Manual Experimenting with Social Norms: Fairness and Punishment in Cross-Cultural Perspective

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Experimenting with Social Norms: Fairness and Punishment in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Russell Sage Foundation Series on Trust):
Table of contents

If people do not assume that somebody has a constant personality constituted by lasting characteristics, which have to be uncovered to anticipate future actions, the motivation to explain causal connections between personal attributes and behaviors might be lower. To explain behavior by circumstances opens up a wide spectrum of possibilities which participants did not discuss for fictive scenarios but connected to the specificities of well-known social situations.

The main goal of Part 2 was a to investigate further what defines and maintains relationships between people, especially kin e. In order to evoke such evaluative responses, we crafted two fictive scenarios, one involving incest and one patricide, which are likely to be areas of strong moral feelings and evaluations. In the course of this study, however, it became clear that the intense discussion on the first scenario would take too much time to follow this up with a second round. This section is therefore confined to the incest scenario. The task focused on one target scenario revolving around incest prohibition in several versions with changing types of kin, each followed ideally by a set of 10 questions.

The basic scenario described a situation in which close relatives of opposite sex feel attracted, have intercourse and have a child together. The first version featured a mother and her son:. He grew up as a son of the family. He never learned anything about the family into which he had been born. One day, when he was grown up, he came to his birth village.

Here, he happened to meet his still young mother, who was a widow. The two fell in love, she got pregnant and they had a child. People found out that they were related. There were many heated discussions about what had happened and everybody started talking about it. What do you think people said? The second version exchanged sister for mother and was not read out in its entirety, but was just repeated with the main information staying the same.

I Moral evaluations and their sharedness. Are they equally so? If so why? II Essentialist notions of persons and their relations. Would it be possible to recognize relatives you have never met before? Would they have intuitively felt that they are related? III Practical consequences of moral evaluations. In each section, participants sometimes gave no answer or answered earlier questions, when confronted with a new question and vice versa; this is discussed below. It was planned to read all scenarios and variations of them in the same order to each participant, each followed by the same series of questions.


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It turned out, however, that only the first version of the first scenario could be read in its original version. A second reading with variations i. For example, participants grew impatient when asked to listen to the same initial sentences again as the ethnographer tried to test the variations in kin relations. Accordingly, she changed the procedure for the second round and only asked informally how the participant would react if the protagonists were related differently. The first scenario was read to all participants, and the first question was always the same for all participants.

The following questions had to be modified, simplified, and adjusted to the conversation for reasons discussed below. However, the gist of the questions remained the same; they were only less differentiated and repetitive. For example, it did not make sense to differentiate between the general gossip and what close relatives said, so that the second part of the first question was left out. The first question Qu. Four emphasized that other Wampar would get angry because it is his real mother, two participants blamed the woman or said other Wampar would blame her , that she should have found out more about the man before having sexual relations with him.

While these types of responses mainly expressed a negative evaluation, four were concerned with practical implications instead; three of these assumed people would say the couple should marry, one they should separate although a separation would raise the question of who looks after the woman and her child 8. A woman described different opinions, including indifference about social behavior of others, which she blamed on social change and the loss of the values associated with generalized reciprocity.

The answers show that attitudes are diverse and changing among Wampar: participants consider a wide range of conditions for the described behaviors and are reflexive about the diversity of possible moral evaluations. Because the narrative provoked immediate evaluative responses many seemed to find it difficult to change perspective to report what they thought others would have said.

One example shows that the interpretation of answers needs to be understood in terms of the particulars of the everyday life. They should marry. He must have come back to the village with lots of money. The question how the couple felt about what other people said Qu. We also wanted to probe how participants conceptualize the relatedness between mother and child and asked if the two could have known that they were related Qu.

Two respondents explained that the mother should have felt it because of her love for the child. TABLE 4. Responses on essentialist notions of persons and their relations cluster II. To find out how belonging creates similarity or difference, and changes the quality of relations, we asked if the boy might have become like his foster family Qu. The next question focused on the child of the incestuous relationship and what characteristics it might have Qu.

Answers to this question showed the highest agreement between participants 9. In respect to how the baby should grow up Qu. Seven of the participants said it should stay with the parents or the mother, while three thought it would be better to send it away, at least until it became an adult. On the other hand, only one of the participants thought the couple should remain together Q. TABLE 5. Responses on practical consequences of moral evaluations cluster III. The variation featuring a brother and his sister as incestuous partners X2 provoked interesting responses, with an increased number of participants ready to emphasize their relatedness by blood.

Two participants rated the case as bad as that in the first story, while three said it is much worse than incest between mother and son. The general evaluation of the events described in the scenario assessed with the first cluster of questions was unanimously negative. With regard to the involved persons, however, the moral evaluations diverged. Half blamed the couple some more specifically the woman , while the other half said that the couple was not responsible because they did not know the truth.

Notably, many participants shifted focus from why this happened to practical solutions for the outcome, and some refused to make any attributions whatsoever. In terms of attribution theory, the first two types of responses reflect distinct tendencies: one the tendency to personally blame the actors involved, and the other the tendency to consider mitigating circumstances such as lack of knowledge.

This raises an important question: are reasons and causes for behavior really necessary to plotting the personal and political consequences of those behaviors? Most of the participants took a very pragmatic line of arguing in that they seemed to be not very interested in the question why something happened the attraction, the reasons for the confusion etc.

How should the community deal with deviant behavior?

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And how should relatives handle the results and outcomes? Barker, , but this pragmatism does not need to displace considerations of morality. One has to understand the socio-cultural context of pragmatism, as Read described in one of the first studies of morality in PNG, specifying that their pragmatism is given shape in specific cultural conceptions of the person and thus may vary according to the relationship in play Barker, , p.

As in Part 1, the results of Part 2 indicate changes in the morality of kinship among the Wampar, but they also underline the difficulty of controlling the social setting well-enough to investigate cognitive responses formally reproducibly and effectively.

Experimenting with Social Norms: Fairness and Punishment in Cross-Cultural Perspective

Most respondents were influenced strongly by known cases in their social world. The question of kin relations was answered in many different ways. Wampar ideas about the transmission of physical, mental, and moral qualities from parents to children are vague. However, most of them add that many exceptions exist and that nobody is really sure how corporeal inheritance works. Some ideas may still be based on Wampar conception theories that Fischer , p. The relationship between father and child is hence more important for descent than that between mother and child.

The child receives his or her own blood wi only from the father, but an emotional and bodily bond the child is formed in the uterus between mother and child — developed through the uterus wawang during pregnancy — is also thought of as important. This theory is used in pragmatic ways, with little regard for coherence of doctrine, particularly when it comes to interpreting the belonging of children of interethnic marriages Beer, ; Bacalzo, Most participants reasoned that an incestuous relationship between siblings would be much worse than one between mother and son who, on Wampar views, do not share blood even though the relationship remains forbidden, because she has carried and given birth to him.

Some tendencies in the evaluations of behavior and reasoning processes behind it are worth mentioning. Aspects of family values and gender relations have been articulated in several statements: if one of the partners is to be blamed, it is the woman and not her son. She should have inquired about his background before beginning a relationship, and it was assumed that she would be more likely to feel that this is her child, because of a special bond between mother and child.

This also resonates with pragmatic problems Wampar emphasized: who would look after her and the child? And how are the child and his parents placed in the kinship system?

Roots of Human Sociality: Phase II

The degree of sharedness of evaluations of relations and sociality among Wampar is another important aspect. Even from a small number of interviews the dimensions of sociocultural change and its consequences have become obvious in the diversity of answers from participants and their reflections on this period of social transformation. The need to combine the controlled experiments commonly used in psychology and the interpretive ethnographic research central to anthropology has also been underlined Beller et al.

Yet doing so is not easy, especially in the absence of details concerning the practical problems, theoretical traps, and misunderstandings that can emerge in cross-cultural settings. Here, we address problems arising from such cross-disciplinary, ethnographic work, some of which are similar to those experienced in economic experimental games such as the ultimatum, dictator, or third-party-punishing game Tracer et al.

The local conditions to test our planned study on sociality and causality among the Wampar were ideal. The village people are used to having ethnographers who stay for long periods, and ask many different kinds of questions. For instance, the ethnographer had conducted some cognitive tasks on smells during earlier fieldwork Beer, , which people found entertaining. Many Wampar enjoy doing specific tasks with some interesting material such as samples of smells, colors, or pictures and stories. Some even seem to favor them compared to more general interviews. So, the motivation was good, trust no issue, and nobody approached by the ethnographer refused to answer questions.

And still, several different kinds of problems arose. For the subsequent discussion, we tentatively sorted them into three clusters: issues with the practicability of task design and execution, issues with data interpretation , and issues revolving around validity. It was difficult to get Wampar to sit down and talk alone ; furthermore, after a few individuals had completed the tasks, it was equally difficulty to find people who had not yet discussed the scenarios extensively with other members of the community.

The whole point of routine interaction within the settlement — including with an anthropologist — is for many Wampar precisely the enjoyment of togetherness and casual conversation. Eventually, in the cases documented above, it was possible to create a situation in which only one person was present at least for some time , listened to the scenarios and answered the questions, although this in itself is already a deviation from naturalistic situations. In several cases children listened or people joined for some time and left again.

To prevent participants from sharing information and their interpretations after the tasks was impossible: the main value of learning something others have not is exactly in talking about it and sharing the knowledge. So it is likely that some interpretations and ideas about why the ethnographer was interested in helping, deception, and incest would have circulated already and influenced later answers participants gave.

One option for dealing with this problem might be to consider collective sessions as a richer source of relevant discussions and results and one that might generate more interest and commitment to begin with. However, while this might be a better strategy for grasping local understandings in the pilot phase, it would exacerbate difficulties in data analysis and interpretation within and between cultures were it used for the main study.

Given the comparatively small population size, such collective sessions would severely affect sample size — even more so when different versions of the same story had to be discussed with different people or groups of people between-subjects. For cognitive psychologists in lab settings, employing tasks like the one used here presents almost no practical issues, even if it takes considerably longer than an hour.

When working with the Wampar, however, it became clear that participants could not, or did not want to, concentrate for longer than maximal 30 min. This was particularly obvious in Part 2, where respondents began to confuse persons in the scenario about incest e. This difficulty points toward the more general challenge of how to design tasks in a manner that they appeal to and hold the attention of the people with whom we work.

It may turn out that the abstract examples, and perhaps the set of questions used to structure conversation, did not scaffold the kind of engagement we hoped it would. As ethnographic knowledge is not sufficient, in and of itself, to predict which aspects of a task would be appealing to people, pretesting remains essential — and that implies pretesting in every single cultural context in which the study is to be conducted. Related to the problem of task duration is the problem of similarities across task variants, especially when, as in the versions of our scenarios, they were planned simply to substitute one pair of kin with another, or aimed at being more or less explicit with some aspects.

They became impatient and the use of otherwise entertaining stories became a chore. Bolyanatz , p. This makes controlling specific variables quite difficult, especially when the obvious solution to this problem, namely a between-subject design, is not feasible due to population size. More fundamental than the practical problems are concerns with the understanding of the situation and the way the answers match the questions.

Attempts to figure out what the researcher has in mind is generally an issue, and perhaps even more so with psychological experiments—where participants expect concealed purposes—than in fieldwork situation once a relationship of trust has been established. But the unfamiliar interaction still requires reconstruction of a common ground for the conversation to be sensible, and this may interfere with the intention of the task e. An example that looks simple, prima facie , but turns out to be rather complicated, revolves around the pragmatics of responses.

Other examples could be given. This is generally the case in studies of the attribution of motives and causal reasoning about social interactions. In many cases participants answered, but did not switch perspective; instead they repeated their own opinions and expanded on them. This was not always explicated in their answers, but an impression created in the interviewer, thus highlighting how difficult it can be to assess whether participants actually try to change perspective. When asked about gossip in the incest scenario, for example, many participants continued to think and talk about their own evaluations rather than giving opinions of fellow villagers.

Participants often referred to their own life-world and personal situation rather than to the scenarios we presented. In a face-to-face community, the micro-politics of relations can rarely be entirely set aside. Some participants added ideas to the scenarios, which they found important, but which made it difficult to compare them to other answers.

For example in the scenario on the incest taboo they speculated on whether the boy earned a lot of money in town. Cole and Scribner , in their study of syllogistic reasoning among non-literate Kpelle of rural Liberia, report that participants were reluctant to stay within problem boundaries: they altered the conditions of the problem to be solved or added personal experiences in order to come to a conclusion. Laypeople in literate societies are also reported to resort to such elaborations when faced with intricate problems, as Henle reports of American students working to evaluate the adequacy of various syllogistic forms.

Cole and Scribner , p. How do they encode the information presented to them? What transformations does the information undergo, and what factors control these? One informant referred in his answer explicitly to kastom tradition, culture saying the child would be bad. Two other participants responded that they could not and did not know, a definite enough statement, but one that left it unclear whether they thought that the information necessary was omitted from the narrative, or that information about how the moral development of a child will proceed is in principle unobtainable.

With a greater number of participants we would face even more of these different interpretive frameworks for interpreting their responses. These are particulars and this issue raises questions about the relationship between psychological universals and particular cultural contexts. Aspects of family values and gender relations have been articulated in several statements: if one of the partners is to be blamed, it is the woman and not her son. She should have inquired about his background before beginning a relationship, and it was assumed that she would be more likely to feel that this is her child, because of a special bond between mother and child.

This also resonates with pragmatic problems Wampar emphasized: who would look after her and the child? And how are the child and his parents placed in the kinship system? The degree of sharedness of evaluations of relations and sociality among Wampar is another important aspect. Even from a small number of interviews the dimensions of sociocultural change and its consequences have become obvious in the diversity of answers from participants and their reflections on this period of social transformation. The need to combine the controlled experiments commonly used in psychology and the interpretive ethnographic research central to anthropology has also been underlined Beller et al.

Yet doing so is not easy, especially in the absence of details concerning the practical problems, theoretical traps, and misunderstandings that can emerge in cross-cultural settings. Here, we address problems arising from such cross-disciplinary, ethnographic work, some of which are similar to those experienced in economic experimental games such as the ultimatum, dictator, or third-party-punishing game Tracer et al. The local conditions to test our planned study on sociality and causality among the Wampar were ideal. The village people are used to having ethnographers who stay for long periods, and ask many different kinds of questions.

For instance, the ethnographer had conducted some cognitive tasks on smells during earlier fieldwork Beer, , which people found entertaining. Many Wampar enjoy doing specific tasks with some interesting material such as samples of smells, colors, or pictures and stories. Some even seem to favor them compared to more general interviews.

So, the motivation was good, trust no issue, and nobody approached by the ethnographer refused to answer questions. And still, several different kinds of problems arose.

For the subsequent discussion, we tentatively sorted them into three clusters: issues with the practicability of task design and execution, issues with data interpretation , and issues revolving around validity. It was difficult to get Wampar to sit down and talk alone ; furthermore, after a few individuals had completed the tasks, it was equally difficulty to find people who had not yet discussed the scenarios extensively with other members of the community. The whole point of routine interaction within the settlement — including with an anthropologist — is for many Wampar precisely the enjoyment of togetherness and casual conversation.

Eventually, in the cases documented above, it was possible to create a situation in which only one person was present at least for some time , listened to the scenarios and answered the questions, although this in itself is already a deviation from naturalistic situations. In several cases children listened or people joined for some time and left again. To prevent participants from sharing information and their interpretations after the tasks was impossible: the main value of learning something others have not is exactly in talking about it and sharing the knowledge.

So it is likely that some interpretations and ideas about why the ethnographer was interested in helping, deception, and incest would have circulated already and influenced later answers participants gave. One option for dealing with this problem might be to consider collective sessions as a richer source of relevant discussions and results and one that might generate more interest and commitment to begin with.

However, while this might be a better strategy for grasping local understandings in the pilot phase, it would exacerbate difficulties in data analysis and interpretation within and between cultures were it used for the main study. Given the comparatively small population size, such collective sessions would severely affect sample size — even more so when different versions of the same story had to be discussed with different people or groups of people between-subjects.

For cognitive psychologists in lab settings, employing tasks like the one used here presents almost no practical issues, even if it takes considerably longer than an hour. When working with the Wampar, however, it became clear that participants could not, or did not want to, concentrate for longer than maximal 30 min. This was particularly obvious in Part 2, where respondents began to confuse persons in the scenario about incest e. This difficulty points toward the more general challenge of how to design tasks in a manner that they appeal to and hold the attention of the people with whom we work.

It may turn out that the abstract examples, and perhaps the set of questions used to structure conversation, did not scaffold the kind of engagement we hoped it would. As ethnographic knowledge is not sufficient, in and of itself, to predict which aspects of a task would be appealing to people, pretesting remains essential — and that implies pretesting in every single cultural context in which the study is to be conducted. Related to the problem of task duration is the problem of similarities across task variants, especially when, as in the versions of our scenarios, they were planned simply to substitute one pair of kin with another, or aimed at being more or less explicit with some aspects.

They became impatient and the use of otherwise entertaining stories became a chore. Bolyanatz , p. This makes controlling specific variables quite difficult, especially when the obvious solution to this problem, namely a between-subject design, is not feasible due to population size. More fundamental than the practical problems are concerns with the understanding of the situation and the way the answers match the questions. Attempts to figure out what the researcher has in mind is generally an issue, and perhaps even more so with psychological experiments—where participants expect concealed purposes—than in fieldwork situation once a relationship of trust has been established.

But the unfamiliar interaction still requires reconstruction of a common ground for the conversation to be sensible, and this may interfere with the intention of the task e. An example that looks simple, prima facie , but turns out to be rather complicated, revolves around the pragmatics of responses. Other examples could be given. This is generally the case in studies of the attribution of motives and causal reasoning about social interactions. In many cases participants answered, but did not switch perspective; instead they repeated their own opinions and expanded on them.

This was not always explicated in their answers, but an impression created in the interviewer, thus highlighting how difficult it can be to assess whether participants actually try to change perspective. When asked about gossip in the incest scenario, for example, many participants continued to think and talk about their own evaluations rather than giving opinions of fellow villagers. Participants often referred to their own life-world and personal situation rather than to the scenarios we presented.

In a face-to-face community, the micro-politics of relations can rarely be entirely set aside. Some participants added ideas to the scenarios, which they found important, but which made it difficult to compare them to other answers. For example in the scenario on the incest taboo they speculated on whether the boy earned a lot of money in town. Cole and Scribner , in their study of syllogistic reasoning among non-literate Kpelle of rural Liberia, report that participants were reluctant to stay within problem boundaries: they altered the conditions of the problem to be solved or added personal experiences in order to come to a conclusion.

Laypeople in literate societies are also reported to resort to such elaborations when faced with intricate problems, as Henle reports of American students working to evaluate the adequacy of various syllogistic forms. Cole and Scribner , p. How do they encode the information presented to them? What transformations does the information undergo, and what factors control these?

One informant referred in his answer explicitly to kastom tradition, culture saying the child would be bad. Two other participants responded that they could not and did not know, a definite enough statement, but one that left it unclear whether they thought that the information necessary was omitted from the narrative, or that information about how the moral development of a child will proceed is in principle unobtainable.

With a greater number of participants we would face even more of these different interpretive frameworks for interpreting their responses. These are particulars and this issue raises questions about the relationship between psychological universals and particular cultural contexts. Cross-cultural research, even when anthropologically informed, is an intricate enterprise. In a challenging paper, Medin et al. If one takes, for instance, a standard psychological task on causal reasoning as the phenomenon of interest, the problem with applying this for cross-cultural research is that this task will have been specifically tailored to bring about a particular effect in the cultural context typically a WEIRD context , for which it was developed.

As a necessary consequence reasons for which include, among others, regression toward the mean , the same task is unlikely to produce similar results in other cultural contexts Medin et al. The antidote recommended by Medin et al. With the approach taken for the current study, this was exactly what was strived for. In order to investigate how people understand and account for the behavior of others conditional upon their relationships, the point of departure was not a specific, well-established task from psychological research, but a set of ethnographically informed considerations on what the group under study may be willing to talk about.

Yet difficulties remain. The most obvious is to figure out how the task should be modified in a way that the Wampar will enjoy, and that would facilitate the type of responses that in turn will help us to answer the questions we have. Some of the experiences reported herein suggest fruitful directions e. In this context, we wish to explicitly acknowledge a suggestion made by one of our reviewers. A significant contribution by the ethnographer is thus to illuminate what the participants will be drawn to, what materials are familiar yet multiply interpretable, and what specific ways to representing social life are relevant to the queries at hand.

In other words, relationality, historicity, and contextuality need to be accepted as fundamental to any human intention and action see also Medin et al. However, as the same conditions should be granted to each participant from every cultural group included in the comparison, the most fundamental challenge will be to create comparable conditions without holding details of the tasks and of the testing context constant.

In our own study, we tried to investigate how Wampar people draw inferences about social interactions. The prime goal of our study was thus not to understand allegedly universal processes in causal inferences about social interactions helping, deceiving, sexual relations to be then able to explain causal cognition in general, but to understand the cognitive processes underlying causal inferences in their sociocultural contexts and embedded in social relations.

However, Laidlaw also stresses that — while basic universal processes cannot explain complex behavior — their understanding is still an important pre-condition for good general understandings of behavior. In this line, we propose that it is indispensable to try to solve the problems arising when different theoretical and methodical traditions raise meaningful questions and attempt to answer them for a compelling discussion of both the complications and the inevitability of cross-disciplinary collaboration, see also Bloch, Cognitive science needs anthropology in order to substantiate any claims for the universality of cognitive processes e.

Cross-cultural comparisons and the adjustment of research strategies and methods to the social and cultural environments of non-WEIRD populations are essential to achieve this goal.

http://airtec.gr/images/como/ This paper exemplifies this with the description of difficulties encountered in the process of making a cross-cultural experiment relevant and reproducible in different cultural contexts. As Cole , p. While the necessities of long-term fieldwork, interdisciplinary processes of developing a methodology and careful cross-cultural testing of methods contradict the political economy of research funding and the academic market, rising to this challenge is the only promising way for real progress in this field.

BB collected and analyzed the data; AB assisted in the analysis. BB and AB wrote the paper. The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest. The research group provided a very stimulating environment and forum for discussions of methodological problems in empirical research on causality in social interactions. Astuti, R. Anthropologists as cognitive scientists. Bacalzo, D. Transformations in kinship, land rights and social boundaries among the Wampar in Papua New Guinea and the generative agency of children of interethnic marriages.


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Childhood 19, — Barker, J. Barker Burlington: Ashgate , 1— Google Scholar. Barrett, C.

Original Research ARTICLE

Should the study of Homo sapiens be part of cognitive science? Baumard, N. Weird people, yes, but also weird experiments. Commentary on: J. Henrich, S. Heine, A. The weirdest people in the world? Brain Sci. Beer, B. Stonhet and Yelotop: body images, physical markers and definitions of ethnic boundaries in Papua New Guinea. Forum 16, — Boholano olfaction. Odor terms, categories, and discourses. Senses Soc. Social reproduction and ethnic boundaries: marriage patterns through time and space among the Wampar, Papua New Guinea.

Sociologus 65, 1— Beller, S. Should anthropology be part of cognitive science? Conditional promises and threats in Germany, China, and Tonga: cognition and emotion. Bender, A. Causal asymmetry across cultures: assigning causal roles in symmetric physical settings. Anthropology in cognitive science.

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Anger elicitation in Tonga and Germany: the impact of culture on cognitive determinants of emotions. Anger and rank in Tonga and Germany: cognition, emotion, and context. Ethos 35, — Bloch, M. Anthropology and the Cognitive Challenge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bolyanatz, A. Ensminger and J. Choi, I. Causal attribution across cultures: variation and universality. Cole, M. Culture and Thought. A Psychological Introduction. Danziger, E. Intersubjectivity across languages and cultures. Fischer, H. Berlin: Reimer.

Frey, D. Witte and J. Davis Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum , — Gelman, S. The Essential Child. Origins of Essentialism in Everday Thought. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:pal:easeco:vyid See general information about how to correct material in RePEc. For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Sonal Shukla or Mallaigh Nolan.

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