long you’re taking to read it to see if posts like these are appealing).

But if social networks are here to stay, and if, as many intriguing studies suggest, they do have some influence on the way we act and think, then it’s worth trying to figure out how they do it.

“I wouldn’t want the public outcry to shut down the science,” says Fowler. “I would much rather study it and understand it than stick my head in the sand and avoid the issue altogether.”

TIME behavior

These Goosebump Sensors Can Read Your Emotions

The Goose Bump Detector is a goose bump monitoring sensor attached to the arm. Young-Ho Cho/KAIST

Sounds crazy right? Read on

South Korean researchers are developing a technology that can measure your goosebumps—which are activated when you’re cold, sure, but also when you’re scared, moved or otherwise emotionally aroused. It sounds weird until you consider the potential applications for such a thing, some of which are fascinating while others seem unsettling when it comes to emotional privacy.

A team of scientists at KAIST in Daejeon, South Korea have developed a very thin sticker-like sensor that can easily be applied to the skin. The wearable 20mm x 20mm polymer sensor measures goosebumps, and the researchers believe it provides insight into human’s emotional states.

Although the sensors are still in early development, the team believes they could provide insight into physical and emotional responses so that they can determine how people experience and react to the world around them. This could help lead the way to personalized music streams and advertising, the researchers suggest in a statement. “In the future, human emotions will be regarded like any typical biometric information, including body temperature or blood pressure,” study author Young-Ho Cho said.

Social media sites like Facebook are already tapping into what the site perceives as your interests in order to curate advertising targeted just for you. Analyzing your emotions would take that kind of monitoring to a whole new level. Emotion sensing is something retailers are interested in, and companies like 3VR are rolling out initiatives like “big data video-mining,” which uses video cameras that can estimate the age, gender, and mood shoppers as they pass through a given store.

But what can goosebumps tell us? The obvious reason we get goosebumps is that it’s a biological method to combat chills. Goosebumps occur when tiny muscles attached to each of our hairs contract, and the areas surrounding that contraction rises. In animals with a lot of fur, this retains heat. We don’t have a lot of fur, so it doesn’t exactly serve the same purpose for us—but it does clue us into when our bodies are at an uncomfortable level.

When it comes to getting goosebumps while watching a sad or inspiring movie, it’s a little more evolutionarily confusing, but researchers think it’s because we release the stress hormone adrenaline when we feel strong emotions, and that hormone can trigger goosebumps to rise. “This response is an evolutionary holdover from our primate ancestors. Those ancestors had long hair that stood out when those tiny muscles contracted, making the individual look larger and usually more fierce when something threatening or scary occurred,” says Dr. Rick Potts, director of the human origins program at the Smithsonian Institution. “There was an evolutionary advantage for our ancestors, but for us, the advantage has disappeared—though we retain the impulse of those tiny muscles contracting just beneath the skin.”

The research is published in the journal Applied Physics Letters and it’s still preliminary. But knowing there’s a market for understanding your emotions is enough to give us goosebumps.

TIME emotions

QUIZ: How Well Can You Read Expressions?

Most of us can distinguish the subtle difference between sadly fearful and sadly surprised

Scientists have long believed that there are six major ways we express emotion on our faces, but the latest study shows we readily make, and recognize, up to 21 distinct expressions. Test your skill in figuring out the feeling behind these faces.

TIME

Human Faces Can Express at Least 21 Distinct Emotions

Happily surprised Image courtesy of The Ohio State University.

Distinct facial muscles were used to express compound emotions

Leading scientific thinkers of their time, such as Aristotle, Rene Descartes, Guillaume Duchenne, and Charles Darwin, have long promoted the idea that there are a handful of basic emotions that people express. In recent decades, that group has crystalized into six core emotions: happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust.

But there are clearly many shades of gray between those emotions. For example, there’s the happy-because-I’m-eating-ice cream and the happy-because-I-just-learned-I-got-a-surprise-marriage-proposal looks, each of which is slightly different.

That’s what intrigued Aleix Martinez, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State University. “Six seemed a small number given the rainbow of possibilities of feeling and expressing emotions,” he says.

MORE: Emotions May Not Be So Universal After All

Martinez wanted to know whether compound emotions, such as happy surprise, were expressed using the same muscle movements of both happiness and surprise, or whether the expression involved a unique set of muscles that represented some amalgam of the two.

What he and his colleagues found was that the human face makes 21 different emotional expressions – and each is different from the other. While some represented combinations of emotions, each differed in terms of which muscles were involved.

And surprisingly, these facial expression patterns were remarkably consistent across all 230 volunteers. For example, each showed happy surprise in the same way that was distinct from both happiness and from surprise, and different still from angry surprise.

MORE: To Really Read Emotions, Look at Body Language, Not Facial Expressions

Martinez broke down the facial expressions of 230 volunteers by applying his engineering strategies. He and his colleagues gave each of the students, staff, or faculty members who enrolled in the study different scenarios and asked them to show how they would react in each one. They were told, for example, that they had just learned they had been accepted to a graduate program, that someone had told them a disgusting, but still funny joke, or that they had just smelled something bad. The volunteers were allowed to practice their facial expressions in front of a mirror before Martinez took pictures of their reactions.

He then computer-analyzed each of the 5,000 images, breaking them down by which facial muscles the participants used. These were first defined in 1978 by psychologist Paul Ekman, who codified facial expressions in the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) by action units, or muscles or groups of muscles that went into making facial expressions – such as lip parts (for showing disgust), showing teeth (for expressing happiness), mouth stretch (for fear), or eyelid tightening (for anger).

MORE: How to Lift Your Mood? Try Smiling

Not only are people able to make compound expressions consistently, but we are also able to read these emotions pretty accurately as well. When we see someone who looks angrily surprised, for example, we know that they aren’t happy about whatever unexpected event they just experienced. “We don’t know for sure how much is learned or innate in expressing these emotions,” says Martinez. “But what we do know is that a big component has to be innate because otherwise different people would use different muscles to show the same emotion.”

The results dovetail with recent findings that some cultures may already recognize these more refined, and numerous expressions of emotions. In a study among the remote Himba tribes in Namibia, for example, researchers at Northeastern University reported that when they provided tribe members with images of facial expressions of emotions, rather than creating six neat piles of emotions, the members created many more. For them, happy could be interpreted as anything from happy to laughing to wonder.

That should help to improve how studies of human emotions are conducted in different cultures, says Martinez; his results suggest that the underlying ability to express emotions may be similar around the world, but cultural biases may simply define emotions in different ways – much the same way that babies are born with the capacity to speak and make sounds for any language, but are trained to speak their native tongue by what they hear around them.

Even more exciting for mental health experts is the possibility that this work can teach them about when the processing and expression of human emotions goes awry such as in depression. “It’s important to understand which are categories of emotions that we have,” says Martinez, so that experts can recognize the pathological ones. Expressing emotions is generally a transient exercise, lasting milliseconds or up to a minute. Those that linger longer, for hours or even days, tend to be considered moods, and once these emotions persist for days, weeks or months, they can become the subject of mental illness. So distinguishing how people express themselves, and defining the categories of well-known and well-recognized emotions, could lead to better understanding of which emotions can become detrimental and even harmful.

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