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Medicine Science

Scientists Discover Gene For Ruthlessness 300

Posted by Zonk
from the also-known-as-the-pointy-haired-gene dept.
Pioneer Woman writes "Researchers at Hebrew University in Jerusalem have found a link between a gene called AVPR1a and ruthless behavior. These findings come from an economic exercise called the 'Dictator Game' that allows players to behave selflessly, or like national dictators and 'little Hitlers' found in workplaces the world over. The team decided to look at AVPR1a because it is known to produce receptors in the brain that detect vasopressin, a hormone involved in 'prosocial' behavior. Researchers tested DNA samples from more than 200 student volunteers, before asking the students to play the game that measured their altruism. There was no connection between the participants' gender and their behavior but there was a link to the length of the AVPR1a gene."
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Scientists Discover Gene For Ruthlessness

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  • by EEPROMS (889169) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:28PM (#22984150)
    they have isolated the bastard aka SOB gene ?
  • hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Sigvatr (1207234) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:29PM (#22984154)
    Better title: Jewish Scientists Have Explanation For Hitler
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      And all this time I though it was the mustache.
    • Re:hmm (Score:5, Funny)

      by chuckymonkey (1059244) <charles.d.burton@NOSPAM.gmail.com> on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:12PM (#22984902) Journal
      Wow, even the summary pulled a Godwin.
      • by MrNaz (730548) *
        I really hate it when idiots invoke Godwin's law upon a perfectly legitimate reference to Nazi Germany. Like this for instance:

        http://xkcd.com/261/ [xkcd.com]
      • Re:hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

        by LaskoVortex (1153471) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @11:14PM (#22985304)

        Wow, even the summary pulled a Godwin.

        I agree. Instead of "Little Hitlers", they should have said "Little Napoleons". I wonder if overexpression of the AVPR1 gene also makes you seem short. That would explain a correlation between perceived height and incessant posturing, loud voices, and stomping around. That is to say, such behavior actually makes people seem shorter--I think it can actually take 2 to 3 inches off one's height. I've seen a 5'4" guy remark that a 5'5" guy had a Napolean's complex. I had to agree, the little Napolean that the 5'4" guy was referring to always seemed short while I never even thought about the 5'4" guy's height until that point (not a Little Napolean). But maybe we should cut Little Napoleans a break. Perhaps they can't help it, genetically speaking.

  • by Rinisari (521266) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:29PM (#22984164) Homepage Journal
    Can I have it infused into my DNA? I have too much ruth.
  • We'll get around to 'fixing' people's 'bad' genes.
  • Games != real life (Score:5, Insightful)

    by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:38PM (#22984220)
    As all the gamers tell us, games != real life. People who kill many characters on FPS are not going to kill real people.

    So why should ruthless behaviour in some game be linked to ruthlessness in life?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Icarus1919 (802533)
      Games don't equal real life, but the way you play does say something about you at a fundamental level. The type of people who enjoy fragging in CS and the type of people who play Hello Kitty Island Adventure are not one and the same (for the most part).
      • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:07PM (#22984432)
        I call bullshit that there is something fundamental in behavior.

        People modify their behavior, compassion, etc depending on context.

        I'll help little old grannies across the road without mugging them, but when I play chess I'm ruthless. I will handle a fish that I've caught (catch and release) with great tenderness, but will wring a rabbit's neck or shoot a person if the situation demands.

        One special forces person I knew a while ago shot up some real people, laid some landmines then later that day rolled his car swerving to miss a small animal on the road.

        • by evwah (954864) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:54PM (#22984774)
          I'm trying to imagine a situation that would demand the wringing of a rabbit's neck. I mean I hate easter too, but DAMN
        • by monoqlith (610041)
          It's a little more complex than is indicated by the examples we're using. There are different rules that govern a game than govern real life. You get psychological points for helping little old grannies across the road, just as you get psychological points for playing ruthless chess, because that's what's asked for by the game. But I imagine you might also seize an opportunity for professional self-advancement just as aggressively as you play chess if a fair one presented to you and you could capture it wi
        • by LS (57954)
          Sorry dude but I think you've got the gene...
      • Games don't equal real life, but the way you play does say something about you at a fundamental level.

        Let's see... at a fundamental level, it appears I would like to be a penguin (supertux). No wait, a penguin king (chess). In fact, a space-faring (kobodeluxe), italian, plumbing (mario) penguin king with a bow and a grappling hook (Zelda). Hey, that Ilia chick is hot. And I'd like laser blades on my arms (starcraft zealots), an army of skeletons (D2 necro), and a bunch of Japanese letters (kanatest).

        That's how fucking cool I'm gonna' be.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rtb61 (674572)
      From my under standing the way children play will reflect in the kind of adults they become. Good sportsmanship ahead of winning, I know it's so terribly old fashioned in mass media and modern marketing, but it is true they way people play reflect the kind of people they are.

      Certainly a high risk of harm to others gene really does put an odd slant on genetic testing. Think of all those sociopath corporate types who want genetic testing to exclude people from health insurance or employment, now they might

      • by timmarhy (659436)
        "Really interesting though, a political gene, short and limp, your a republican and long and firm your a social democrat. Now that certainly does explain a few things."

        what are you trying to suggest? that being a democrat means you have a large penis? making such suggestions is a sign of insecurity.

    • by killmenow (184444) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:56PM (#22984336)
      I am a gamer and I'll agree that games are not real life. But I must say, I wouldn't kill people in real life because there are repercussions. I can kill all the bad guys (or good guys if I feel like it) in a game and there are no REAL consequences. In real life, that's not so...so killing = bad.

      But if I were a dictator and had total control of my country, the repercussions for cracking down and killing thousands of people may not be so bad. First order of business: institute mandatory DNA registrations, checking every person for AVPR1a and killing all the other ruthless people.
      • Now you're getting it.

        Besides, socially well adjusted people are cattle. Look at history. All change is wrought by those who could NOT adjust or eat their bowl of porridge as proscribed by the lords and masters.

        And you just said it. Its fear of counter attacks or return violence that keeps violent people in check. Government has rarely successfully done this. If they start fucking with people's genes to try to "adjust" them to "society", I'm going to laugh. Nature will find a way, as it always has, an
      • I am a gamer and I'll agree that games are not real life. But I must say, I wouldn't kill people in real life because there are repercussions. I can kill all the bad guys (or good guys if I feel like it) in a game and there are no REAL consequences. In real life, that's not so...so killing = bad.

        But if I were a dictator and had total control of my country, the repercussions for cracking down and killing thousands of people may not be so bad. First order of business: institute mandatory DNA registrations, checking every person for AVPR1a and killing all the other ruthless people.

        And so would Stalin, if you think that one gene is worth wiping out millions of lives.

        Also, just because a person has the gene it doesnt mean their behavior will automatically be ruthless, it simply means being ruthless comes easier to them.

        Anyone can be ruthless if the situation calls for it, just some people feel more natural in that state than others.

      • by bogjobber (880402) on Monday April 07, 2008 @01:23AM (#22985936)
        If the only reason you don't kill people in real life is because you can't get away with it, you should reexamine your ethics.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AJWM (19027)
      Most people who kill many characters on FPS are not going to kill real people.

      There, fixed that for you. There have been a few notable exceptions.
    • Games != real life, but there is a relationship between behavior in a game and behavior in real life, even if it's not based on killing people. Someone who is very competitive in a video game is probably also very competitive in his real-life behavior, even if this doesn't translate literally to killing people in real life. Behavior and success in a game must be based on some aspect of the mind of the player, and it isn't unreasonable to say that the same psychology which compels us to succeed in the game w
    • Ideally what should have been done is to have people play the game, and then see what correlations can be drawn between the simulation and real life. It's easy to make a test, it's difficult to make a valid test.
  • The details aren't long on the game, but it gives two options for players: "dictator" and "receiver". They gave dictators money and told them to either keep it or give some away. Now if you were in the "dictator" group, wouldn't you want to keep the money? It's just a game, not real life.
  • Did they named the gene after the movie "Alien Versus Predator Requiem"?
  • Repeat after me (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SuperBanana (662181) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:44PM (#22984256)

    Correlation is not causation. Among other things, the hormone they're claiming is involved is also linked to about a dozen other things- the wikipedia article linked to is a veritable laundry list of basic body functions.

    Side memo to the press: Stop. Dumbing. Down. Science.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by snl2587 (1177409)

      Side memo to the press: Stop. Dumbing. Down. Science.

      But then it wouldn't be the press. Since when has scientific thinking had a place in mainstream journalism?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by chunk08 (1229574)
        And why should we assume that Joe Public can understand science? If that was the case, there would be no use for graduate degrees. The MSM is just an entertainment medium. Only a small percentage of us actually care about being correct. That's why I hang around /. Regardless of all the jokes, people here do care about being right. I say this even disagreeing with many of the general opinions around here.
    • by RobinH (124750)
      Correlation is not causation.

      I was thinking just that, but to say that ruthlessness can have an effect on a gene doesn't make much sense to me, so I'm willing to go out on a limb here and say that the gene is the independent variable, and the behavior is a dependent variable. I'm not saying it's a direct causal relationship, as there are bound to be other factors at play here.
    • Re:Repeat after me (Score:5, Informative)

      by icegreentea (974342) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:08PM (#22984452)
      The article never says cause, always link (which could be either correlation or causation). Article also says that the gene in question regulates something about vasopressin receptors in the brain, so vasopressin's effects on the rest of the body can be ignored. The hormone in question also governs aggression, aspects of social interaction, as well as (suspected) the bond making ability between humans (love, if you will). I see some link/relation between these and ruthlessness. It's fine to criticize the press for dumbing down science. But pick the right articles to criticize. Just as slashdot is not one homogeneous body of people unable to hold contradicting opinions, the press is not one homogeneous body of people unable to write to different levels of competent and accuracy. This might not be the best article/research, but they're pretty good.
      • That was helpfully put. Still, the Slashdot headline reads "Scientists Discover Gene for Ruthlessness," and so will many others.
    • Correlation is not causation. Stop. Dumbing. Down. Science.
      Thank you for the simplified explanation. :)
       
    • by Guppy (12314) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:38PM (#22984662)
      You are correct that "correlation is not causation". This particular statement seems to be trotted out in any research-related posting and appears to be highly correlated with an increase in +5 moderations within science topics. However, we also have a postulated mechanism, which has already been previously explored and found plausible, and some experimental evidence from animal models.

      For instance Prarie Voles and Vasopressin [bbc.co.uk], in which by manipulating the Vasopressin V1a gene, males of a normally promiscuous species of Vole were rendered monagamous (and more attentive to their single mates). Only partially relevant, but suggestive.

      Most importantly, it points at the possibility of producing directly relevant evidence in future experimental model (in which the species selected would be one that exhibits both "altruistic" and "ruthless" behaviors). I don't imagine such an experiment would be quick or cheap, as more socially sophisticated species tend to be more difficult to work with.

      In any case, it sounds like your comment is directed at the particular news article (which mentions very little of the background), and not at the research in particular -- am I incorrect in drawing this distinction?
    • Side memo to the press: Stop. Dumbing. Down. Everything.
      Fixed.
  • by cynicsreport (1125235) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:46PM (#22984270) Homepage
    Can we put these headlines to rest, please?
    I mean the "Scientist discovers gene for [insert personality trait here]".
    Some of these get pretty inane; ruthlessness, for example, is defined by behavior, and is subjective!
    And don't forget: these studies are nearly meaningless, even if they are talking about something that can be defined rationally:

    1. The study evaluates 'ruthlessness' based on subjects playing a game. (Not by observing reality)
    2. The study involves 200 student volunteers. Not exactly a representative sample!
    3. The article generalizes these dubious results to make inferences about the genetics of dictators.
    4. The study has not yet been repeated to duplicate these results (A necessary step to 'prove' something)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by chunk08 (1229574)
      Agreed. Genes do not "turn off/on" certain functions like a checkbox in a properties/preferences dialog. Genetic science can provide many wonderful things, but we will never be able to alter a gene to "make sure the baby is smart" or "keep him from being anti-social." As usual, the mainstream press sensationalizes science and contributes to the dumbing down already far advanced by public^Wgovernment education.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Baron_Yam (643147)
        Bullshit.

        I'm smarter than my cats, and that's genetic. There will be a day when IQ can be adjusted genetically.

        Some primates are social, some aren't - gorillas vs orangutans, and that's genetic. There will be a day when the need for social approval can be adjusted genetically.
        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          This is your cat. I do not appreciate the comment you made regarding my intellect. Comparing the genetic mental complexity of my species to the (relatively speaking) simple bowl of jelly between your ears is akin to comparing apples to tuna. Ooh, I love tuna.

          I demand that you cease this inflammatory specieist rhetoric immediately, or I will be forced to take extreme measures. It certainly would be a shame if your car were to explode the next time you hit the ignition, if you catch my drift.

          Signed,
          Yo
      • Agreed. Genes do not "turn off/on" certain functions like a checkbox in a properties/preferences dialog. Genetic science can provide many wonderful things, but we will never be able to alter a gene to "make sure the baby is smart" or "keep him from being anti-social." As usual, the mainstream press sensationalizes science and contributes to the dumbing down already far advanced by public^Wgovernment education.

        Agreed. Genes do not "turn off/on" certain functions like a checkbox in a properties/preferences dialog. Genetic science can provide many wonderful things, but we will never be able to alter a gene to "make sure the baby is smart" or "keep him from being anti-social." As usual, the mainstream press sensationalizes science and contributes to the dumbing down already far advanced by public^Wgovernment education.

        We probably will discover the genes which control certain kinds of intelligence and will likely be able to activate or deactivate certain genes in a fetus. Designer babies are a reality even today.

        The question is which set of genes to turn off or turn on. Right now we just don't know, and it's going to take a long time to find out.

        So yeah, there will eventually be a way to make sure every baby is smart, or at least a way to prevent babies from being autistic or having down syndrome, and eventually we'll

    • 5. This study evaluates 'ruthlessness' based on a money board game.
      6. This study pinpoints a very specific gene, but ignores the most important criteria for winning money board games; cultural upbringing, personal experience, current education, and socio-economic class.

      Making half-baked absolute generalizations about people's ingrained behaviors based on a gene is a very-very dangerous idea. It could be made to say anything the person (I won't say scientist) leading the study wants to believe.
      • by zappepcs (820751)
        And quite importantly, even if they do find a link between a human behavior and a genetic quality they do not yet know how that genetic variation is involved per se'

        It might be simply that this particular genetic variation in combination with 27 others causes the person to be more likely to perceive of a situation in a given way, leading to ruthless behaviors. The fact remains that genetic variations are not understood well enough to say that gene XYZ causes such and such behavior.
  • by ChromeAeonium (1026952) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @08:49PM (#22984302)
    They gave a small amount of cash ($14 USD) to some people to see how they would behave, and now they're claiming they found a gene that's partly responsible for the actions of famous dictators and mass murderers. They're reading a heck of lot into this, aren't they? Who's to say that, for example, short AVPR1a genes aren't a trait of a particular group of people in the region who are just a bit more strapped for cash. Yeah, I just pulled that example out of the usual place, but it'd be nice if people would actually run their hypothesis through a few more tests before making such bold claims. Then again, I guess those grant checks don't write themselves...
  • by LM741N (258038) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:02PM (#22984384)
    What ever happened to personal responsibility? just about every vice in our society now is handled by psychologists instead of jail guards.
    • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:35PM (#22984650)
      What ever happened to personal responsibility? just about every vice in our society now is handled by psychologists instead of jail guards.

      This from someone who lives in a country home to the world's worst health care system and highest incarceration rates.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by schnikies79 (788746)
        Worlds worst health care?

        You seriously have to be joking. Never mind. That comment is really one of the more ignorant things I've ever read on Slashdot.
      • by FooAtWFU (699187)

        This from someone who lives in a country home to the world's worst health care system and highest incarceration rates.

        Well, the quality of any health care system depends on what you think is good. If by "good" you mean "I am able to obtain lots of medical care at trivial cost to myself", then the US is not that great. If, however, you mean something that keeps the nation's life expectancy high and in general allows for prompt, effective care, then I believe the US is well above average. Note that this is in very much line with GP's "personal responsibility" agenda.

        I'm unsure about the GP's contention regarding psychologi

      • Truly Awful! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bill_mcgonigle (4333) *
        This from someone who lives in a country home to the world's worst health care system

        I know, seriously. Stop sending your rich folk and government officials here for treatment, will 'ya?, they're tying up our beds.

      • by superwiz (655733)

        This from someone who lives in a country home to the world's worst health care system and highest incarceration rates.

        The country that invents most cures for diseases in the world can hardly be claimed to have the worst health care system. And the highest incarceration rate must be considered in conjunction with the fact that we have the lowest crime rate in the free world (yeah, China and Saudi Arabia have a lower rate, but only because you can't do anything fun there). So we develop cures for the people who pay for it and keep in jail the people who commit crimes. Yeah, we all need shrinks cause we are crazy and anti

    • What ever happened to personal responsibility? just about every vice in our society now is handled by psychologists instead of jail guards.

      It's not that everything is a disease, the question is whether or not immorality is a disease.

      When you say personal responsibility, you assume everyone is equally responsible, but if you want everyone to be equally responsible then the consequences have to be absolute and apply to everyone.

      Currently they don't apply to everyone. There are people who can behave irresponsibly because they have the money to pay for their irresponsibility, and act above the law, and then there are poor people who have to be pe

    • What ever happened to personal responsibility?

      Understanding != excuse
      As we understand the human brain more, personal responsibility shifts from blaming some magical soul and putting it truly on the person as an electrochemical system.

      just about every vice in our society now is handled by psychologists instead of jail guards.

      Although psychologists are a joke at least its a step in the right direction. Jails are the equivalent of fixing a TV by kicking it.

  • by espergreen (849246) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:03PM (#22984404) Homepage
    The Ayn Rand gene?
  • Godwin'd (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rebelgecko (893016) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @09:05PM (#22984426)
    Sheesh, Godwin's law came into play before I even finished reading the summary.
  • "having found a link" would imply that in addition to the (possible) correlation described in the article, there was some mechanism that directly links the gene to the behaviour.

    instead, we have wild speculation, an analogy with a different behaviour in a different species and a generalization that is not supported by what is described in the RTFA.
  • Embryo diagnostics for Libertarianism!! Finally. I knew there is something physiologically wrong with them :)
    • by superwiz (655733)

      Embryo diagnostics for Libertarianism!! Finally. I knew there is something physiologically wrong with them :)
      Umm, <sarcasm>I like your methods</sarcasm>. Naturally, not your goals. We'll pick libertarians as the ones to keep. And the specie gets to survive. Everyone wins.
  • I'm talking about the genetic profile that makes a person a flaming asshole. I've run across a number of those during my life and I just need to find the explanation.
    • The genes that you would want to look for would be:

      1) The gene that causes excessive stomach gas,
      2) The gene that causes pyromania,
      or
      3) The gene that causes a small penis

      If you find those genes genes, I belive you will find the answer to your question.
  • Psychopathy. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:01PM (#22984826)
    I doubt if it can be tagged to a single gene, but certain traits which make up the basket deal of psychopathy certainly results from differently-functioning brains.

    The distinctive brains of psychopaths. [thecanadia...opedia.com]

    "But for psychopaths, the word 'cancer' and the word 'table' had the same emotional connotations - which is to say, not very many. It's as if they're emotionally color-blind."

    Even more staggering were the findings of a study conducted by New York City psychiatrist Joanne Intrator, with Hare's collaboration, at the Bronx Veterans Administration hospital in 1993. The investigators employed the same language test, this time injecting the subjects with a radioactive tracer and scanning color images of their brains. As normal subjects processed the emotion-laden words, their brains lit up with activity, particularly in the areas around the ventromedial frontal cortex and amygdala. The former plays a crucial role in controlling impulses and long-term planning, while the amygdala is often described as "the seat of emotion." But in the psychopaths, those parts of the brain appeared to remain inactive while processing the emotion-laden words. That, says Hare, helps explain why a psychopath's conscience is only half-formed. "I showed the scans to several neurologists," recalls Hare. "They said that it did not even look like a human brain. One of them asked, 'Is this person from Mars?' "

    According to Scientific American. [sciam.com]
    Not surprisingly, psychopaths are overrepresented in prisons; studies indicate that about 25 percent of inmates meet diagnostic criteria for psychopathy. Nevertheless, research also suggests that a sizable number of psychopaths may be walking among us in everyday life. Some investigators have even speculated that "successful psychopaths" - those who attain prominent positions in society - may be overrepresented in certain occupations, such as politics, business and entertainment. Yet the scientific evidence for this intriguing conjecture is preliminary.

    One in 100. [financialpost.com]
    One person in 100 is a psychopath, meaning that they lack a moral compass, sense of responsibility or empathy (this is a personality disorder, not a mental illness). And although they are overrepresented in the prison system, according to research by American psychologist Dr. Paul Babiak, and his Canadian counterpart Dr. Robert Hare, psychopaths are also well-represented in corporate environments.

    here's a story [news.com.au] about what I'd say is a very black & white likely case of psychopathy, and one at its worst, at least on a small scale.

    The above link being pretty heavy, I thought I'd offer this lighter fare; A pseudo-scientific test [damninteresting.com] to measure yourself on the psychopath-meter.

    If you're going to navigate your pathway through reality, (down the river of life), you need to know where the rocks are if you're going to be able to avoid crashing into them. Christianity and the like has programmed all kinds of self-destructive behavior into human-kind. "Turn the other cheek" is an example of social programming which makes us food for the psychopathic human-type, --the type which I would guess is generally in charge of countries and most of the most powerful organizations which shape our lives; the psychopath recognizes its own and shapes the rules of the world to benefit itself, and study of the power structures over the centuries, doesn't really ever let go once the seat of power is attained. --Christ's supposed dying on the cross, (which I am doubtful actually happened for a variety of reasons, not the l

  • ethics aside, the selfish vs altruistic behavior is not necessarily a subconscious response. The topic of "goodness" vs "badness" of the two views has dominated the debate of the last century. So different cultural trends have emerged that surround both views. It is entirely possible that someone more wired for selfish behavior has learned to value cooperation over self-achievement through cultural pressure (ok, peer pressure) or that someone wired for altruistic behavior has been exposed to the argument
  • by SUB7IME (604466) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:38PM (#22985054)
    Vasopressin is also known as antidiuretic hormone (ADH). ADH increases arterial blood pressure.

    If the findings of this study are true, they may help explain the stereotype of the aggressive, ruthless management-type-figure with bulging neck veins suffering from a heart attack.
  • by bluemonq (812827) on Sunday April 06, 2008 @10:46PM (#22985120)
    ...chair throwing, we can understand how Steve Ballmer came to be!
  • I can see companies putting all the PHB wanna-bees through a genetic screening process to weed out undesirable personality traits.

    I wonder if they'll ever find the gene that increases managers' ability to hang from the ceiling by their lips.

  • With Anderson Cooper? Well I occurred to me in about 20 seconds that the optimal winning strategy was to pretend you were the mole. If that makes me ruthless, I'll remember that when I pour some out on the curb for my dead homies.
  • The gene for ruthlessness, aka the "mean gene" has been known since the early 1980's.

    Full story here. [wikipedia.org]

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