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Behavioral Theory of Personality

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Behavioral Theory of Personality

Have you ever trained a dog to do tricks, such as barking or shaking hands in exchange for a snack? You probably practiced the tricks over and over again for weeks on end until your dog could do the trick perfectly. You may not have known it at the time, but training a dog to do tricks is a real-life example of many of the principles of the behavioral theory of personality.

  • What is the behavioral theory of personality?
  • What are examples of behavioral theory of personality?
  • What are the key assumptions of the behavioral theory of personality?
  • What are the limitations of the behavioral theory of personality?

Behavioral Theory of Personality: Definition

From the behavioral theory of personality comes the behavioral approach. Behavioral responses to stimuli are the focus of this psychological approach. The kind of behavior we develop is based on the environment's responses, which can strengthen or weaken desirable or abnormal behaviors. According to this approach, encouraging unacceptable conduct can lead to abnormal behaviors.

The behavioral theory of personality is the theory that the external environment influences human or animal behavior entirely. In humans, the external environment can influence many of our decisions, such as where we live, who we hang out with, and what we eat, read, or watch.

Behavioral Theory of Personality: Examples

The behavioral theory of personality can be seen at work in our day-to-day lives. Here are a few examples of how the external environment influences our behavior.

The teacher puts some of her students in detention for bullying another student. A student becomes motivated to study for the upcoming exams because he got an F on his last grading. He noticed he has an A+ for another subject he spent time studying. From this experience, he learned that he must study more to get an A+

There are many modern-day practices in clinical counseling that are influenced by the principles of Behaviorism. These include:

  • Applied Behavioral Analysis: Used to treat individuals with Autism and other developmental conditions

  • Substance Abuse Treatment: Used to treat addictive habits such as smoking, alcohol abuse, or drug abuse

  • Psychotherapy: Used mostly in the form of cognitive-behavioral theory interventions to aid in mental health treatment

Behavioral Theory of Personality in Psychology

Ivan Pavlov (1890), a Russian physiologist, was the first to demonstrate learning by association with his experiment on dogs salivating upon hearing the tuning fork. Edward Thorndike (1898), on the other hand, with his experiment on cats and puzzle boxes, observed that behaviors associated with positive outcomes are strengthened, and behaviors associated with negative outcomes are weakened.

Behaviorism as a theory began with John B. Watson1 (1924) explaining that all behaviors can be traced back to an observable cause and claimed psychology is the science or study of behavior. His idea gained popularity introducing many more ideas and applications of behaviorism. One of which is radical behaviorism by Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1938), who suggested that our thoughts and feelings are products of external events, such as feeling stressed over finances or lonely after a breakup.

Behaviorists define behavior in terms of "nurture" (environment), believing that observable behaviors result from external stimuli. That is, an individual receiving praises (external stimulus) for working hard (observable behavior) results in learned behavior (working hard even more).

An external stimulus is any factor (e.g., objects or events) outside the body that triggers a change or response from humans or animals.

In animals, a dog wagging its tail upon the sight of food (external stimulus)

In humans, you cover your nose when there's a foul odor (external stimulus).

Behavioral Theory of Personality, colorful letters, StudySmarterAntecedents, behaviors, and consequences, pixabay.com

As John B. Watson claimed psychology to be science, psychology has been considered a science based on direct observations. Moreover, behavioral psychologists are interested in evaluating behaviors that one can observe concerning the environment, demonstrated in behavior theory's ABCs (antecedents, behaviors, and consequences).

They inspect the antecedents or the circumstances that lead up to a particular behavior. Next, they assess the behaviors following the antecedent with the goal of understanding, predicting, or controlling. Then, observe the consequences or the effect of the behavior on the environment. Because validating private experiences such as cognitive processes is impossible, behaviorists do not include them in their investigations.

Overall, Watson, Thorndike, and Skinner regarded environment and experience as primary determinants of behavior, not genetic influences.

What is the philosophy of Behavioral theory?

Behaviorism consists of ideas that make it easier to grasp and use in real life. The following are some of the theory's assumptions on behavior:

Psychology is empirical and part of the natural sciences

People who adopt the behaviorist philosophy consider psychology part of the observable or natural sciences. This means that behavioral scientists study observable things in the environment that affect behavior, such as Reinforcements (Rewards and punishments), Different settings, and Consequences.

Researchers adjust these inputs (e.g., rewards) to understand what impacts behavior.

An example of behavioral theory at work is when a child gets a sticker for behaving well in class. In this case, the reinforcement (sticker) becomes a variable that influences the child's behavior, encouraging him to observe proper behavior during a lesson.

Behaviors are caused by a person's environment.

Behaviorism gives little to no consideration to inner thoughts and other non-observable stimuli. Behaviorists believe that all activities trace to outside factors such as family environment, early life experiences, and expectations from society.

Behaviorists think that all of us begin with a blank mind at birth. As we grow older, we acquire behavior through what we learn in our environment.

Animal and human behavior is essentially the same.

To behaviorists, animals and humans form behaviors in the same way and for the same reasons. The theory claims that all types of human and animal behaviors are derived from a stimulus and response system.

Behaviorism focuses on empirical observations.

The original philosophy of behaviorism focuses on empirical or observable behaviors found in humans and animals just like biology, chemistry, and other natural sciences.

Although behaviorist theories such as B.F. Skinner's Radical Behaviorism views thoughts and emotions as a result of environmental conditioning; the main assumption is that external traits (e.g., punishment) and outcomes need to be observed and measured.

Behavioral Theory of Personality: Development

The basic notion of behaviorism that the environment influences behavior traces back to classical and operant conditioning principles. Classical conditioning introduced the stimulus and response system. In contrast, operant conditioning paved the way for reinforcements and consequences still applied today, such as in classroom settings, at home, in the workplace, and in psychotherapy.

To better understand the basis of this theory, let's look at four notable behaviorists who contributed to its development.

Classical Conditioning

Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist interested in how learning and association occur in the presence of a stimulus. In the 1900s, he conducted an experiment that opened the way for behaviorism in America beginning in the 20th century, famously known as classical conditioning. Classical conditioning is a learning process in which an involuntary response to a stimulus becomes elicited by a previously neutral stimulus.

The process of classical conditioning involves a stimulus and a response. A stimulus is any factor present in the environment that triggers a response. Association happens when a subject learns to respond to a new stimulus in the same way they do to a stimulus that triggers an automatic response.

Behavioral Theory of Personality, a bell, StudySmarterPavlov's UCS was a bell, pexels.com

In his experiment, he observed that the dog salivates (response) in the sight of food (stimulus). The involuntary salivation of dogs is the unconditioned response, and the food is the unconditioned stimulus. He rang the bell before he gave the food to the dog. The bell became a conditioned stimulus with repeated pairing with the food (unconditioned stimulus) that triggered the dog's salivation (conditioned response). He trained the dog to salivate with only the sound of the bell, as the dog associated the sound with the food. His findings demonstrated stimulus-response learning that helped build what the behaviorist theory is now today.

Operant Conditioning

Unlike classical conditioning, operant conditioning involves voluntary behaviors learned from associations with positive or negative outcomes. The subject is passive in classical conditioning, and learned behaviors are elicited. But, in operant conditioning, the subject is active and doesn't rely on involuntary responses. Overall, the basic principle is that behaviors determine the consequences.

Edward L. Thorndike

Yet another psychologist who demonstrated learning through trial and error with his experiment was Edward L. Thorndike. He placed hungry cats in a box with a built-in pedal and door. He also placed a fish outside the box. The cats need to step on the pedal to exit the box and get the fish. At first, the cat only made random movements until it learned to open the door by stepping on the pedal. He viewed the cats' behavior as instrumental in the outcomes of this experiment, which he established as instrumental learning or instrumental conditioning. Instrumental conditioning is a learning process involving consequences influencing the likelihood of a behavior. He also proposed the Law of Effect, which states that desirable outcomes strengthen a behavior, and undesirable outcomes weaken it.

B.F. Skinner

While Thorndike worked with cats, B.F. Skinner studied pigeons and rats in which he observed that actions producing positive outcomes are repeated, and actions producing negative or neutral outcomes are not repeated. He disregarded free will altogether. Building upon Thorndike's Law of Effect, Skinner introduced the idea of reinforcement increasing the chances of behavior to be repeated, and without reinforcement, the behavior weakens. He called Thorndike's instrumental conditioning operant conditioning, suggesting that the learner "operates" or acts on the environment.

Positive reinforcement happens when the behavior is followed by a reward such as verbal praise. In contrast, negative reinforcement involves taking away what is considered unpleasant (e.g., headache) after performing a behavior (e.g., taking a painkiller). The goal of positive and negative reinforcement is to strengthen the preceding behavior making it more likely to occur.

What are the Strong Points of Behavioral Theory of Personality?

No matter how ordinary a situation may seem, there are many unwanted or harmful behaviors that one can observe. One example is self-destructive behaviors or aggression by a person with Autism. In cases of profound intellectual disabilities, explaining not to hurt others doesn't apply, so behavioral therapies focused on positive and negative reinforcements can help.

The practical nature of behaviorism allows for replication of studies within varying subjects, increasing the validity of the results. Although there are moral concerns when changing subjects from animals to humans, studies on behaviorism have proven reliable due to their observable and measurable nature.

Positive and negative reinforcements help strengthen productive behaviors to increase classroom learning, enhance workplace motivation, decrease disruptive behaviors, and improve pet training.

Behavioral Theory of Personality: Limitations

Cognitive processes are recognized by many as essential for learning and personality development (Schunk, 2012)2. Behaviorism completely ignores the involvement of the mind, claiming that thoughts cannot be directly observed. At the same time, others believe that genetic and internal factors influence behavior. Critics also mentioned that Ivan Pavlov's classical conditioning did not consider voluntary human behavior.

Some behaviors, such as those related to socialization or language development, can be taught without prior reinforcement. According to social learning and cognitive learning theorists, the behaviorist method does not adequately explain how people and animals learn to interact.

Because emotions are subjective, behaviorism doesn't recognize their influence on human and animal behavior. But, other studies (Desautels, 2016)3 reveal that feelings and emotional connections impact learning and actions.

Behaviorism - Key takeaways

  • Behaviorism is a theory in psychology that views human and animal behavior as solely influenced by external stimuli.
  • John B. Watson (1924) first introduced the behavioral theory. Ivan Pavlov (1890) worked on experiments using the classical conditioning of dogs. Edward Thorndike proposed the Law of Effect and his experiment on cats and puzzle boxes. B.F. Skinner (1938) built upon Thorndike's work, which he called operant conditioning.
  • Behavioral psychology focuses on antecedents, behaviors, and consequences to examine human and animal behavior.
  • One of the main pros of Behaviorism is its practical application in therapy interventions and work or school settings.
  • One of the main cons of Behaviorism is its disregard for internal states such as thoughts and emotions.

References

  1. Watson, J. B. (1958). Behaviorism (rev. ed.). University of Chicago Press. https://www.worldcat.org/title/behaviorism/oclc/3124756
  2. Schunk, D. H. (2012). Social cognitive theory. APA educational psychology handbook, Vol. 1.https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-11701-005
  3. Desautels, L. (2016). How emotions affect learning, behaviors, and relationships. Scholarship and professional work: Education. 97. https://digitalcommons.butler.edu/coe_papers/97/2. Schunk, D. H. (2012). Social cognitive theory. APA educational psychology handbook, Vol. 1.https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-11701-005

Frequently Asked Questions about Behavioral Theory of Personality

Behavioral theory of personality is the theory that the external environment influences human or animal behavior entirely. In humans, the external environment can influence many of our decisions, such as where we live, who we hang out with, and what we eat, read, or watch.  

From the behavioral theory of personality comes the behavioral approach. Behavioral responses to stimuli are the focus of this psychological approach. The kind of behavior we develop is based on the environment's responses, which can strengthen or weaken desirable or abnormal behaviors. According to this approach, encouraging unacceptable conduct can lead to abnormal behaviors. 

Behaviorism completely ignores the involvement of the mind, claiming that thoughts cannot be directly observed. At the same time, others believe that genetic and internal factors influence behavior. Critics also mentioned that Ivan Pavlov's classical conditioning did not consider voluntary human behavior. 


According to social learning and cognitive learning theorists, the behaviorist method does not adequately explain how people and animals learn to interact. 


Because emotions are subjective, behaviorism doesn't recognize their influence on human and animal behavior. But, other studies (Desautels, 2016)3 reveal that feelings and emotional connections impact learning and actions. 


Positive reinforcement happens when the behavior is followed by a reward such as verbal praise. In contrast, negative reinforcement involves taking away what is considered unpleasant (e.g., headache) after performing a behavior (e.g., taking a painkiller). The goal of positive and negative reinforcement is to strengthen the preceding behavior making it more likely to occur. 

Final Behavioral Theory of Personality Quiz

Question

The theory of Behaviorism states that human and animal behavior is mainly influenced by:

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Answer

External stimuli

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Question

Who formally introduced the Behaviorism theory in 1924?

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Answer

John B. Watson

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True or False: Behaviorism seeks to establish psychology as part of the liberal arts.

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Answer

False

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What are the three main types of Behaviorism theory?

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Methodological, Psychological, Analytical

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What is an example of a positive reinforcement?

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Giving happy faces and stickers to a child for a job well done

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What is an example of a negative reinforcement?

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A teenager getting grounded for coming home past the curfew

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What is an evident application of Analytical Behaviorism?


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Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, what is the formal term for unhelpful thinking patterns?

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Cognitive Distortions

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What is an example of external stimuli that affects behavior, according to behavioral psychology?

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Reinforcements

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True or False: In Behaviorism, human and animal behavior are essentially similar.

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True

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What is another term for empirical behaviors?


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Observable behaviors

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True or False: Behaviorism studies are difficult to replicate because of non-empirical observations.

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False

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Who introduced Radical Behaviorism?


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B.F. Skinner

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It is the sub-branch of Behaviorism that explains how external stimuli gradually shapes behavior:

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Psychological Behaviorism

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What is a criticism of Behaviorism theory?


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Some behaviors are learned without reinforcements.

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True or False: The idea behind the behavioral theory is that only external influences shape human and animal behavior.


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True 

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Fill in the blank: The behavioral approach is a perspective in psychology that examines how a person behaves in response to _________.


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stimuli 

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What type of clinical counseling is used to treat individuals with Autism and other developmental condition? 

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Answer

Applied Behavioral Analysis 

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What type of clinical counseling is used to treat addictive habits such as smoking, alcohol abuse, or drug abuse

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Answer

Substance Abuse Treatment 

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What type of clinical counseling is used mostly in the form of cognitive-behavioral theory interventions to aid in mental health treatment? 

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Psychotherapy 

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True or False: Sigmund Freud was the first to demonstrate learning by association with his experiment on dogs salivating upon hearing the tuning fork. 

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Answer

False

Show question

Question

Which psychologist suggested that our thoughts and feelings are products of external events, such as feeling stressed over finances or lonely after a breakup? 

Show answer

Answer

Burrhus Frederic Skinner

Show question

Question

Which psychologist observed that behaviors associated with positive outcomes are strengthened, and behaviors associated with negative outcomes are weakened? 

Show answer

Answer

Edward Thorndike 

Show question

Question

True or False: Behaviorism is a perspective in psychology that views human behavior as a product of experience and the environment.


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Answer

True 

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Which psychologist used operant conditioning on rats? 

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B.F. Skinner 

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Which psychologist used classical conditioning on dogs?

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Ivan Pavlov 

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Which psychologist used instrumental conditioning on cats? 

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Edward Thorndike 

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Which psychologist examined classical aversive conditioning? 

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John Watson 

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Fill in the blank: _______ conditioning is a learning process in which an involuntary response to a stimulus becomes elicited by a previously neutral stimulus.

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Classical 

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True or False: A stimulus is any factor present in the environment that triggers a response.

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True 

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Which psychologist is known for conducting the "Baby Albert" experiment? 

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John Watson 

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True or False: Negative reinforcement happens when the behavior is followed by a reward such as verbal praise.


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Answer

False

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Fill in the blank: According to the _________ Principle, behaviors can also act as reinforcers, which means using the desired behavior as a reinforcer for less desirable behavior.

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Premack 

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How many types of reinforcement schedules are there? 

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Two 

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Fill in the blank: _______ schedules allow time to pass (e.g., every one hour) between rewarded behaviors. 

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Interval 

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True or False: Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a treatment approach that seeks to change unhelpful beliefs and patterns of behavior.

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True 

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Fill in the blank: ______ ratio schedules require a specific quantity of operant responses before reinforcing a behavior.

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Fixed 

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Fill in the blank: _______ ratio schedules involve a varying number of responses before reinforcing a behavior.

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Variable 

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Fill in the blank: _______ interval schedules involve reinforcements after a certain amount of time.

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Fixed 

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Fill in the blank: ________ interval schedules involve variable timeframe in between reinforcements.

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Variable 

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Fill in the blank:

A ________ stimulus raises the likelihood of a specific behavior occurring due to prior reinforcements in the presence of that stimulus. 

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discriminative 

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Fill in the blank: _________ happens when a subject learns to respond to a new stimulus in the same way they do to a stimulus that triggers an automatic response. 

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Answer

Association

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