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Virtual Reality Creates False Memories 193

Posted by samzenpus
from the I'm-sure-I've-saved-the-earth-before dept.
moon_monkey writes "There's an interesting post on NewScientistTech's blog about virtual reality inducing false memories during a recent experiment (pdf). Ann Schlosser at the University of Washington tested students' ability to learn how to use a real digital camera by operating a virtual one. Although those students who used the virtual camera found it easier to remember how the camera worked, they also experienced more 'false memories'. As the post points out, could this be a serious problem for VR going forward?"
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Virtual Reality Creates False Memories

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  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by otacon (445694) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:14AM (#17145158)
    So I didn't really lose my virginity? it was just VR? Damn
  • Simple (Score:2, Insightful)

    by black6host (469985)
    Just design it the way they think it should work. Problem solved.
  • I'm confused (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chineseyes (691744) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:16AM (#17145174)
    Regardless of whether this happened in reality or a virtual reality it still happend so how are the memories false? Or is this just a matter of distinguishing between real and virtual worlds if so then that makes perfect sense because dreams imo are our own virtual reality and I've had some dreams that I couldn't distinguish between reality when I woke up.
    • Re:I'm confused (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:36AM (#17145442)
      so how are the memories false?

      The memories are false because things did not really happen as the test subjects remembered.

      If you have the time and/or inclination, read up on the research of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus. She (and others) have demonstrated that it is trivial to create false memories in people. More importantly, once a false memory has been created, it is otherwise indistinguishable from a real one. That means a person cannot rid themselves of a false memory any more than they can rid themselves of a real memory. The implications of this are significant.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by WeeLad (588414)
        This reminds me of an article that showed up sometime ago (for which I'm too lazy to search). Subjects who had went to Disney World as a child were asked to remember if they met a series of characters while there. The questioners mixed in a non-Disney character, like Bugs Bunny, and a significant number of people claimed to remember meeting the rascally rabbit.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by FingerDemon (638040)
          I think that was a Scientific American article on hypnosis and I thought it only happened when the subjects were hypnotized or in a state of deep concentration. Being in that state caused the memories to be recorded in the brain in an indistinguishable way from the way real memories are stored. It made me wonder about that whole day-care satan worship scandal a few years back.
        • by Intron (870560)
          That article doesn't actually exist. You just imagined it.
        • Re:I'm confused (Score:5, Insightful)

          by AI0867 (868277) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @12:40PM (#17147442)
          In another test, people were given some time to study a picture, it was a crossroads with stop signs. When asked what the colour of the traffic light was, 50% of the people said red, 25% said yellow and 25% said green. All insisted the traffic light was really there.

          In another study, someone showed it was ridiculously easy to alter test subject's childhood memories to include things that could never have happened.

          Human memory is a read-write filesystem, and recalling a memory overwrites it, recalling it with suggestions offered by the outside world can easily alter them.

          --
          Disclaimer: If this post doesn't make any sense, it's because I'm really, REALLY tired...
          • I think in the test you cite, the point is supposed to be that people, when asked the question about the light (there's a similar one, a picture of a car I think, and the subjects are asked what color the barn was... and there was no barn) will ASSUME that there was a light there but they didn't notice it, and don't want to admit it... at least that's what I got out of such tests.
      • Re:I'm confused (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cloricus (691063) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:30AM (#17146200)
        I read TFA and I was thinking this really isn't an issue as it is nothing new. I've heard of the lady you talk of and her research from a shrink friend of mine at uni. I have serious memory issues so this friend and I have spend a lot of time talking over the topic and she often quotes studies where unknowing parties see an event (first hand in front of them) and then when asked about it later (as little as a minute) they are asked to reconstruct the event as accurately as possible. The results in almost all of the instances she has referenced is that very few (and I believe we are talking about a percentage i.e. non existent) people remember what really happened; The rest simply see what they want to see. (Note seeing what they want to see appears, in my opinion, to be based on personal, cultural, and spur of the moment bias.)

        Now as I don't have a reliable memory I have to have a system of storing information in the real world and I often see issues of parity between the real world information that I know to be correct (why would I lie to myself?) and memories which can't possibly exist. Maybe VR will make more people aware of these memory short falls that they've never noticed before (or blamed on alcohol!) though I can't see it causing any more problems than that.
      • That means a person cannot rid themselves of a false memory any more than they can rid themselves of a real memory.

        In a similar vein, people have beliefs that are just as "false". And there you have the basis for most of humanities problems.

        Homo Sapiens brains just don't work right, depending on my definition of right, and you cannot disabuse me of that notion.

      • by jafac (1449)
        We currently don't have the technology to deal with simex erasures. It's unlikely that your old memories can be recovered. . .
      • Re:I'm confused (Score:4, Informative)

        by Saib0t (204692) <{saibot} {at} {hesperia-mud.org}> on Thursday December 07, 2006 @01:04PM (#17147808)
        If you have the time and/or inclination, read up on the research of Dr. Elizabeth Loftus. She (and others) have demonstrated that it is trivial to create false memories in people. More importantly, once a false memory has been created, it is otherwise indistinguishable from a real one. That means a person cannot rid themselves of a false memory any more than they can rid themselves of a real memory. The implications of this are significant.
        Loftus, M.K. Johnson, Marsh, Landau, Hicks, McRae. These guys have worked quite some on false memories. But parent is right, E. Loftus and M.K. Johnson are really interesting to read on these topic. I wouldn't go as far as saying that creating false memories in people is trivial, but some experiments reach upwards of 20% of success in creating false memories in normal people. Problem is, though, that these experiment create extremely simple false memories. It is quite possible, though, to make the difference between a real and false memory. False memories tend to exhibit much less phenomenological characteristics. For instance you can remember very well the sound of a sentence, but not the emotional state you were in when you heard it or in whose company you were at the time or what you thought of the sentence at that time. There has been some work done recently on what these differences. (see Brédart, Defeldre on the topic).
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by kalirion (728907)
      I think the article means that the people working with VR cameras remembered doing more things in VR than they actually did.
      • Re:I'm confused (Score:5, Informative)

        by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@optonli ... inus threevowels> on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:50AM (#17145674) Journal

        But that's not a new problem. It's long been known that eyewitness testimony is highly unreliable, owing to the brains ability to "fill in" details of events with extra information. The classic example is of course the intro Psych course where an unknown assailant kills someone before the whole class, then runs from the room. Ask everyone in the room to describe the assailant and what occurred and you're liable to get as many different stories as there are people. The brain has a way of smoothing over memories and adding in extra bits of information it correlates with experiences to help aid in recall, but this of course leads to degradation of the memory's "truth." THis result should really not come as much of a shock.

        • by kalirion (728907)
          Yes, and the point here is that eyewitness testimony of events that occured in VR is even more unreliable than usual.
        • by somersault (912633) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:46AM (#17146478) Homepage Journal

          The classic example is of course the intro Psych course where an unknown assailant kills someone before the whole class, then runs from the room.

          Wow.. higher education sounds a lot more practical based over in the USA! Do you tend to use vagrants as the 'someone', or just international scholarship students who get promised that the money will go to their families?
        • They had something similar on TV before to show how quickly false memories develop and how big.

          They had brought about 20 people on a tour of some desert area and they bumped into a cop stopping them from going into a certain area.

          They questioned them all about a month later and the stories ranged from Aliens landing to crashed US military jet to a murder.

          Of course my recollection could be false memories too. :)

        • But that's not a new problem. It's long been known that eyewitness testimony is highly unreliable, owing to the brains ability to "fill in" details of events with extra information. The classic example is of course the intro Psych course where an unknown assailant kills someone before the whole class, then runs from the room. Ask everyone in the room to describe the assailant and what occurred and you're liable to get as many different stories as there are people. The brain has a way of smoothing over memor
    • ... except by the way that Virtual reality is "not real". However knowledge is developed internally by building up a mental model of something. This can be done through the use of a variety of modeling techniques, such as illustrations, scale mock ups (such as seen in architecture and military uses), etc. as well as VR.

      Now you do have people who get into trouble by mixing reality and fantasy. Take the 4 year old who scared aware theives by surprising them in his red Power Ranger suit [dailyindia.com].

      The phenomena of mi
    • Yes, one reason I try to avoid realistic dreams is that in retrospect it can be confusing trying to work out whether something happened in the real world or the dream world.

      One time I asked someone if she'd finished with a cassette I'd loaned her. Turned out I hadn't loaned her anything, I'd just had a dream where I had... Sure enough, I checked the rack and the tape was there.
  • by joshetc (955226)
    Doesnt that mean if they make it real virtual reality people will gain true memories? I could see some use with this for educational purposes...
  • EGA memory (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:17AM (#17145184)
    I often confuse my sex life with Leisure Suit Larry's
  • Duh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ari_j (90255) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:17AM (#17145186)
    That's the whole point of virtual reality: be realistic enough to be indistinguishable from reality. The fact that it results in more false memories already is just evidence that we're finally catching up with the goals set for virtual reality decades ago.
    • Re:Duh (Score:4, Informative)

      by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:25AM (#17146126)
      Except this isn't about remembering things that actually happened in VR as "real", its about remembering things that didn't happen at all simply because they were suggested in questioning.
      • by ari_j (90255)
        Exactly. Virtual reality blurs the line between reality and imagination. It can be expected that imaginations become more vivid and insistent through its use, even for imagined things not related to its use.
        • I wonder if its not more direct and less abstract than that: VR experience is shallower than real reality, so its a lot easier for a suggestion to "fit" as a memory of a VR experience, since the shallow impression created by the suggestion won't be as easily distinguishable from the memory of the shallow VR experience as it would be from an experience outside of VR.
  • by puto (533470) * on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:18AM (#17145206) Homepage
    Actually, this has appeared in sci fi books for years, and of course did they forget flight simulators, driving simulators, and the umpteen simulators that simulate reality to learn a task? Those have been creating Virtual memories that translate into skills.

    Did these guys miss the Matrix?

    Even in the movie Total Recall this was beaten to death. And in Do Androids Dream of Elctric Sheep.

    So nothing really new here to see, an idea that is more than 30 years old?

    Anyway, Arnold beat these researchers to it.

    Puto
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ZeroExistenZ (721849)
      There is a slight gap between "reality" and "entertainment".
    • by Jesus_666 (702802)
      Nowhere in Matrix did Neo screw up because he remembered things that happened neither in VR nor in the real world. And that's what "false memories" means: Not that someone remembers something he perceived in the VR but rather that someone remembers something he never perceived.
      • by puto (533470) *
        I was stating anything about false memories, but memories created in virtual reality, and skills are memory based. I was just pointing out that learning skills in a virtual world is nothing new, in theory or reality.

        No where in my post do I state anything about Neo screwing up in the real world from something he learned in VR.

        I am not a huge Matrix fan. It could have been better. I prefer Equilibrium.

        Puto
  • "False memories"? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by daveschroeder (516195) * on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:18AM (#17145208)
    Before anyone thinks this might be an indication that memories can be "implanted", I think this may be jumping to conclusions just a tad.

    The blog post and the preprint make reference to the notion that people who experienced a "virtual" digital camera were more capable with the real thing...but also "remembered" things about it that weren't true, based on questions asked.

    I fail to see how this is "inducing" false memories. Could this possibly be a function of the fact that the simulation isn't 100% accurate, and that "false" "memories" about the item (determined by the number of specific or leading questions that are incorrectly answered) would be reduced as the simulation gets more and more close to, well, reality?

    Besides, I think we could do a study and prove that plenty of people have "false memories" with regard to the actual capabilities of real devices...
    • I was thinking the same thing. For example, if on a history test, if a student answers "In what year did America declare independence from England?" with "1763", does that mean his history class "implanted false memories"? Or did the student ... just forget and/or guess?

      So how do you distinguish getting a false memory from just forgetfulness/confusion?
    • Re:"False memories"? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:35AM (#17145420) Homepage Journal
      Well, I don't actually know what the questions were, because the paper is very poorly written, but I can imagine it was something like:

              Did you find the viewfinder easy to use? Yes. No. N/A.

      The person doing the survey may answer yes or no, ignoring the N/A option, even though there was no viewfinder on the virtual camera. Aha! They must have a false memory of the camera because they expected to see a viewfinder! Wow, how interesting. Or, ya know, they just didn't notice the N/A option because all of the previous questions were straight Yes/No answers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by UbuntuDupe (970646) *
        Or, more likely, they didn't immediately know what was meant by a "viewfinder" and assumed that "the viewfinder" referred to whatever was "finding a view" (i.e., the screen, the hole they looked through to take the picture, etc.). So they could have just force-fitted the term "viewfinder" to whatever they used that was closest in function to "finding a view".

        Cause people assume, you know, surveys aren't trying to test them with trick questions.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)
          Not to mention that companies sometimes call the screen on the back of the camera the "viewfinder" because it's a bit of familiar camera terminology.
      • by dylan_- (1661)
        Or, ya know, they just didn't notice the N/A option because all of the previous questions were straight Yes/No answers.
        Could be, I suppose. Why exactly would the VR group be less likely to notice the N/A option than the "standard instructions" group though?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by kalirion (728907)
      Basically children in VR classrooms will be more susceptible to a psychiatrist helping them "remember" that they were abused by the VR teacher.
    • by tttonyyy (726776)
      Yes, I completely agree.

      The false memories from VR land are probably only there because the possibilities are wider in VR than in real-life. We'd be less inclined to apply the restrictive set of real-life rules we've spent decades learning as we grow up to VR - a new environment with new rules.

      So you could argue that in RL we'd apply restrictive rules to say, the functionality of a camera, but in VR we wouldn't apply the same rules (It can fly! It can turn into a duck!). So if I'm going to imagine that
    • I fail to see how this is "inducing" false memories. Could this possibly be a function of the fact that the simulation isn't 100% accurate, and that "false" "memories" about the item (determined by the number of specific or leading questions that are incorrectly answered) would be reduced as the simulation gets more and more close to, well, reality?

      This may be stating the obvious, but people don't always remember things 100% correctly in actual reality either.

      For instance, my wife swears up and down that sh

    • by Bastian (66383)
      If the person feels they really have learned it, it's considered a false memory because, well, because it's a memory and because it's false.

      This isn't really big cause for concern or big brother fears or anything, though. False memories are completely mundane; everybody has them. They're one of the big reasons why eyewitness testimony is becoming less and less trusted in courts - it turns out that one of the easiest ways to induce false memories is to grill somebody about a situation over and over (like,
  • by Pojut (1027544) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:19AM (#17145228) Homepage
    Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration... that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There's no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we're the imagination of ourselves. Here's Tom with the weather.
  • Gut reaction (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord_Dweomer (648696) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:21AM (#17145238) Homepage
    My gut reaction is to respond to this with a solid NO. If we experience something "virtually" we're still experiencing it. It is a fundamentally different experience from actually operating the camera. Yes, much of the knowledge gained from actually using the device is directly applicable when you are actually holding it, but there is something to be said for the physical hands-on experience.

    Or, perhaps the simplest answer...your students are dumb, they couldn't remember all of the instructions 100% accurately and screwed them up. Upon questioning their stupidity they responded "the computer...it...it gave me false memories! TETSUOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!"

    Something like that.

  • by aliendisaster (1001260) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:21AM (#17145246)
    I'm not a psychologist but, if I remember correctly from my psych classes, memories is a lie. The things we remember now are not the actual events from the past. What we remember is basically pieces of the truth that has gaps filled in by our mind. I don't really see the difference from this and normal memory.
  • Doubtful (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tttonyyy (726776) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:28AM (#17145334) Homepage Journal
    As the post points out, could this be a serious problem for VR going forward?"
    It might only be a problem when applied to subtle differences between VR and real life, like changing the functionality of camera between VR/RL slightly.

    On significant things, like jumping off a ledge and flying; well - we might be able to distinguish between RL and VR in those circumstances.

    In bad-analogy-land, if I was to swap a few keys on your keyboard you might find it confusing for a bit, but if I were to paint it green, you'd probably notice (unless it was already green of course).

    Of course, where you draw the line between subtle and significant is a whole other argument. But I think the human brain does that already to some extent; remembering important things and discarding irrelevant things.

    Serious problem? Doubtful.
  • by paulpach (798828) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:30AM (#17145352)
    As the post points out, could this be a serious problem for VR going forward?
    Quite the opposite. This means that you can make an audience believe the camera is more than it really is without actually lying. This is like striking gold for advertisers. If this proves to be true, it is an incentive for advertisers to invest into VR technology.
  • Dupe! (Score:5, Funny)

    by muellerr1 (868578) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:30AM (#17145354) Homepage
    Or, wait, maybe it's not. I guess can't rightly recall now.
  • This isn't virtual reality at all. It is research of impact of animated/interactive ad and one static ad on a web site. Of course, the animated ad/product presentation can give you extra information which you will remember. If the ad is designed to show/sell more than there really is, you get false memories since you are not interacting with the real thing, only its idealized avatar (we are speaking about marketing, remember - you will not present the bad things ...). Not exactly sky shattering research her
  • by hey! (33014) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @10:39AM (#17145494) Homepage Journal
    "Memory" is a completely inadequate word to cover all the things we use it for, as if our minds were cameras that recorded our experiences on tape. There are sense memories; emotional memories; recognition memories; navigation memories; skill memories; procedure memories; narrative memories; association memories, and probably dozens more. Memory is not just recall, it has a substantial element of re-creation and imagination.

    • My oldest memory is from the day my family moved when I was 3 and the most important part of what I remember from that day is the heavy rain. Unfortunatelly, it was actually a bright sunny day, so I believe it was only the sadness of leaving the only home I knew at that time mixed up with other things, but although I know it is wrong, it is still one of my strongest memories from my childhood.
  • I mean people already have trouble with memories that actually happened or not ALREADY, without virtual reality. Anything that can create a memory or distort it can make our perception of past-events unique and not always what they really seem to be.
  • only between memories from different VR experiences.

    In fact, the study leads me to believe that experiences in reality will produce almost as many false memories as the 'object interactive' VR expereinces

    "Indeed, scholars argue that although learning via physical experience with a product is vivid, it can create an illusory sense of competence (Hoch and Deighton 1989)"

    Here, the 'object interactive' VR experiences create more vivid memories than the 'picture site'.

    "Likewise, Bartlett (1932) argued that reconstructive memory is more likely to occur with rich than simplified materials because in the former case, individuals are more likely to "fill in" the missing pieces of their memories"

    What's more vivid than real experiences? Arguably, because people are less familiar with the VR environment, they might be more prone to produce memories so that their minds can make sense of what occurred

  • by MECC (8478) *
    FTA:The result? Those who used the virtual camera were better at recalling what it could do. But, they also had significantly more false memories about its abilities.

    Newflash: VR can mislead people and give them a false sense of confidence about what they think they know.

  • that I really didn't kill that 30th level troll and I'm not really a half-elf archer with a pet dragon?
  • This is an interesting development, I think it shows a certain level of maturity has finally be gained within the virtual (technology) world. Up until recently (last 5'ish years), the relationship has been mostly one way: The Desktop Metaphor is one of the prime examples of real-world transfer into a virtual one. The digital camera experiment is a good example of a virtual tool being immersive to the point where, in using a real camera, virtual hooks are now present.

    Other good examples of VR transferance
  • No worries (Score:2, Funny)

    by wumpus188 (657540)
    It is usually just a glitch in the matrix.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      sweet, who do I rat out so I can win the lottery and live worry free for the rest of my life?
  • False memories are a consequence of insufficient feedback to the mind. Anyone who ever went into an isolation tank [wikipedia.org] (think Altered States [imdb.com], but without the apemen leaving the tank) will tell you. The mind compensates for excluded experience when it's used to experience being included by creating that experience, often indistinguishable from "real" experience of real reality.

    Feedback is the return loop of interactivity, after the "sensitive" send loop.. VR is usually (some would say theoretically certainly, as
  • by NereusRen (811533) on Thursday December 07, 2006 @11:13AM (#17145976)
    Let's get something straight: This was NOT a test of VR versus reality. One group interacted with a camera in VR, and the other group read about it with some pictures. (I don't have a problem with the study, but rather with bloggers who misinterpret it.)

    As the post points out, could this be a serious problem for VR going forward?
    No. It is going to create a problem for the concept of memories, which have always been volatile and unreliable, but for some reason are perceived as accurate fact-recall centers in our brain. Something has to force people to adjust how they think of "memories," and this suggests it might be VR.

    Research into "flash-bulb" memories (e.g. "I can remember exactly where I was when I heard about the Challenger") has shown that people's confidence in their memory for small details is barely correlated with the amount of detail they actually recall correctly. Elizabeth Loftus's research into eyewitness accounts and false memories have already shown that it is possible to plant even completely false memories with a reasonable success rate, much less small differences in an otherwise real memory like whether a street sign in a video was a stop or a yield, or what specific features a digital camera has.

    from the blog: "It wasn't tested, but I assume real experiences don't generate false memories to the same degree."

    Actually, I would assume the opposite: allowing people to play with a real camera briefly would have the same effect.
  • This is nothing new. They found a few years ago that if a person repeatedly told a story in the first person as if they had done something, after a few years many people would actually believe they had done it. Of course this only works for things that dont contradict other memories and make you querstion it.
  • could this be a serious problem for VR going forward?

    I want to know what marketroid fool started the irritating trend of using "going forward" instead of the perfectly serviceable "in the future" and "from now on". It's not that I'm against new and interesting additions to the language; it's just that "forward" and "backward" have traditionally been used as indications of progress--- e.g. "we will be going forward with our plan to kill half the sales department". Clearly, the use of "going forward" to enc

  • Isn't that what's called "imagination"?
    • by Cytlid (95255)
      I agree 100%. I don't know if the age of the kids in the picture were her test subjects in the experiment but I bet they have wild imaginations.

      For example, give a youngster today a picture of an Atari 2600, claim it's a video game from a long time ago, and ask them what they *think* it can do. This reflects the story on Slashdot from having kids play old video games... they were terribly disappointed.

      Their imagination drove up their expectations. I believe this is nothing more than the same phen
  • Does it really matter whether said "false memories" come from some virtual experience or not? Those memories are a part of the person's global collection of memories and as such probably carry as much weight as any other memories in shaping that person. The emotions attached to memories generated by virtual experiences are just as real as any other emotions. So does it really matter? The line between virtual experiences and physical experiences is blurring at an accelerating pace and soon even "ordinary" pe
    • by geekoid (135745)
      because tour remmembering something that didn't happen.

      Sounds like cyber psychosis waiting to happen.
  • i heard.... (Score:2, Funny)

    by specific (963862)
    When Chuck Norris kills you in VR, you die in real life, & you remember being killed by him in your next life.
  • Adult entertainment is often a driving force in new technology. I don't understand why this is newsworthy or why it's a problem.
    • by Knara (9377)
      While funny, I personally think the likelihood that the pr0n industry will be the first to promote and make use of VR interfaces in a mass-consumer fashion is very high.
  • >>As the post points out, could this be a serious problem for VR going forward?

    I'd love some false memories, if I could control what I'm "remembering." While they're at it, could they erase some real memories?

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