Fictional First Memories Psychology Questions

Akhtar, S., Justice, L.V., Morrison, C.M., & Conway, M.A. (2018).Fictional first memories.Psychological

Science, 29,1612 – 1619.doi: 10.1177/0956797618778831

Welcome to your assignment!Attached to this email you should find a .pdf copy of the article listed above.Your assignment is to read that article, and to answer the following questions to the best of your ability.This assignment is graded pass/fail; if you pass, you will receive one credit towards your PSY 101 research participation requirement.Also, if you are completing this assignment because you have been “locked” from signing up for other studies, passing will earn you an “unlock,” so that you can sign up for other studies.There is no penalty if you fail, but you do not get the research participation credit.Here are your instructions.

Read the attached article.

Write your answer to each of the listed questions, by hitting “Reply” in your email, and typing the answers into the body of the email.Your answers may be as long or as short as you need them to be.

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  • It may take up to 48 hours to get your assignment graded, depending on volume. Here are your questions!  The term autobiographical memory refers to one’s long term memories of one’s own past.According to the article, what is the likely age range in which a developing human can form memories that will last to adulthood?Explain the evidence from Simcock and Hayne’s experiment is offered that supports this age range?Compare that estimate to the estimates from the subsequently reported two different studies of reports from young adults; at what ages do each of those studies suggest autobiographical memories occur?As part of your answer, be sure to compare “fragments” to “full” memories.  The authors suggest that there study is different from prior studies in three ways.What are those differences?  The Method section of a scientific paper is the place where the authors describe how they conducted their study, with enough detail that you could copy their procedure over again exactly, if you wanted to try to replicate their results.The last paragraph describes exactly which types of memories the participants were – and were not – allowed to use in the study.For this question, tell me the things participants were NOT allowed to do / include in the memory they reported.Why do you think the instructions excluded these sorts of situations?  In trying to explain the odd results from their sample, the authors distinguish between fictional memories, false memories, and illusory memories.Explain the distinctions the authors make.  

  • Not explained in the article is the anatomy and physiology that render memories from before the age of 3 more or less biologically impossible.Specifically, the hippocampus of the brain, which we know is critical for creating and accessing long term memories, does not finish developing until about the age of 3.Most memory researchers suggest a lowest possible age of 2, to account for the fact that some people develop more quickly than others.That said, what three explanations do the authors give for memories before the age of 2 – and which do you think the authors believe to be most likely?
  • 778831
    PSSXXX10.1177/0956797618778831Akhtar et al.First Memories
    Research Article
    Psychological Science
    2018, Vol. 29(10) 1612­–1619
    © The Author(s) 2018
    Article reuse guidelines:
    DOI: 10.1177/0956797618778831
    Fictional First Memories
    Shazia Akhtar1, Lucy V. Justice2, Catriona M. Morrison3, and
    Martin A. Conway1
    Department of Psychology, City, University of London; 2Department of Psychology, Nottingham
    Trent University; and 3Department of Psychology, University of Bradford
    In a large-scale survey, 6,641 respondents provided descriptions of their first memory and their age when they
    encoded that memory, and they completed various memory judgments and ratings. In good agreement with many
    other studies, where mean age at encoding of earliest memories is usually found to fall somewhere in the first half of
    the 3rd year of life, the mean age at encoding here was 3.2 years. The established view is that the distribution around
    mean age at encoding is truncated, with very few or no memories dating to the preverbal period, that is, below about
    2 years of age. However, we found that 2,487 first memories (nearly 40% of the entire sample) dated to an age at
    encoding of 2 years and younger, with 893 dating to 1 year and younger. We discuss how such improbable, fictional
    first memories could have arisen and contrast them with more probable first memories, those with an age at encoding
    of 3 years and older.
    first memories, age at encoding, age at retrieval, childhood amnesia, fictional memories, narrative memories, open
    Received 9/18/16; Revision accepted 4/27/18
    In many studies of the recall of earliest memories, the
    first memory is found to date to the 3rd year of life,
    typically about 3 years 4 months (Hayne, 2004; Kingo,
    Berntsen, & Krøjgaard, 2013; Pillemer & White, 1989;
    Rubin, 2000; Wang, Conway, & Hou, 2004). However,
    also in many studies, there are always a few respondents who date their earliest memory to 2 years of age
    and below (Hayne, 2004; Wells, Morrison, & Conway,
    2014; see also Kingo, Berntsen, & Krøjgaard, 2013).
    Indeed, there is some evidence that distinctive family
    events, such as the birth of a sibling, might lead to the
    formation and long-term retention of unusually early
    first memories (Eacott & Crawley, 1998; Usher &
    Neisser, 1993; but for a critique of the validity of such
    “memories,” see Gross, Jack, Davis, & Hayne, 2013;
    Loftus, 1993). Here, we had the unique opportunity
    to sample a large group of adults across the life span
    and to examine first memories in groups not usually
    sampled, as previous studies typically have used only
    young adults.
    Interestingly, the study of memory development
    similarly dates the emergence of first memories to the
    age of about 3 to 4 years. Howe, Courage, and Edison
    (2003), in their review of this research, concluded that
    the processes underlying the ability to form autobiographical memories are functional by the 3rd year of
    life, but they also note that other factors, including
    sociolinguistic development, may further lengthen the
    period during which full autobiographical memories
    form (see also Bauer, 2007, 2015, and Howe, 2011a, for
    recent reviews that reach similar conclusions). In one
    of the only experimental studies, Simcock and Hayne
    (2002) found that children exposed to an interesting
    and novel event below the age of 3 years showed signs
    of preverbal memory yet failed to translate the memory
    into language both 6 months and 1 year later. Results
    suggest that no enduring autobiographical memory of
    the target event was formed in the first place, or
    Corresponding Author:
    Martin A. Conway, City, University of London, Department of
    Psychology, Rhind Building, Northampton Square, London,
    EC1V 0HB, United Kingdom
    First Memories
    possibly, no memory that could be declaratively
    reported was formed. The obvious implication is that
    if children below the age of 2 to 3 years cannot form
    full autobiographical memories, it is not possible for
    adults to recall such memories from these ages.
    Consistent with the findings from the study of the
    development of memory are the outcomes from studies
    of young adults recalling first memories. These variously date the emergence of first full autobiographical
    memories to somewhere between the ages of 3 to 5
    years. Rubin (2000), in a meta-analysis of over 11,000
    early memories recalled by adults, found the emergence
    of memories to date to about 3.4 years of age, with
    virtually no memories falling below the age of 3. Moreover, of the 770 respondents who contributed memories
    to this review, more than 76% (590) were younger than
    30, meaning that the findings are limited to a comparatively young population (largely undergraduate university students). In contrast, Bruce, Dolan, and
    Phillips-Grant (2000) found full first autobiographical
    memories to date to 5 to 6 years of age and term
    “memories” below this age “fragments” that were not
    recollectively experienced when recalled. But even with
    fragments, very few dated to below the age of 3 years.
    The overwhelming evidence and theory is then that full
    earliest autobiographical memories do not emerge
    before about the age of about 24 to 36 months, and, if
    anything, the onset of full autobiographical memories
    may not be until later than this.
    In the present study, we conducted the first largescale web-based survey of first memories (rather than
    the more general category of early memories used in
    many previous studies; see Rubin, 2000). Thus, the key
    variable in the present study was respondents’ estimates
    of their age when their first memory was formed: age
    at encoding.1 Moreover, because this was a large-scale
    study, we were able to sample across the full age range
    and draw on the general population. Uniquely, the
    survey was linked to a popular series of radio programs
    on memory produced and broadcast by the British
    Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Radio 4 in the United
    Kingdom (the programs can be listened to at http:// The survey is no longer live, but the questionnaire that was
    used is included in the Supplemental Material available
    In the first program of the radio series, the fourth author
    introduced the idea that the program would conduct a
    memory survey of various types of memories (earliest,
    self-defining, and flashbulb memories) and report the
    results of the survey in a later program. The audience
    was invited to log in to a memory website hosted by
    the BBC that contained various sources of information
    about memory and separate questionnaires for each of
    the three types of memories to be sampled. The questionnaires always began with an information page outlining key instructions regarding the nature of the
    to-be-sampled memory and an informed-consent box
    to be checked, and minimal demographic data were
    collected. Respondents were also informed that after
    recalling their earliest memory, they would be asked to
    answer some questions about the memory. For these
    questions, they were instructed not to guess or infer
    answers but to answer only if they actually remembered
    the answer.
    Respondents then moved to the next page of the
    questionnaire proper. They were instructed to recall
    and then type a title and description (in the box provided) of their very earliest memory. The title was to
    be only a few words in length but of sufficient specificity that if they read it again, it would remind them of
    the memory they had recalled. The memory description
    was to be about a paragraph or so in length. The memory itself had to be one that they were certain they
    remembered. It should not be based on, for example,
    a family photograph, family story, or any source other
    than direct experience. The memory had to be for a
    specific one-off event that lasted no longer than minutes or hours. It was specifically emphasized that the
    memory should not be of a routine or repeated event.
    After entering the title and memory description, respondents were then asked to enter, in years, the age they
    believed they were in the memory. Following this, the
    respondents answered a series of questions regarding
    the recollective qualities of the memory (see the Supplemental Material for details).
    There were 6,671 respondents who completed the survey. Inspection of the memory descriptions led to 166
    responses being judged unusable because the memory
    description was vague and lacked any specificity or
    because it was explicitly stated that it was based on a
    family story or photograph. Further, 39 memories
    reportedly encoded over the age of 15 years were not
    used because of their unusually late age at encoding,
    and finally, respondents who gave their age group as
    0 to 5 (n = 4) or 6 to 10 (n = 21) were removed because
    of very low age (which were likely typographical
    errors). Thus, a total of 6,441 memories were used, and
    of these, 4,115 were from female respondents (63.9%;
    mean age = 42.12 years, 95% confidence interval, CI =
    [41.61, 42.6]) and 2,326 were from male respondents
    (36.1%; mean age = 41.56 years, 95% CI = [40.89, 42.22]).
    Akhtar et al.
    Figure 2 shows the frequency of age at encoding
    across the sample. 2 What is immediately evident in
    Figure 2 is that there were a large number of unexpectedly early memories, with 38.6% (2,487) of the sample
    having what we term improbably early memories, dating to 2 years and younger (M = 1.64, 95% CI = [1.62,
    1.66]); 52.3% (3,371) reporting what we term probable
    memories, falling between age at encoding of 2 and 5
    years (M = 3.65, 95% CI = [3.62, 3.67]); and the remaining 9.1% (583) reporting an age at encoding of 6 or
    more years (M = 7.72, 95% CI = [7.55, 7.90]), which we
    term improbably late memories.
    Thus, the age at encoding of most memories fell in
    the predicted range, 2 years to 5 years old; however,
    the second largest group of memories had ages at
    encoding that were unexpectedly early, falling in the
    period of 2 years and less, and these were greater in
    number than improbably late memories dating to 6
    years and older. Despite this unexpected distribution,
    the overall mean age at encoding of the whole sample
    was 3.24 years (95% CI = [3.19, 3.29]), which compares
    favorably with previous findings of the mean age of the
    earliest memory that place it in the first half of the 3rd
    year of life.
    Next, we investigated whether age at encoding varied as a function of respondent age. In particular, we
    wanted to determine whether the age at encoding
    reported in most earliest-memory studies is somewhat
    skewed as a result of the sampling of younger adults.
    The sample was therefore split into two new groups: a
    younger group comprising respondents within the 11–
    15, 16–20, and 21–25 age groups (n = 1,228), similar to
    the majority of participants sampled in Rubin’s (2000
    Percentage of Respondents
    Participant Age Group (years)
    Fig. 1. Percentage of respondents across age groups.
    Of the respondents, 82% (5,550) were UK nationals,
    and the remaining 13.8% (891) resided in other parts
    of the world. Figure 1 shows the distributions of memories across age groups of respondents and shows clearly
    that memories were sampled across the life span.
    Count of Memories
    Improbably Early
    Improbably Late
    Age at Encoding (years)
    Fig. 2. Frequency of age at encoding grouped by memory type.
    First Memories
    Table 1. Percentage of Memories Within Each Semantic Category Across Memory Types
    Memory type and category
    Improbably early
    Pram (baby carriage)
    Family relationships
    Feeling sad
    Birth of a sibling
    Improbably late
    of memories
    I was lying in my pram . . .
    My parents were going on holiday and me and my elder sister . . .
    I remember feeling very sad, my mum . . .
    . . . my uncle had bought me a loopy loo doll. It was almost as . . .
    . . . the arrival of my baby brother. When he was born and my . . .
    . . . the front door opened directly into the kitchen which had . . .
    . . . my first day at primary school, there was another little girl . . .
    . . . I remember crying hysterically . . . I would not be comforted . . .
    . . . we travelled to a holiday camp in Sussex on the Small Hythe . . .
    . . . being potty trained in my dream . . .
    In the winter of 1940 we lived in south London . . .
    . . . playing football with my friends . . .
    I attended the local school. The school remained open . . .
    study), and an older group comprised of all remaining
    respondents (n = 5,213). The mean age at encoding
    was 3.56 (95% CI = [3.44, 3.68]) for the younger group
    and 3.16 (95% CI = [3.11, 3.22]) for the older group.
    These means were reliably different, t(1695) = 6.02,
    p < .001, d = 0.19, 95% CI = [0.13, 0.25]), showing that the older group had reliably earlier first memories than the younger group. The mean age of the younger group’s earliest memories was then more consistent with previous studies using young adults, although we note that in the present study, even some of this group had memories dating to 2 years and below. 3 Memory Content It is hypothesized that early memories are fragments of memories (Bruce et al., 2000), lacking rich and detailed descriptions. This was tested in the present study by, first, assessing the word count of the memory descriptions as a function of memory group. A Poisson regression with planned comparisons (early vs. probable and early vs. late) found no reliable difference in word count between improbably early memories (M = 69.20, 95% CI = [67.02, 71.38]) and probable memories (M = 68.82, 95% CI = [66.87, 70.76]; p = .14, b = 0.007, 95% CI = [−0.002, 0.017]), but improbably early memories had a reliably shorter word count than improbably late memories (M = 70.33, 95% CI = [65.78, 74.88]; p < .001, b = 0.025, 95% CI = [0.011, 0.039]). Although reliably different, memories across all three categories had negligible differences in word count (±1 word); thus, contrary to the suggestion that early memories are fragments, the present findings show that they are similar in length to both probable and improbably late first memories. Second, the corpus of memory descriptions was further analyzed using the Alceste software (IMAGE, 2018) for statistical analysis of textual data. This software bridges quantitative and qualitative methods, analyzing natural language using multivariate statistical methods to identify groups of words, that is, phrases and sentences, that reliably cluster together across different contexts. The resulting output provides categories of dominant themes in the corpus that are required to be named by the analyst. Separate analyses were performed on the descriptions of improbably early, probable, and improbably late memories, yielding a linguistic profile for each memory group (Table 1). In Table 1, it can be seen that 100% of descriptions of improbably early memories fit into one of three categories, the dominant category being memory descriptions in which a pram (baby carriage) featured across various contexts. We also note that the category “birth of a sibling,” which has previously been identified as an event likely to give rise to very early first memories (Eacott & Crawley, 1998; Usher & Neisser, 1993), did not feature in any of the improbably early memories analyzed in the study corpus. In contrast, 100% of descriptions of probable memories were accounted for by seven categories, all of which clustered around words and phrases referring to aspects of childhood, and many descriptions featured toys in a wide variety of contexts (see Table 1). Finally, 100% of descriptions of improbably late memories decomposed Akhtar et al. 1616 into three categories, with the dominant category featuring descriptions that mentioned home in a wide variety of contexts. In summary, the linguistic analysis of the memory descriptions found them to be age appropriate; descriptions of improbably early memories referred to events and activities from infancy, such as being pushed in a pram or baby carriage; probable memories referred to events and activities from early childhood, for example, playing with toys; and improbably late memories often referred to events in the home, such as family gatherings of various sorts (examples of memories for each category are included in the Supplemental Material). Discussion The present findings pose a major conundrum: The child and young adult research, as reviewed earlier, concludes that earliest memories cannot exist below about the age of 2 years and that there would be comparatively few memories below the age of 3 years. Yet the main finding of the present survey of earliest memories, the largest such survey ever conducted, is that 2,487 (38.6% of the entire sample) of the earliest memories dated to when respondents were 2 years of age or younger, with, astonishingly, 893 (13.9%) dating to 1 year or younger. These are what we have termed improbable first memories and raise a question: How best do we explain them? Below, we evaluate three possible explanations: misdating, nature of the respondents, and the narrative and fictional nature of the “life story” (Habermas & Bluck, 2000; Köber, Schmiedek, & Habermas, 2015). The misdating explanation Dating of all autobiographical memories, including childhood memories, is predominantly inferential, and specific calendar and age dates are rarely retained in long-term memory (Thompson, Skowronski, & Larsen, 1979). Thus, it is possible that some of the dates given for first memories in the present study are incorrect estimates; indeed, it would be remarkable were they not. We assume, however, that such misdating is random rather than systematic and therefore represents noise in the age-at-encoding measure. Nonetheless, a plausible misdating account of the present findings might propose that, for unknown reasons, almost 40% of the sample systematically backward-telescoped their estimates of the age at encoding of their first memories (see Wang & Peterson, 2014, for evidence of forward telescoping in estimates of earliest memories). If the misdating account were correct, then it would be expected that the improbable early memories would be about events similar to those that were dated to 3 years and older. But this was not the case, and our content analysis found that improbable first memories were of events that related to infancy, whereas memories dating to 3 years and older (probable first memories) were of events related to childhood (see Table 1). These findings of differences in the content of improbably early and probable first memories effectively rule out the systematic misdating explanation. The respondents: self-selection The present sample of respondents differed from most previous studies in that they consisted of individuals from across the life span. Given that they freely responded to the request to complete a web-based memory survey, they were self-selected. Self-selection is common in most psychological research; after all, even students participating for course credit are selfselected. Random selection is typically not practically possible, particularly given resource constraints. Nevertheless, a very large sample, even if self-selected, has the advantage of very high power. In the present study, power approached 1 for all effect sizes, far higher than that in most psychology research and indeed in most social science research. Yet the possibility remains that there is some unique aspect of this sample. One possibility is that members of this group have thought about (i.e., rehearsed) their past more than other groups, and in the course of so doing have, perhaps implicitly or nonconsciously, generated cues that allowed them to access far earlier memories than those accessed in previous studies. The present findings suggest that this may occur more frequently in older than in younger adults. A problem for this explanation, however, is that there were no differences in rated rehearsal between the older and younger groups, both of whom indicated equal moderate levels of rehearsal (see the Supplemental Material). Instead, it may be that middle-aged adults have a more developed life story than younger adults—one that incorporates and constructs knowledge from, or about, infancy (their own, possibly other people’s, possibly infancy in general) into the form of memories or what we here term fictional memories. The life story and fictional memories If the improbably early memories, memories that research tells us cannot be formed at such young ages, are largely of imagined rather than experienced events, how do these fictional memories arise? Note that we use the term fictional memories here rather than false memories or illusory memories for a number of reasons. First Memories One is that the term false memories has a pejorative aspect to it—false memories are negative, and the term illusory memories suggests some sort of memory error. We note that more recent work has found positive aspects to false memories (see Howe, 2011b; Howe, Wilkinson, Garner, & Ball, 2016; Schacter, Guerin, & St. Jacques, 2011). Moreover, there may be adaptive consequences of fictional memories more generally. For example, in adulthood, preserving a positive and consistent self-narrative helps a person maintain a positive self-image that can foster positive social interactions with others, ones that arguably enhance the rememberer’s quality of life (see Ross & Wilson, 2000, 2003). Fictional memories are then part of the life story and may play a central, and positive, role in defining periods of life or lifetime periods (Conway, 2005; Conway & Pleydell-Pearce, 2000). It is particularly noteworthy that all the memories we sampled (improbably early, probable, improbably late) included age-appropriate events, and viewed overall, they give a picture of a life story with successive early periods each with a distinctive content. Thus, in our analysis of the content of the descriptions of memories from the different ages at encoding (see Table 1), we found that accounts dating to 2 years and earlier contained details relating to infancy. Under the three broad categories of pram, family relationships, and feeling sad, these were details such as “an image of my pram,” “being in my cot,” “in my push chair,” “having my nappy changed,” and, even more implausibly, “the first time I walked,” “wanting to tell my mother something before I could talk,” “the first word I spoke,” and so on. On the basis of these descriptions, we suggest that what people often have in mind when “recalling” these improbably early memories is an image (often visual) of an object or action possibly dating to very early childhood. This might be based on experience or derived from a photograph or a description (the rememberer may not be aware of the source of the image or images). Other sources of details for improbably early memories may derive from family stories or history, for example, “the first word you spoke was ‘X,’” “all you ever wanted to do when you were little was walk,” and so on. These facts of infancy, possibly along with some visual fragments, form the basis of remembering infancy: Their source is believed to be or even experienced as being from these very early ages and, accordingly, dated to those times. Thus, we suggest that what a rememberer has in mind when recalling fictional improbably early memories is an episodic-memory-like mental representation consisting of remembered fragments of early experience and some facts or knowledge about his or her own infancy or 1617 childhood. In addition, further details may be nonconsciously inferred or added, such as that one was wearing a nappy (diaper) when standing in the cot. Such episodic-memory-like mental representations come, over time, to be recollectively experienced (Gardiner & Richardson-Klavehn, 2000) when they come to mind, and so for the individual, they quite simply are “memories,” memories that their content indicates date to a particular time: infancy. We suggest that improbably early first memories fall in a larger class of fictional memories. Indeed, in the constructive view of memory, all memories contain some degree of fiction. For example, all memories are time-compressed and therefore do not literally represent the experience from which they derive. Similarly, all memories contain details that are both consciously and nonconsciously inferred. For example, Wells et al. (2014) found that clothes in childhood memories were poorly recalled. Nonetheless, respondents in that study recalled that they had been clothed, and the same applies to many other types of details, such as weather, time of day, conversations, and so on, that are also (nonconsciously) inferred rather than remembered. Memories, then, are part of a narrative of a person’s life, and the way in which they correspond to experience and cohere with other memories is complex and dynamic. Note that we use the term narrative as it used by Goldie (2012) in his account of narrative thinking, which is an internal mental representation rather than a publicly presented account. In this conception, the personal value and significance of a fictional memory resides in how coherent it is with other parts of autobiographical memory rather than with how well it corresponds to a previously experienced reality (see Conway, 2005, and Conway, Loveday, & Cole, 2016, for discussion of coherence and correspondence in autobiographical memory). Perhaps what is important when it comes to questions of accuracy of a memory, from any age, is the extent of fictionalization of details. In the present study, the data indicate that very early fictional memories are more common in middle-aged and older adults, and about 4 in 10 of this group have fictional memories for infancy. To a lesser degree, they are also present in some younger people. Perhaps, the life narrative or story, mainly for the middle-aged, needs to extend (for reasons that are not yet understood but possibly have to do with coherence and completeness of the life narrative) to the very earliest years of life and hence the emergence of improbably early fictional first memories. Action Editor D. Stephen Lindsay served as action editor for this article. Akhtar et al. 1618 Author Contributions References S. Akhtar worked as M. A. Conway’s postdoctoral research assistant during this research and preparation of the manuscript. 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Charac­ terizing lifespan development of three aspects of coher­ence in life narratives: A cohort-sequential study. Developmental Psychology, 51, 260–275. Acknowledgments We thank the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for supporting this work and Katryn Hohl and Mark L. Howe for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. We thank John Partington of the BBC, who created the original website. Declaration of Conflicting Interests The author(s) declared that there were no conflicts of interest with respect to the authorship or the publication of this article. Supplemental Material Additional supporting information can be found at http:// 18778831 Open Practices All data have been made publicly available via Figshare and can be accessed at First_Memories/6115676. Materials for this study have not been made publicly available, and the design and analysis plans were not preregistered. The complete Open Practices Disclosure for this article can be found at http://journals This article has received the badges for Open Data. More information about the Open Practices badges can be found at http:// Notes 1. Other rating measures of vividness, emotional intensity, and memory perspective were also collected, but they were secondary measures and not found to be systematically related to age at encoding. Consequently, they are reported in the Supplemental Material available online. 2. The full data set can be accessed at articles/Fictional_First_Memories/6115676. 3. As far as judgments of recollective qualities were concerned, all memories, regardless of group, were of moderate vividness and were rated as being recalled moderately often. Interestingly, improbably early memories were more strongly associated with an observer than a field perspective. See the Supplemental Material for full analyses. First Memories Loftus, E. L. (1993). 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