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A Shopping-Scanner Darkly 107

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the instant-feedback-marketing dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Using functional MRI scans, researchers have found which parts of the brain are active when people consider buying something and can predict whether or not they'll ultimately bite. One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash."
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A Shopping-Scanner Darkly

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  • neuromarketing anybody?
  • Yeah, but (Score:4, Funny)

    by jhines (82154) <john@jhines.org> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:56PM (#17448974) Homepage
    It is really going to be hard to fit the MRI machine in the line at the supermarket.
    • by Jesrad (716567)
      What for ?

      Seriously, all this manages to do is determine whether the person is about to buy or not. In other words, it replicates the functionality of the shop itself.
      • Re:Yeah, but (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Hijacked Public (999535) * on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @05:05PM (#17450168)
        Advertisers and retail consultants of all sorts have a tremendous hunger for information. Anything they can measure might give them an advantage over their competition and the lengths they will go to are determined only by the competitiveness of the market they are in.

        I do a fair amount of product photography. I sometimes sit in meetings where advertising and marketing people will go over my photos to pick the ones they want to use. The bulk of what they base their decisions on is how a particular shot makes them 'feel'. That and a whole host of boring antocedotes about how many seconds X type of person will spend making a buying decision about Y product and what factors will weight most heavily in determining the purchase. Some of the things they claim to know amaze me, that anyone would bother to study them.

        What I've learned from all this is that every single aspect of any large chain store you visit will be the way it is because of some study (and sometimes by some vendor paying for a better position for their product). The color of the walls, the floor, the lighting. The way items are arranged on the shelf. The position of the packages. Their height above the floor. The quantity of each item and the selection within a category. The graphics on the package. The music playing overhead. The uniforms on the employees. The presence or absence of employees in a particular area. The relative position of competing products, of complementary products. The arrangement of departments throughout the store. The ease of ingress or egress in the parking lot. The lighting in the parking lot. The type of front doors. Signage. Leaflets. Whizzing spinning blinking lights to alert you the something wonderful is about to happen, some item will be deeply discounted.

        Absolutely everything about every visit to every national level retailer will have been picked over in meetings both by the marketing department of the store you are in and by the marketing department of the product in that store.
      • by delinear (991444)
        Well, it seems a lot of people are missing the point that this tells us why people buy, not just whether they will buy. Although the idea of an MRI at a checkout is a bit of silly fun, it's interesting (if true) that people's choices are really based on pleasure of buying/pain of spending rather than pleasure of buying/delayed gratification of buying elsewhere. A lot of stores make a big play of loyalty card schemes and competitive pricing, but this seems to suggest that people are prepared to forget the fa
    • Profit? (Score:4, Funny)

      by Aqua_boy17 (962670) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @05:01PM (#17450104)
      Not only that, you're going to zap every credit and debit card within an appreciable radius and I'm thinking you'll know pretty quickly if the guy in line next to you has a pacemaker or any other metallic implants.

      OTOH, a lot of jewelry and loose change is going to fly to the center of the machine when you fire it up in the checkout line, so that may offset your costs somewhat.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by venicebeach (702856)
      That's why you have to bring the supermarket into the MRI.

      What's cool about this study is that people were making decisions to buy with real money. They actually received the products they chose, for a price. fMRI studies, like much of cognitive science, often gravitates towards abstracted situations so that they can be tightly controlled. What's exciting is that now we are moving more towards scanning real-life situations.
  • rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash.

    "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stomping on a human's wallet -- forever."
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      If stores want a better hold of a customer's wallet, shouldn't they perhaps focus a little less on the actual putting of items in baskets, and suchlike, and a little more focus on the actual forking over of cash?

      If they manage to somehow make that experience easier for customers, perhaps they will find themselves more inclined to fork cash over to their stores rather than their rival's.
      • Home Depot (Score:4, Funny)

        by User 956 (568564) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @07:41PM (#17452106) Homepage
        shouldn't they perhaps focus a little less on the actual putting of items in baskets, and suchlike, and a little more focus on the actual forking over of cash?

        Yeah, Home Depot's got that one nailed with their "self-checkout" debacle. They make you focus on the forking-over-of-cash so hard that it makes you want to leave your pile of crap at the register and go shop somewhere else.
        • by nasch (598556)
          Yeah, Home Depot's got that one nailed with their "self-checkout" debacle. They make you focus on the forking-over-of-cash so hard that it makes you want to leave your pile of crap at the register and go shop somewhere else.
          Because... you don't think about the money you're spending when there's a cashier involved?
      • RFID credit cards (the ones you see advertised on tv with the marathon runner stoppping for a drink) seem to fill this need. You just touch your plastic card to the machine -- not even signing (less feeling of commitment!!) -- and go. Not only have you placed the payment on a card that you will only pay off at a later date (thus delaying the pain of payment), the physical action of payment doesn't really give time to reflect either.
  • In other words.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by StressGuy (472374) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:59PM (#17449022)
    From the Article:

    "One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash."

    So, in short, they are considering if the item is worth the asking price? That actually sounds a lot like a rational thought process to me.
    • by vokyvsd (979677)
      No, they're showing that shoppers are considering the loss of money - the thing they have in their hand - rather than the loss of purchasing power - something that really exists only in the abstract.

      I seem to remember several months/years ago someone linked this to humanity's ancient roots as hunter-gatherers - when we were out scrounging up food, we had to think quickly and decisively and make immediate choices based only on what data were directly in front of us. Today, shopping presents enough of the ri
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        I seem to remember several months/years ago someone linked this to humanity's ancient roots as hunter-gatherers - when we were out scrounging up food, we had to think quickly and decisively and make immediate choices based only on what data were directly in front of us. Today, shopping presents enough of the right stimuli to re-activate this portion of the brain that circumnavigates costly (processing-time-wise) long-term thinking and instead makes quick, short-sighted decisions. Hence impulse buying from otherwise rational people. Does anyone remember this article? Or am I just making it up?

        Are you telling me that my desire to walk into the local electronics superstore and purchase one of those flat, wide-screen TV's with the really cool mirrors is actually based on an evolutionary, instinctual if you will, response passed along through the genetic roots received from my ancestors developed during their hunter-gatherer days and not based on the commercials that have been airing with the kid out in the middle of the field with the rainbow coming out of her hand?

        • by Artifakt (700173)
          "Are you telling me that my desire to walk into the local electronics superstore and purchase one of those flat, wide-screen TV's with the really cool mirrors is actually based on an evolutionary, instinctual if you will, response passed along through the genetic roots received from my ancestors developed during their hunter-gatherer days and not based on the commercials that have been airing with the kid out in the middle of the field with the rainbow coming out of her hand?"

          There may well be an evolutiona
    • >> So, in short, they are considering if the item is worth the asking price? That actually sounds a lot like a rational thought process to me.

      It seems as if they ignored the fact that people value money directly, rather
      than having to translate it into items that the money could be used to buy at some
      later date for the sake of comparison. I conciously debate between the pleasure of
      ownership vs. the pain of parting with the cash all the time, and I didn't need an MRI
      to tell me that!

      On a related note, th
    • by siwelwerd (869956)
      I'd also think that the more gratification you could get later would make it more painful to fork over the cash for something else now. Doesn't seem to me that their two comparisons are unrelated at all.
  • Conspiracy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cheftw (996831) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @03:59PM (#17449034)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by CRCulver (715279)
      Who modded this off-topic? The title is indeed a clear reference to Philip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly [amazon.com] . As Dick was possibly schizophrenic and much of his work was about human perception and possible alternative functionings of the brain, it makes sense. The parent should've been modded up as informative.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:01PM (#17449052)
    Did I miss it? What's next... Slashdot story on immigration visas titled "Minority Import"?
    • by hal2814 (725639) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @05:01PM (#17450090)
      Other upcoming stories:

      The Wiiplayers of Titan - A precog and a telepath attempt to figure out the supply chain so they can get their hands on a Wii.

      We Can Build You a Border Fence - A robotic Abraham Lincoln gets tired of the immigration debate and builds the border fence himself.

      Udik - A story on Jack Thompson and his video game crusade.

      The Three Video Game Consoles of Paler Eldritch - An indepth comparison of the Wii, PS3, and XBox 360.

      Wal-Mart Can Remember it for You Wholesale - A short piece on Wal-Mart's new vacation package sales plan.
      • by mobby_6kl (668092)
        OK, I see where this thread is going.

        I Hope I Shall Upgrade Soon - A lame blogspam about Apple fanboys whining that they can't upgrading a Mac with an officially unsupported processor.

        The Man in the Low-High Byte Order - A detailed technical article discussing the differences of standard byte orders in different architectures, and the challenges it presents when communicating across such devices.

        Solar Storm Lottery - Alarmist story about a possible solar storm which could endanger Earth.

        Beyond Lies the Web
    • by syousef (465911)
      Dick day is every day on /.
    • by mobby_6kl (668092)
      It probably is... somebody get this [slashdot.org] guy a Hallmark card or something.
  • Well...duh. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by O'Laochdha (962474) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:01PM (#17449056) Journal
    I mean, when you're considering whether to buy something out of the ordinary, do you think "but I could spend this money on something else!" No, you think "but I'll have less/no pocket money left..." Maybe then the other things come to mind, but the first thought is that you'll have a smaller surplus. On some level, the first may be why you want more money, but it isn't the first thing you think of. This isn't some hidden mechanism of our brains; it's pretty intuitive.
    • by chrwei (771689)
      i think you missed the point. the point is not that they figured out how poeple make purchasing descisions, but that they figured our what parts of the brain are involved and what the process looks like under MRI. it's not "how to make descisions", it's "how does the brain allow/enable someone to make the descision" which is a bit different a question.
  • Or am I seeing a pattern in today's story titles?
  • by 192939495969798999 (58312) <info@@@devinmoore...com> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:03PM (#17449106) Homepage Journal
    If the brain doesn't have to worry about forking over cash, that explains why free items are so ridiculously popular... even something that people would sign away their privacy or credit to get, like free t-shirt for credit card apps that you see all over any college campus.
    • by King_TJ (85913) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:55PM (#17449996) Journal
      Well, really, most people who sign up for credit cards in order to get the free handouts are doing so because they already know their credit is sub-par, so they feel they've got nothing to lose.

      I remember back when I was in college, I basically had no credit info on file. I was a "ghost" in the machine, essentially. I was living in an apartment with a roommate who got the place under their name and info, so there was no record of me paying rent. I bought my first car, used, with a personal check - so again, no car loan. Nobody would issue me a credit card, because I was too uncertain of a risk. Therefore, when I went to a hockey game and was offered the "free t-shirt" with the team logo on it for applying for some VISA card, sure - I did it! Who cares? I knew I'd get turned down, but I got a free shirt for 2 minutes of my time filling out the form.
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        I knew I'd get turned down, but I got a free shirt for 2 minutes of my time filling out the form.

        These days you most likely WON'T get turned down. The mindset seems to have switched from "Who's trustworthy enough to have our card" to "Who can we change into an indentured servant today?"
      • I'm not sure that is all of it for most people though. I have seen a dozen guys that all make between $60k and $160k, waiting for 15 minutes in line for a free tee shirt or pen.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      If the brain doesn't have to worry about forking over cash, that explains why free items are so ridiculously popular... even something that people would sign away their privacy or credit to get, like free t-shirt for credit card apps that you see all over any college campus.

      I think that is more adequately explained by human stupidity... There is clearly a cost to handing over your personal data. I don't want blizzards of junk mail to descend upon me, so I don't even use my home address anywhere. These p

      • by Chasqui (601659)
        >There is clearly a cost to handing over your personal data. This is why you fill in the forms with someone else's personal data ;)
  • always pay cash! (Score:4, Informative)

    by coyote-san (38515) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:04PM (#17449108)
    This is why the financial advice that you always pay cash, not by check or credit card, helps you keep within your budget. I seem to recall that people cut expenses by 30% or so once they started forking over 2-3 $20s for dinner with a friend instead of a little piece of plastic.
    • by skeevy (926052)
      In fact, that's covered in the article: "The results can explain the growing tendency of consumers to overspend when purchasing items with credit cards instead of cash, because consumers do not immediately pay for items charged to credit cards and the "pain" of the potential loss is minimized."
      • by coyote-san (38515)
        Yes, but that's just a scientific explanation for a long-known behavior, and it sounds like the study just showed that everyone does it the pleasure/pain analysis unconsciously. Some of us just raise the pain level a bit.

        I was shocked when I started doing this five years ago or so, and now the only places I use credit cards (or even retail checks) are situations where my behavior wouldn't be changed (e.g., at gas stations) and when it's a big ticket item and I want the legal protection credit cards provide
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          Isn't that one of the precepts of science? To give explanations for long-known behaviors.
    • by Tchaik (21417)
      I pay _everything_ I can with my CC. This way it's easy to know where my money went at the end of the year (no ATM fees, plus 1% cashback :-). I believe that people would spend less if they knew where they spend their money.
    • I tend to alamgamate my bills on one credit-card or bank account. I check it regularly, and watch that it stays under a certain amount with a two-week (pay) period. Yes, paying cash would work too, but one of the nice things about being connected is that I can constantly monitor my finances and adjust my spending accordingly, plus I gain travel points (others get cash-back etc) on my Visa, as well as various guarantees (backcharge is wonderful), that just don't come with cash. Of course I also always pay my
  • by Timesprout (579035) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:05PM (#17449122)
    Clearly becomes impervious to pain when she takes my credit card and goes shopping for shoes.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by metlin (258108)
      Maybe you should hand her hard cash instead of a piece of plastic. ;)
      • by Joebert (946227)
        Better yet, give her a hard somthing else so she can't walk and doesn't need shoes.
    • by banuk (148382)
      you know what you did wrong? was that you made the assumption that people that read slashdot can relate..... a better analogy would be "This part of my brain blearly becomes impervious to pain when I wait in line in the cold for a Nintendo Wii all night"
    • This is Slashdot. You have no girlfriend.
    • No, it's still working, but your girlfriend has compartmentalized away the pain because it's not her cash she's worried about spending, it's yours. The fact that this causes her no distress means she hasn't unified the two of you into one entity with a common financial sense of well being.

      In other words, she's using you, or at least your money, solely for her pleasure, with no foresight into the potential hazards this may cause down the road.

      Don't worry though, at least you're not married, in which case if
      • by cp.tar (871488)
        Don't worry though, at least you're not married, in which case if you forced her to stop, and she left you, she'd still get half of whatever you had left.

        Even then, he'd be better off.

        She'd take half his money and leave.

        Big deal.
        Now she's taking all his money and staying.

    • by rblum (211213)
      Hm. Think about it. It might be shoes actually cause pleasure for her. Lots of it, obviously. There's an application there - but this being slashdot, I've got no idea what it would be ;)
    • by Thuktun (221615)
      Clearly becomes impervious to pain when she takes my credit card and goes shopping for shoes.
      Probably not. She's just indicating that there's very little pain for her in spending YOUR money.
    • by syousef (465911)
      How dare you talk about brains. You admit giving your girlfriend a credit card and letting her go shop for shoes with it? This is /. - you're not even suppose to admit you have a girlfriend.
  • by hansamurai (907719) <hansamurai@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:08PM (#17449160) Homepage Journal
    First Do Electric Sheep Dream of Civil Rights? [slashdot.org] and now A Shopping-Scanner Darkly? Next article we'll undoubtedly be called Flow My Oily Tears, the Android Said.
    • by dubbreak (623656)
      Web 2.0, the seond variety.
    • by Qzukk (229616)
      They should mix it up a little more, there are plenty of fairly famous works out there that could be used. For instance, "Ask Slashdot: Is Second Life Filling Up? Make Room! Make Room!" or "US States Unify Age of Childhood's End".
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jon Luckey (7563)
      First Do Electric Sheep Dream of Civil Rights? and now A Shopping-Scanner Darkly? Next article we'll undoubtedly be called Flow My Oily Tears, the Android Said.

      Hmm, why not BladeRIAAnner?
      • Blade runner is the tittle of the film from which "Do androids dream of electronic sheep" (yeah the submitter mangled it a bit). SInce balde runner is not at all from PK dick you would not see it as a rightful title. OTOH the little black box, the terran odissey, solar lotery, valis etc... Are PK dick title. As is "We will remmember it for you wholesale !" (Total recall). And one another minority report, and paycheck.
  • Its easy: Create an RFID device that can read brainwaves. It can be powered by the RF in the store.

  • Could it be Best Buy?

    I can see it now: the information they learn from this study ends up in their sales manuals on how to upsell customers and make them purchase more than what the needed/wanted.

    Joking, of course... but it could still happen.
    • by Billosaur (927319) *

      Could it be Best Buy?

      Possibly. And once they perfect a way to use this technology to deliver painful shocks unless you buy their crappy goods, they're going to change their name to "You Better Buy!".

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by calderra (1034658)

      upsell customers and make them purchase more than what the needed/wanted.

      That's not a joke. Ever wonder why Best Buy employees are always so keen to sell you CD-Rs, or cables, or gift cards, or magazine subscriptions, or to get you to go online and fill out a survey, (ect)? Also, the razor model of profit for new electronic devices rests solely on this principle- sell a device at a loss or near cost, and make it back on all the extras you can sell to consumers. Modern business IS talking people into buying what they don't need/want.

      See also: Telemarketing, SPAM, Publisher's Cle

      • Indeed. I used to work at Micro Center, and this is clearly where their business is headed. Sales people work on commission. They then changed the model so that you earn very little commission on the actual computer you sell, and a lot on the extras you sell with it. I don't work there anymore, but some friends of mine who do say that pretty soon they will earn next nothing on a computer system if it is sold without any extras.
  • One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash.

    Well, duh. That's why everyone's in credit card debt up to their eyeballs.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Show them all sorts of products with insanely low prices (new 19" LCDs from $99, 300 GB hard drives from $30, etc, etc) and see their reaction. Obviously, it will be positive. Then show them the (obviously) marked up shipping costs ($100 for the monitor, $70 for the hard drive). Then they should react negatively. Continue with the pattern until you find a point at which the person no longer is interested in low prices and considers looking at higher priced items to see if the shipping cost is normal.

    Cer
  • The University of Chicago has recently installed a 9.4 Tesla superconducting magnet for fMRI brain research. They claim this MRI can resolve down to individual neurons, and can even watch them fire. A press report is available here [chicagotribune.com].
  • ScuttleMonkey did you get PKD's work for christmas or something? ;-)
  • Marketers are getting addicted to functional MRIs. You can protect yourself by shielding yourself from functional MRI technology :-)
    But that won't be effective forever.
    Seriously, though, just comparison shop before you leave for the store.
    Make a list of what you need (essentials), and a separate list of what you want (luxuries).
    Good luck, and be careful out there.
    • by Qzukk (229616)
      You can protect yourself by shielding yourself from functional MRI technology

      Are wrenches as effective against fMRI machines as they are against regular MRI machines? ;)
      • Are wrenches as effective against fMRI machines as they are against regular MRI machines? ;)
        I know you're joking, but I thought I would point out that it's not a different machine. Functional MRI uses the same MRI scanner, just different pulse sequences and techniques for processing the data. So yes, a wrench will do if you want to take out your local fMRI research lab, but please don't. :)
      • Ahh yes, but then you fall into the classic trap. The fMRI Machines are subsidized by the tin foil producers.
    • Except that the machine will just rip that tin-foil hat off your head as you walk by and align all those spinning protons and measure the oxygenated hemoglobin in your brain anyway. You can't win dude, you can't win. :)
  • by Dan Slotman (974474) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @04:40PM (#17449720)
    I can see two likely results from this phenomenon. First, impulse purchases will be for a relatively low amount of money. People are less reluctant to part with a couple bucks. Secondly, larger purchases will be planned. The planning allows the purchaser to justify releasing the larger amount money.

    I'd like to know if this extends to purchases made with others' money. Does a company purchase agent's brain operate the same way? Several jokes have been made in earlier threads about women buying shoes with the posters' credit card--does this effect still occur when the purchaser isn't personally responsible for the spending?
  • I've stated for years that when writing out checks for bills and such that it "physically pains me" to do so.

    I'll have to show this article to my significant other as scientific proof that I'm not just being dramatic when I say that.
  • by trb (8509)
    The scanners at the supermarket make enough errors when they're tallying my groceries. Why would I trust them to scan my brain?
  • I'm fairly certain this will be turned around and allow someone to broadcast a "buy" wave into a store. Now if we peeons could mass together and develop some sort of "pay wave" (trademarked by me) we could all be better off.
    • by Joebert (946227)
      I'm fairly certain this will be turned around and allow someone to broadcast a "buy" wave into a store.

      K-Mart started doing that years ago, it's called the Blue Light Special.
  • by adavies42 (746183) on Wednesday January 03, 2007 @06:03PM (#17451030)
    One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash.

    Well, duh. Only economists actually think about opportunity cost [wikipedia.org]. Everyone else considers spending vs. not spending. (Not to say they're wrong, since they're not, it's just that they have a tendency to over-estimate the depth of thought people put into economic decisions.)

  • "One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash." It doesn't seem the researchers actually tested whether buyers are weighing delayed gratification. All they demonstrated was that buyers consider whether the price for the item is fair; I'm sure that is what everyone does before they
  • "One of the main findings was that rather than weighing a choice between the pleasure of making a purchase and the delayed gratification of using the dough for something else, the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash."

    I guess this also means that making paying easier would result in more sales. I've long suspected this is true. Can anyone confirm or deny?
    • by Profound (50789)
      Sure. Look at credit cards. Aside from making transactions easier and more abstract, they also increase consumption by allowing you to spend tomorrow's money today.
  • I can't help but thing that this is the whole point of money. By this I mean, money as oppose to barter. In the case of barter you explicitly have to worry what you are getting in exchange for your goods and what else you could get with these same goods (not all exchange are equivalent), while in the case of money you only need to worry about your overall purchasing power and how it would be reduced. Without this abstraction all exchange would be so much more complicated. If you thought about everything els
  • ..the brain is actually weighing between the pleasure of buying and the pain of forking over the cash.

    What? Buying somehow induces pleasure, yet diminishing my personal capital overall somehow registers as some kind of pain? I think I get it..

    Research of such prowess, of such searing insight, deserves every tax-paying dollar it can muster. We can only hope no one else somehow - oh, I don't know - builds a business around developing strategies to alleviate this apparent discomfort to our disadvantage.

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