Category Archives: Iowa State University

Why some women are into ‘benevolent’ sexism

Women who respond positively to benevolent sexism aren’t unaware of its links to sexism, new research suggests.

For example, while some women like it when a man opens the door on a first date or offers to pay the bill at dinner, others find these kinds of gestures insulting.

Pelin Gul, a social psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at Iowa State University, says previous researchers have shown such gestures can undermine women, which is why they labeled the gestures “benevolent sexism.” Additional studies have found women prefer men with these behaviors, and claim women are unaware of the potentially negative consequences of men’s benevolence.

“As researchers, we’re not looking to give relationship advice…”

Gul wanted to know if there could be another explanation. To find out, she and colleague Tom Kupfer at the University of Kent in the UK designed a series of studies to test theories on mate preferences that they thought would help explain this apparent contradiction. Their work confirms women prefer men to be benevolent, but contradicting previous assumptions, they found women did recognize the potential harm.

“We found women were aware benevolent sexist men may be patronizing and undermining. However, they still found these men more attractive, because these behaviors signal a willingness to protect, provide, and commit,” Gul says.

The studies asked women to read profiles of men with or without benevolent sexist attitudes and then measure perceived warmth, attractiveness, willingness to protect, provide, and commit, as well as patronizing and undermining behavior. The paper appears in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The researchers measured how women responded to benevolent behaviors in personal and professional relationships. Gul says in both cases, women were attracted to benevolent men, but it was stronger in the dating context. Interestingly, this was true for women who rated themselves as high as well as low feminists. High feminists rated the benevolent sexist men as more patronizing and undermining than low feminists did, but the positive sides of benevolent sexism outweighed the negatives, even for high feminist women.

“We know from previous research that women, across cultures, prefer a mate who is able to invest by providing resources,” Kupfer says. “Women also may be especially attentive to cues of willingness to invest when evaluating a man as a potential mate. Benevolent attitudes and behaviors may signal that willingness.”

While the research does provide an alternative explanation, it also raises questions. Gul says future work should look at whether awareness provides a protective factor, in that women might develop tactics to defend against benevolent sexist attitudes and behaviors.

Why ‘certainty’ is good for romance

She says it is also important to find out why women perceive benevolent men to be undermining and whether men use benevolence intentionally to undermine women. Gul cautions against trying to change these behaviors completely given their findings.

“As researchers, we’re not looking to give relationship advice, but understanding the detrimental and beneficial aspects of men’s benevolent sexism could help women and men have more satisfying relationships,” Gul says.

We tell these lies when dating online

“Given a sufficiently nuanced understanding, it may be possible to reduce the harmful effects of benevolent sexism without rejecting men’s benevolence and its beneficial aspects.”

Source: Iowa State University

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Air pollution in national parks may keep visitors away

Poor air quality in national parks may put a damper on visitation, according to a new study.

As reported in Science Advances, the researchers studied ozone levels in 33 of the largest national parks in the US. The researchers found that from 1990 to 2014 average ozone concentrations in national parks were statistically indistinguishable from those of the 20 largest US metropolitan areas—conditions that previously sparked federal legislation. To protect parks, the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments of 1977 and 1990 designated national parks as Federal Class I Areas.

“The US has spent billions of dollars over the last three decades to improve air quality,” says David Keiser, assistant professor of economics at Iowa State University. “Given the popularity of national parks, as well as the fact that people go to parks to be outside, we believed it was worth better understanding air quality trends in these areas and whether people, through their actions, respond to changes in air quality in parks.”

…air quality in many national parks remains unhealthy for sensitive groups on average for two-and-one-half to three weeks per year.

The study found that ozone levels improved in metropolitan areas starting in 1990; however, national parks improvements have only been apparent since the early 2000s, corresponding to the passage of the Regional Haze Rule, a 1999 EPA regulation that strengthened air quality protections for national parks and wilderness areas.

The authors first compiled data from extensive ozone monitoring efforts led by the National Park Service and the EPA. Data show that since 1990, national parks have seen only modest reductions in days with ozone concentrations exceeding 70 parts per billion, levels deemed unhealthy by the EPA.

The researchers then matched the pollution data to monthly park visitation statistics at 33 of the most heavily visited national parks and found that visitation responds most to ozone during months with poor air quality. Unsurprisingly, this response is largest in summer and fall, the seasons when park visitation is highest.

They also explored two potential causes for this result: air quality warnings (AQI) issued by parks and poor visibility. They found that the visitation response is more strongly associated with potential health warnings and less correlated with visibility.

Does air pollution lead to more unethical behavior?

A recent survey found that nearly 90 percent of respondents had visited a national park area in their lifetime, with one-third of respondents anticipating visiting a park in the coming year. Despite improvements over the last two decades, air quality in many national parks remains unhealthy for sensitive groups on average for two-and-one-half to three weeks per year.

Indeed, despite the decrease in visitation that the authors found during months with poor air quality, an estimated 35 percent of all visitor days occurred when ozone exceeded the 55 ppb “moderate” AQI threshold, and nearly 9 percent of visitor days when ozone levels exceeded 70 ppb. Exposure to these elevated ozone levels has important health implications—visitors have an increased chance of adverse health outcomes, including hospitalization, respiratory symptoms, and mortality for sensitive individuals.

The number of park visits suggests potentially large human health benefits to further air quality improvements at national parks and elsewhere.

Coauthors of the study are from Iowa State and Cornell University.

Source: Iowa State University

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Millennials who cohabit tend to accrue less wealth

People who cohabited had less wealth compared to those who never lived together before marriage, a new study finds. The gap in wealth grew significantly for those who cohabited multiple times.

Money or debt can be a common reason for this decision, but there may be long-term financial implications to cohabitation, according to the research published in the Journal of Financial Planning.

Researchers analyzed data from the 1997 cohort of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, which included individuals born between 1980 and 1984. Of the more than 5,000 millennials (ages 28 to 34) in the cohort—45 percent were married, 18 percent were cohabiting, and 37 percent were unmarried and not living with anyone.

Cassandra Dorius, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, says survey respondents who were single but had previously lived with someone more than once fared the worst.

This graph provides a breakdown of net worth as compared to married couples who never cohabited:

relationship status/net worth chart
(Credit: Iowa State)

“Cohabiting relationships tend to be more short-term and unstable, and you keep starting over every time. That is difficult for wealth generation,” Dorius says.

Why might this be the case?

The data do not explain why the gap exists, but researchers say instability and lack of legal protections likely contribute to the differences in wealth. Dorius says cohabiting relationships tend to be short-term compared to marriage, and if the relationship ends, assets are not split equally as in a divorce.

“We have to embrace the fact that we are not going back to the days when everyone married at a young age and stayed married.”

Sonya Britt-Lutter, lead author and associate professor of personal financial planning at Kansas State University, recommends financial planners ask clients if they are cohabiting in order to advise them on long-term savings and wealth. Britt-Lutter says new client forms only give the option of married, single, divorced, or widowed, without recognizing cohabitation.

“Cohabiters are likely to choose ‘single,’ when in reality the planner should advise them more like ‘married.’ This slight distinction makes a difference because cohabiters are gravitating toward non-financial assets versus longer-term financial asset accumulation,” Britt-Lutter says.

The study does show cohabiting couples are spending money together, but not in the same way as married couples. Rather than buying a house and saving for retirement, cohabiters invest in nonfinancial assets, such as furniture, cars, and boats. Britt-Lutter says treating financial counseling and planning as a regular checkup—similar to going to the doctor or dentist—would help everyone, not just cohabiters.

Time for apartment pre-nups?

Cohabiters may be more inclined to invest and save if there is a formal process to protect those assets, Dorius says. A cohabitation agreement, similar to a prenuptial agreement, is a potential solution. The legal contract would outline how the couple will divide investments and assets if the relationship ends. Given that two-thirds of couples live together before marriage, Dorius says it is an option worth exploring.

Researchers say it is important to consider what will happen in 30 to 40 years when millennials retire. If this trend continues, Dorius says it will put additional strain on programs such as Social Security. That is why change is needed now to educate and help cohabiters accumulate wealth.

“There is no reason why we shouldn’t be forward thinking, acknowledge how cohabitation is affecting wealth and start dealing with it,” Dorius says. “We have to embrace the fact that we are not going back to the days when everyone married at a young age and stayed married. We are in a new world and we need to think about what that means in practical ways.”

Source: Iowa State University

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Big data reveals how corn reacts to stress

A new study describes the genetic pathways at work when corn plants respond to stress brought on by heat. The findings could lead to crops better capable of withstanding stress.

The research, published as a “large-scale biology” paper in the academic journal the Plant Cell, maps the stress response detected by the endoplasmic reticulum, an organelle in cells of corn seedlings.

The research was a multilevel study in which the scientists analyzed massive datasets to account for the expression of tens of thousands of plant genes.

A better understanding of how corn plants cope with stress can help plant breeders engineer crops that can better tolerate and continue to produce under stressful conditions, says senior study author Stephen Howell, a professor of genetics, development, and cell biology at Iowa State University.

The endoplasmic reticulum plays a key role in this stress response, because it is the subcellular location where many proteins are folded. Proteins acquire their function based on the shape in which they’re folded, but stressful conditions such as high heat cause proteins to be misfolded, and misfolded proteins can be toxic to cells.

“Protein folding is a very delicate process that’s easily upset,” Howell says. “We want to understand the mechanisms of the stress response to find ways in which we can intervene to promote survival.”

The researchers applied a chemical to corn seedlings to mimic stressful environmental conditions and then tracked the activity of around 40,000 genes using several high throughput technologies. This is one of the first studies on maize stress to be carried out at this level, says Renu Srivastava, an assistant scientist in the Plant Sciences Institute at Iowa State and a coauthor of the study.

The scientists exposed the plants to persistent stress and found the plants could adapt—at least for a time. However, with persistent stress the cells eventually “give up,” which quickly leads to cell death, Srivastava says.

Higher temps could slash global corn yields

Mapping that transition from cell survival to death could lead the way to methods of prolonging or strengthening stress adaptation, she says.

The research parallels similar work in human health, Howell says. Protein misfolding also occurs in humans and can result in neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Howell says studying protein misfolding in plants may illuminate how other organisms respond under similar circumstances.

The National Science Foundation and the ISU Plant Sciences Institute funded the research.

Scientists at Iowa State, Michigan State University, and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, also contributed to the work.

Source: Iowa State University

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‘Patterns in the noise’ could predict how crops perform

New research identifies clear patterns in how plants react to different environments, which could lead to new ways of predicting crop performance.

The research focuses on flowering time in sorghum, a globally cultivated cereal plant, but the results could have implications for nearly all crops, says Jianming Yu, professor of agronomy and chair in maize breeding at Iowa State University.

“In any environment, if I have this photothermal index, I can use existing performance curves to predict future performance.”

The study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focuses on phenotypic plasticity, or the way plant traits respond to environmental factors.

Yu and his research team gathered data on sorghum plants at sites in Iowa, Kansas, and Puerto Rico between 2010 and 2016. They tracked flowering time, or when and for how long the plants flower, and started looking for patterns in the data.

“We want to step into the plant’s shoes to see how they make the decision for when to flower,” says Xianran Li, adjunct associate professor of agronomy and a co-corresponding author of the study.

The three geographical regions in the study presented a wide range of environmental conditions, and, at first, the data presented no obvious patterns, he says. But when the researchers zeroed in on “photothermal time,” a window of time that’s crucial to a plant’s development when it processes the environmental cues of sunlight and temperature, everything fell into place.

The team developed this environmental index based on photothermal conditions and plant outcomes and established a framework for whole-genome performance prediction and gene discovery. Viewing sorghum flowering time through this photothermal lens allowed distinct patterns to emerge that applied to the plants regardless of growing region.

“Not just the overall performance and its prediction, this represents an elegant framework in which scientists can better understand the intricate dynamics of gene effects, the ups and downs, along this environmental gradient,” Yu says.

“We started seeing patterns in the noise,” says Tingting Guo, postdoctoral research associate and a co-first author of the study. “In any environment, if I have this photothermal index, I can use existing performance curves to predict future performance. It’s a standardized framework for making predictions.”

The team is conducting further research to extend this unified framework to other crops and other traits, such as yield or stress resistance, which could allow farmers and plant breeders to make more accurate predictions about how plants will perform in new environments or in unknown environmental conditions.

This method can also help researchers cope with the unknowns that accompany plasticity, or the way plants with identical genetics perform differently when exposed to different conditions.

Computer model can tell farmers what crops to plant

“This turns that challenge into an opportunity,” Yu says. “It gives us a place to start when making predictions with many unknowns involved.”

Funding for the research came from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, the Kansas State University Center for Sorghum Improvement, the Iowa State Raymond F. Baker Center for Plant Breeding, and the Iowa State Plant Sciences Institute.

Source: Iowa State University

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Team finds hidden state of matter in superconductive alloy

Using the physics equivalent of strobe photography, researchers have used ultrafast spectroscopy to visualize electrons interacting as a hidden state of matter in a superconductive alloy.

It takes intense, single-cycle pulses of photons—flashes—hitting the cooled alloy at terahertz speed—trillions of cycles per second—to switch on this hidden state of matter by modifying quantum interactions down at the atomic and subatomic levels.

“We are creating and controlling a new quantum matter that can’t be achieved by any other means.”

And then it takes a second terahertz light to trigger an ultrafast camera to take images of the state of matter that, when fully understood and tuned, could one day have implications for faster and heat-free quantum computing, information storage, and communication.

The discovery of this new switching scheme and hidden quantum phase was full of conceptual and technical challenges.

To find new, emergent electron states of matter beyond solids, liquids, and gases, today’s condensed matter physicists can no longer fully rely on traditional, slow, thermodynamic tuning methods such as changing temperatures, pressures, chemical compositions, or magnetic fields, says Jigang Wang, professor of physics and astronomy at Iowa State University and a faculty scientist at the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory.

“The grand, open question of what state is hidden underneath superconductivity is universal, but poorly understood,” Wang says. “Some hidden states appear to be inaccessible with any thermodynamic tuning methods.”

The new quantum switching scheme developed by the researchers (they call it terahertz light-quantum-tuning) uses short pulses of trillionths of a second at terahertz frequency to selectively bombard, without heating, superconducting niobium-tin, which at ultracold temperatures can conduct electricity without resistance. The flashes suddenly switch the model compound to a hidden state of matter.

In most cases, exotic states of matter such as the one described in this research paper are unstable and short-lived. In this case, the state of matter is metastable, meaning it doesn’t decay to a stable state for an order of magnitude longer than other, more typical transient states of matter.

The fast speed of the switch to a hidden quantum state likely has something to do with that.

“Here, the quantum quench (change) is so fast, the system is trapped in a strange ‘plateau’ and doesn’t know how to go back,” says Wang, corresponding author of the paper in Nature Materials. “With this fast-quench, yet non-thermal system, there’s no normal place to go.”

A remaining challenge for the researchers is to figure out how to control and further stabilize the hidden state and determine if it is suitable for quantum logic operations, Wang says. That could allow researchers to harness the hidden state for practical functions such as quantum computing and for fundamental tests of bizarre quantum mechanics.

It all starts with the researchers’ discovery of a new quantum switching scheme that gives them access to new and hidden states of matter.

“We are creating and controlling a new quantum matter that can’t be achieved by any other means,” says Wang.

Source: Iowa State University

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How setbacks make us rethink our goals

New research digs into how setbacks affect the pursuit of our goals, such as weight loss.

Setbacks are to be expected when pursuing a goal, whether you’re trying to lose weight or save money. The challenge is getting back on track and not giving up after a difficulty or crisis, says José Rosa, marketing professor in Iowa State University’s Ivy College of Business.

“We know it’s hard to get back on once people take the off ramp.”

Rosa is part of a research team working on practical ways to help people stick to health-related goals—specifically, prescribed regimens for medical ailments that require significant lifestyle changes. The work is personal for Rosa. His diabetic sister nearly died when her blood sugar hit dangerously high levels, and she struggles with poor vision and health, he says.

Staying committed to a long-term health goal is challenging, because it may feel as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel, Rosa says. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds, there is a defined timeframe and a point to celebrate achieving your goal. However, if you are diabetic and need to cut certain foods from your diet or change your daily routine to exercise more, the goal has a different feel, Rosa says.

“These are some of the most difficult goals we face, because the effort has to become a way of life. If you’re a diabetic, you have to be thinking about your diet every time you eat,” Rosa says. “In many ways, it is sacrificial. You must endure this cost and the reward is health.”

Unfortunately, the reward is not immediate and often difficult to realize with certain ailments, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. As we age, other health issues can complicate the outcome of the initial goal and appear as if our efforts aren’t paying off. This makes it harder to stick to the goal, Rosa says, even though we know giving up can have serious consequences.

In the new study, researchers conducted five experiments to understand how crisis influences motivation and commitment to the goal. The researchers found that a setback or difficulty often prompts people to reassess the cost-benefits of their goal and consider quitting.

The experiments simulated a series of situations in which some participants faced an action crisis. They then answered several questions to determine how they would react. Rosa says an action crisis may be related or unrelated to the goal, but it is a point during goal pursuit when circumstances change, causing us to question whether the goal really matters.

Once that questioning begins, we shift our mindset from implementation to evaluation. We renegotiate the importance of the outcomes and may determine it is no longer worth it, Rosa says.

The researchers refer to that decision to quit as “taking the off ramp,” which can snowball into other problems.

“We know it’s hard to get back on once people take the off ramp. This causes some people to feel like failures and stop trying all together. In some situations, the off ramp leads to behaviors that cause another crisis or a significant decline,” he says.

For example, Rosa says a man with high blood pressure stops taking his medication and suffers a heart attack, or a diabetic woman has an insulin reaction causing her to black out and crash her car.

Little treats aren’t a vice. They get us to our goals

Researchers are now using data from the experiments to develop and test interventions for patients on prescribed health regimens. Rosa says the goal is to provide specific instructions for patients to follow and help shift their mindset from renegotiation or evaluation back to implementation.

The potential benefit of such an intervention extends beyond the individual patient, Rosa says. From a marketing perspective, it is an issue of consumption and making health care more effective for patients. Rosa says the right intervention will help patients stay on track, lessening the risk for additional health issues and lowering health care costs.

The results are published online in the journal Psychology & Marketing.

Researchers from Penn State and the University of Wyoming also contributed to the work.

Source: Iowa State University

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How calling video game addiction a disorder will help addicts

The World Health Organization’s classification of video game addiction as a mental health disorder is a significant step toward getting people the help they need, argues Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology at Iowa State University and an expert on video games and addiction.

In a 2011 study published in Pediatrics, Gentile and his colleagues found gaming addiction is comorbid with other mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, social phobias, and ADHD. The study tracked more than 3,000 children over the course of two years.

The findings help answer a question Gentile is often asked—is video game addiction a primary condition, or a symptom of other disorders?

The study found gaming addiction occurs along with other mental health problems and is not just a symptom or simply used as a coping mechanism. While Gentile understands why people ask this question, he cautions against trying to pinpoint a primary issue when it comes to mental health.

In this video, Gentile explains the science behind the WHO decision as well as what parents need to know about the disorder.

Source: Iowa State University

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Tax on medical devices resulted in cuts to R&D

Companies cut funding for research and development in response to a tax imposed on medical devices as part of the Affordable Care Act, according to new research.

Daeyong Lee, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, examines how certain provisions of the federal health care reform law have affected families and firms. His latest paper, published in the journal Research Policy, analyzed the 2.3 percent excise tax imposed on medical devices in 2013. The research shows the tax significantly reduced R&D investment, sales revenue, gross margins, and earnings by the following amounts:

  • R&D expenditures: $34 million
  • Sales revenue: $188 million
  • Gross margins: $375 million
  • Earnings: $68 million

The study, the first to look at the actual cost for manufacturers, found the tax also affected operating and marketing costs, Lee says.

In the paper, Lee explains that the federal government imposed the tax on the medical device industry because it would benefit from expanded health coverage. The tax applied to everything from needles and syringes to coronary stents, defibrillators and irradiation equipment. Certain items including hearing aids, eyeglasses, and contact lenses were exempt. The medical device field is one of the top five R&D intensive industries, and Lee says a decline in investment could have long-term consequences.

“Highly advanced equipment in hospitals is a critical aspect of medical care,” Lee says. “Some devices such as coronary stents require high-research investment. If medical device firms stop or reduce that investment, we won’t have better equipment and devices for complicated surgeries or procedures.”

Lee looked at different scenarios when calculating the tax effect, controlling for economic factors that might affect investment. To limit the tax impact, firms could have increased prices, passing the burden to consumers. Lee says that did not happen, likely because of the market power of large hospitals and clinics. The data for the study are specific to large customers, not individuals.

In response, medical device firms diversified their customer base and increased global market sales, which were exempt from the tax, Lee says. The findings also suggest firms significantly reduced operating costs for selling, general and administrative expenses, but not advertising and labor expenses.

Congress passed an appropriations act in 2015, which included a two-year moratorium on the medical device excise tax. In January, it was extended to 2020, Lee says. Given the study findings, he says the moratorium could provide time to consider other tax options that do not target a single industry. In the paper, Lee suggests policymakers expand the tax base and include other industries, such as health insurance companies, which also have benefited from increased demand as a result of the health care reform act.

“If there is a broader tax base, the negative effects will be reduced,” Lee says. “The government needs to raise revenue to cover the costs of the Affordable Care Act, but there are other ways to do it without harming a research and development intensive industry.”

Source: Iowa State University

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Bird and turtle genomes offer clues to ancient lizardy creature

Scientists have reconstructed the likely genome structure of a common ancestor of birds, turtles, and dinosaurs.

The research, published in Nature Communications, suggests the chromosomal structure, known as a karyotype, in early dinosaurs is similar to that of most present-day birds.

Working backward from the living relatives of dinosaurs can shed light on traits the fossil record can’t illuminate, says Nicole Valenzuela, a professor of ecology, evolution, and organismal biology at Iowa State University and coauthor of the study.

“Some traits can be observed through fossils and some can’t,” Valenzuela says. “The genome structure is one that can’t be preserved, so we have to get creative if we want to figure that out.”

The researchers compared commonalities between birds and turtles in how their chromosomes, or thread-like structures in living cells that contain an organism’s DNA, are organized. Those commonalities likely existed in an ancestor of birds and turtles—a primitive, lizard-like creature that lived roughly 260 million years ago. The dinosaurs sprang from that same evolutionary branch about 20 million years later, meaning they would carry the same karyotype.

That large-scale arrangement of many chromosomes remained intact from that common ancestor over the course of hundreds of millions of years into present-day birds and turtles, which probably means this organization has critical functions for those organisms.

“That conservation, to me, is remarkable,” Valenzuela says. “Things are usually conserved over that scale of time because they’re important.”

Valenzuela joined the research group, which researchers at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom led, because of her experience with turtle genomes. Her previous work focused on temperature-dependent sex determination, or the way fluctuations in temperature during embryonic development influence the sex of some species of turtles, and more recently on the evolution of turtle chromosomes.

Due to the wide variation of traits among turtles, birds, and dinosaurs, Valenzuela says it’s impossible to tell if the similarities in karyotype contribute to any specific feature of any specific species. In fact, it’s possible that more subtle changes to the structure or DNA sequences within chromosomes helps to facilitate the enormous diversity displayed by the animals in the study.

“We need to look deeper to figure out the basis of the traits that make turtles, birds, and dinosaurs so different from each other,” she says.

Source: Iowa State University

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