The power of stress: perceived stress and its relationship with rumination, self-concept clarity, and resilience.
Transactional Model of Stress and Coping
The transactional model of stress and coping conceptualizes stress as an interactive process between the person and the environment that takes into account the nature of the stressful event (Lazarus, 1966; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, 1987). An important aspect of the theory involves the cognitive process of primary and secondary appraisals after exposure to the stressful event. Primary appraisals (also referred to as the motivational relevance; Smith & Lazarus, 1990) concern "what is at stake for the person" while secondary appraisals focus on the "person's evaluation of coping options" in order to change conditions that are perceived as negative or undesirable (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, p. 315). Within the transactional model coping is considered a choice that is affected by these two cognitive appraisals and is determined by a person's perception of how much control he or she has over the stressful event (Folkman & Lazarus, 1985). The reappraisal process of the model is the feedback process wherein changes to the primary and secondary appraisals are the result of the interactive reactions between the person and the environment based on the implemented coping behavior (Lazarus, 1993, 1994). Research has supported the transactional model's assertion that psychological stress and its intensity is the result of a person's evaluation of the stressful event in the context of how it affects his or her well-being and the chosen method of coping (e.g., Lazarus, 1993, 1999; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, 1987; Perrewe & Zellars, 1999).
Perceived Stress and College Students
The stressfulness of an event is dependent on a perceptual process of how one perceives the level of threat that the stressor poses and his/her ability to cognitively and behavioral manage/adapt to it (Caplan, 1981; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, 1987; Thoits, 1995). As mentioned earlier, college students often encounter various stressors that can negatively impact their academic performance, mental health and physical well-being. Pierceall and Keim (2007) found that 75% of students in their study fell in the moderate stress category, 12% in the high stress category, 13% in the low stress category, with women students feeling more stressed then male students. Ross et al.'s (1999) study noted several frequent sources of stress among college students, which included a change in sleeping habits, taking a vacation or break, a change in eating habits, confronting new responsibilities, increases in class workload, financial difficulties, and a change in social activities. Several research studies have also noted other challenging experiences by college students that can have an adverse effect on their lives (see Civitci, 2015; Misra & Castillo, 2004; Struthers, Perry, & Menec, 2000). Therefore, college students often encounter stressful events; however, their perceptual appraisal of such events can affect cognitive and behavioral processes, depending on the student's ability to adapt.
In regards to gender, studies have consistently observed higher stress among women compared to men (Matud, 2004; Misra & Castillo, 2004; Misra & McKean, 2000; Russo, Miller, & Vitaliano, 1985). Matud's (2004, p. 1042) literature review referenced numerous studies that allude to the effects of gender on the stress process. Women, being in more gender-specific stressful situations, tend to appraise threatening events as more stressful than men, are influenced by social role expectations and exposure to daily stressors associated with their role functioning, and are more affected by the stress of those who are around them. Thus, we expect findings that are consistent with the extant literature.
A phenomenon that has received extensive attention in the coping response style literature is rumination. Based on Response Styles theory (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1987; Nolen-Hoeksema, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008; Treynor, Gonzalez, & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2003), rumination is a method of coping that involves self-reflection and repetitive focus on one's negative emotions (Lyubomirsky & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1993; Morrow & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990; Nolen-Hoeksema, 1991, 2011). Research suggests that individuals who engage in self-focused ruminative behaviors in response to depressed mood, stress, anxiety, or anger experience greater negative moods and thinking, poor problem-solving, reductions in social support, inhibition of motivation and initiative, and impaired attention and concentration (Mezo & Baker, 2012; Nolen-Hoeksema & Keita, 2003; Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008).
Studies have shown that rumination is associated with gender, with women more frequently utilizing a ruminative response behavior than men (Butler & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1994; Jose & Brown, 2008; Mezo & Baker, 2012; Morrow & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990). Gender differences in a ruminative response style seem to develop during early adolescence, where gender differences in depression between girls and boys become apparent, in addition to parents reinforcing gender roles on how girls and boys manage their negative emotional states (Broderick, 1998; Jose & Brown, 2008; Nolen-Hoeksema & Jackson, 2001). Hence, women tend to ruminate more due to having a subordinate social status (Nolen-Hoeksema & Jackson, 2001), are viewed as more emotionally liable, exhibit less control of their emotions (Fabes & Martin, 1991), and experience more negative and uncontrollable events than men (Nolen-Hoeksema, Larson, & Grayson, 1999). On the other hand, men tend to ruminate for shorter periods of time on specific life experiences and events which do not have the same distressing consequences as they do on women (Nolen-Hoeksema & Jackson, 2001).
Self-concept clarity (SCC) is the structural aspect of the self-concept and refers to clearly and confidently defined features of one's self-beliefs that are internal, consistent and temporally stable (Campbell, 1990; Campbell, Trapnell, Heine, Katz, Lavallee, & Lehman, 1996). Furthermore, research has found SCC to be a relatively stable trait (e.g., low SCC is correlated with chronic self-analysis; Campbell et al., 1996).
Campbell (1990) has argued that SCC consists of an evaluative component that has a demonstrated connection with global self-esteem (a personal judgment of worthiness), as well as a knowledge component that focuses on the level of certainty about one's beliefs regarding his or her personal attributes. Therefore, it would seem logical that a person's perception of stress, ability to adapt to adversity, and ruminative behaviors may be influenced by or relate to one's clarity of self. In fact, studies have shown SCC to be associated with the personality dimensions of neuroticism, conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness (Campbell et al., 1996); depressive symptoms and short- and long-term adaptability to stress (Lee-Flynn, Pomaki, DeLongis, Biesanz, & Puterman, 2011); self-rumination (Campbell et al., 1996; Simsek, 2013); and gender differences (Csank, & Conway, 2004).
A variable that has some connection to an individual's ability to manage stressful life experiences is resilience. In the literature, resilience has been associated with a personality trait that can moderate the effects of stress (e.g., Adhern, Kiehl, Sole, & Byers, 2006; Coutu, 2002; Kumpfer, 1999) or as a state in which the individual is able to adapt to adverse circumstances (e.g., Bonnano, 2004; Wagnild & Young, 1993). Rutter (1984) found that highly resilient students perceived that they were in control of their lives and environments. Resilience was also found to affect a student's perception of stress, which in turn impacted their general well-being and quality of life satisfaction (Abolghasemi & Varaniyab, 2010; Tung, Ning, & Kris, 2014). Previous studies have also shown that resilience behaviors are less likely to occur when individuals engage in rumination while experiencing stress (see Troy & Mauss, 2011). Also, after experiencing a traumatic event women have been found less likely to be resilient compared to men (Bonanno, Galea, Bucciarelli, & Vlahov, 2007).
Presently, there has been a sparsity of studies that have examined how stress is related to a set of behavioral phenomena such as rumination, self-concept clarity and resilience. Specifically, the current study investigated: (a) the relationship between perceived stress and rumination, self-concept clarity, and resilience; and (b) how gender is associated with these variables. We predicted that a positive relationship should exist between stress and rumination and an inverse relationship between stress and resilience and self-concept clarity. In addition, significant gender differences were also predicted among these variables.
The data for this study were collected from participants drawn from the Behavioral Sciences Research Subjects Pool at a conservative Christian university in the Midwest. There were 164 subjects who volunteered to participate in the study: 59 were male and 105 were female. Approximately 35% were freshman, 24.4% were sophomores, 19.5% were juniors, 18.3% were senior and 1.8% were graduate students. The ethnic distribution was 36.6% Caucasian, 23.2% would rather not specify, 19.5% African/Black American, 18.9% Asian, and 1.8% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. The mean age was 20.3 (SD = 3.99).
The measures used in this study included: Perceived Stress Scale, Ruminative Response Style Questionnaire, Self-Concept Clarity Scale, the 14-Item Resilience Scale, and a demographic questionnaire.
Perceived Stress Scale 10-Item Version (PSS). The 10-item version (Cohen & Williamson, 1988) of the original 14-item PSS developed by Cohen, Kamarck, and Meremelstein (1983) is used to measure psychological stress. This self-report questionnaire includes items such as "in the last month, how often have you been upset because of something that happened unexpectedly" and "in the last month, how often have you felt nervous and stressed", describing responses to stress or specific mood states within the past month. Respondents rate each item on a 5-point Likert scale from 0 (Never) to 4 (Very Often). Scores on the PSS range from 0 to 40 with higher composite scores indicative of greater perceived stress. A review of the psychometric evidence on the 10-item version (see Lee, 2012) noted that it has adequate internal reliability (ranging from .78 to .91) and test-retest reliability (ranging from .77 to .90), good criterion and factorial validity, as well as reliable construct validity (Roberti, Harrington, & Storch, 2006). Cronbach's alpha for the current study was .57.
Ruminative Response Style Questionnaire (RSQ). For the current study, a 16-item shortened version of the RSQ (Nolen-Hoeksema, Morrow, & Fredrickson, 1993; Weir, 2007) from the original 22-item version developed by Treynor et al. (2003) was used to measure rumination levels. Respondents rated each self-report item (e.g., "I think there must be something wrong with me or I wouldn't feel this way" and "I go to my room alone to think about my feelings") on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 (Never) to 5 (Always). Scores for the shortened RSQ range from 16 to 80, with higher composite scores indicative of greater ruminative coping behaviors. In general, the RSQ has good internal reliability, test-retest reliability across time, and good predictive validity indicative of depressive symptoms (Treynor et al., 2003; Weir, 2007). Cronbach's alpha for the 16-item RSQ used in this study was .88.
Self-Concept Clarity Scale (SCC). This self-report questionnaire includes 12 items (e.g., "my beliefs about myself often conflict with one another" (reverse scored) and "I seldom experience conflict between the different aspects of my personality") that measure the clarity, consistency and stability of self-beliefs (Campbell et al., 1996). Participants rated each item on an extended 6-point Likert scale (from the original 5-point Likert scale) ranging from 1 (Strongly Agree) to 6 (Strongly Disagree), with lower scores indicative of a greater level of self-concept clarity. The SCC has decent validity and reliability, with an average reliability coefficient of .86 and an average item-total correlation of .54 across various samples (Campbell et al., 1996). The Estonian and German versions of the SCC have demonstrated similar psychometric properties as the original version (e.g., Matto & Realo, 2001; Steffgen, Da Silva, & Recchia, 2007). Cronbach's alpha for the SCC in the present study was good at .81.
14-Item Resilience Scale (RS-14). The RS-14 includes 14 self-report items (e.g., "I usually manage one way or another" and "I feel that I can handle many things at a time") that directly define resilience and was used to measure resilience levels (Wagnild, 2009). The RS-14 is the shortened version of the original 25-item Resilience Scale (RS) developed by Wagnild and Young (1993). Participants rated each item on a 7-point Likert scale from 1 (Strongly Disagree) to 7 (Strongly Agree). Scores range from 14 to 98, with higher scores indicative of greater resilience. Wagnild (2009) indicated that the RS-14's internal consistency reliability ranged from .91 to .93, content and construct validity were good, and it correlated with measures of age, gender, education, reported symptoms of depression, and self-reported health status. The Resilience Scale User's Guide cites over 25 published studies using the RS (see Wagnild, 2009, pp. 102-104). The RS-14 Cronbach's alpha for the present study was .89.
The data for this study were gathered from students who were part of the Behavioral Sciences Research Subjects Pool at a conservative Christian university in the Midwest. Prior to conducting the study, approval was obtained from the university's Institutional Review Board (protocol #12-139). Informed consent was obtained from all participants who volunteered to take part in this study. The four measures and demographic questionnaire were completed online using the Behavioral Sciences Research Center's lab computers. Participants also received research participation credit if they completed the study.
The data were examined using a multivariate correlational analysis in order to determine the magnitude and direction of the relationship between perceived stress and resilience, rumination, and clarity of one's self concept. Cohen's (1988) guidelines for determining the strength of the relationship were followed. T-tests for independent-samples were used to analyze gender differences.
Individual scores on the PSS ranged from 11 to 33 (M = 20.47; SD = 4.39). RSQ scores ranged from 18 to 69 (M = 41.96; SD = 10.80). For the RS-14, scores ranged from 33 to 81 (M = 62.80; SD = 10.13). SCC scores ranged from 19 to 72 (M = 47.31; SD = 9.23).
The results of an independent-samples t-test as presented in Table 1 indicate significant gender differences in PSS scores, t (162) = -2.47, p < .05 (two-tailed). Female subjects reported higher levels of perceived stress as compared to males (M = 21.10, SD = 4.58 and M = 19.36, SD = 3.84, respectively); however, the magnitude of the differences in the means (mean difference = -1.74, 95% CI: -3.13 to -.35) was small (eta squared = .04). Table 1 also displays significant gender differences in RSQ scores, t (162) = -3.17, p < .01 (two-tailed). Female subjects reported higher levels of rumination as compared to males (M = 43.91, SD = 11.00 and M = 38.49, SD = 9.56, respectively); however, the magnitude of the differences in the means (mean difference = -5.42, 95% CI: -8.80 to -2.05) was moderate (eta squared = .06). There were no significant gender differences found in RS-14 scores or in SCC scores (see Table 1).
The magnitude and direction of the relationship between perceived stress and rumination, self-concept clarity, and resilience was investigated using a multivariate correlational analysis. Preliminary analyses were performed to ensure no violation of the assumptions of normality, linearity, and homoscedasticity.
As shown in Table 2, there was a significant large positive correlation between perceived stress and rumination (r = .58, n = 164, p < .01, [r.sup.2] = .34), with higher levels of perceived stress associated with higher levels of rumination. When viewed by gender, a moderate to large significant correlation was found for both males (r = .46, n = 59, p < 0.01, [r.sup.2] = .21; see Table 3) and females (r = .60, n = 105, p < 0.01, [r.sup.2] = .36; see Table 3), with females showing a slightly larger correlation between perceived stress and rumination. This result would suggest that women tend to ruminate more than men about their stressors as stress levels increase, but, upon examining the group difference between correlation coefficients ([z.sub.obs] = -1.18), it was concluded that there was no statistically significant difference in the strength of the correlation between perceived stress and rumination for males and females.
In relation to perceived stress and resilience, a small significant negative correlation was found (r = -.39, n = 164, p < .01, [r.sup.2] = .15), with higher levels of perceived stress associated with lower levels of resilience (see Table 2). More specifically, females were found to have a moderate significant negative correlation between perceived stress and resilience (r = -.474, n = 105, p < .01, [r.sup.2] = .22), with higher levels of perceived stress associated with lower levels of resilience (see Table 3). There was no significant correlation found between perceived stress and resilience for males (r = -.215, n = 59, p < .05, [r.sup.2] = .05; see Table 3).
The relationship between perceived stress and self-concept clarity indicated a small significant negative correlation (r = -.23, n = 164, p < .01, [r.sup.2] = .01), with high levels of perceived stress associated with lower levels of self-concept clarity (see Table 2). A small significant inverse correlation was found for females (r = -.26, n = 105, p < .01, [r.sup.2] = .07; see Table 4), but not for males (r = -.16, n = 59, p < .05, [r.sup.2] = .03; see Table 3). This suggests that for women, increasing levels of stress are associated with lower self-perceived personal attributes and confidence in managing their stressors effectively.
The correlation between rumination and resilience was a significant inverse one (r = -.44, n = 164, p < .01, [r.sup.2] = .20), with higher levels of rumination associated with lower levels of resilience (see Table 2). Both males (r = -.34, n = 59, p < .01, [r.sup.2] = .12; see Table 3) and females (r = .51, n = 105, p < .01, [r.sup.2] = .26; see Table 3) had a significant negative correlation between rumination and resilience. This would suggest that lower levels of resilience are associated with more rumination behaviors, especially among women. Thus, resilience helped to explain 12% for males and 26% for females of the variance in their scores on the RSQ. However, there was ([z.sub.obs] = -1.18), no statistically significant difference in the strength of the correlation between rumination and resilience for males and females.
Rumination was also shown to have a significant small negative correlation with self-concept clarity (r = -.36, n = 164, p < .01, [r.sup.2] = .13), with higher levels of rumination associated with lower levels of self-concept clarity (see Table 2). A significant small negative correlation was observed between these two variables for both males (r = -.36, n = 59, p < .01, [r.sup.2] = .13; see Table 3) and females (r = -.38, n = 105, p < .01, [r.sup.2] = .14; see Table 3). These findings would suggest that regardless of gender, the more a person ruminates about adverse situations the more such stressors lower the individual's level of confidence in their own abilities to assess and implement their resources to manage stress successfully. Thus, rumination helped to explain 13% for males and 14% for females of the variance in their scores on the SCC.
College students often encounter stressful events; however, their perceptual appraisal of the events can affect cognitive and behavioral processes, depending on their ability to adapt to stress. The present study investigated the relationship between perceived stress, rumination, self-concept clarity, and resilience, and how gender was associated with these variables. Our results indicated a significant difference between men and women on the stress and rumination measures, with female students exhibiting higher levels of perceived stress and rumination compared to male students; however, the effect sizes were small to medium, respectively. Higher levels of perceived stress were significantly related with higher rumination behaviors, poor self-concept clarity, and low resilience levels, particularly for female students. Male students with high perceived stress were likely to ruminate more; furthermore, rumination was associated with poor self-concept clarity and low levels of resilience. Although significant relationships were found between perceived stress and rumination, self-concept clarity, and resilience for both male and female students, correlation coefficients were not statistically significant between genders.
Multivariate correlational analysis indicated that higher levels of perceived stress were significantly related to more rumination, poor self-concept clarity, and low levels of resilience. This finding seems to provide support for the transactional model of stress and coping process, as well as Response Styles Theory. As stated earlier, the transactional model of stress and coping argues that one's appraisal of a stressful event should result in the implementation of a coping reaction to the stressor as a means to maintain holistic well-being (Lazarus, 1966; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984, 1987). Response Styles Theory argues that rumination is a method of coping with negative emotions (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1987; Morrow & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990; Treynor et al., 2003). Furthermore, one's resilience level may play a role in ameliorating the effects of stress (Bonanno & Mancini, 2008; Kumpfer, 1999). In the current study, participants with high-perceived stress implemented a cognitive appraisal process that recognized the stress as undesirable; however, their poor clarity of self-concept and low resilience ability led them to implement a more negative coping behavior (rumination) as a means to manage their stress. Unfortunately, the empirical literature is practically void of studies that have examined these four variables together through multivariate analyses in order to substantiate or refute the present study's findings. Further confirmatory research regarding the results of this study, as well as utilizing causal modeling research to explore a possible causal mechanism among these variables is needed to clarify the perceived stress, rumination, self-concept clarity, and resilience relationship. In addition, further research is needed to determine which components of resilience that build a stronger self-concept and reduce rumination, are involved in effective stress management.
There were no statistically significant differences in correlation coefficients between male and female students in the present study; however, the direction and magnitude of the multivariate analysis revealed several interesting findings. The findings suggest that those females with high-perceived stress tend to ruminate slightly more, have slightly poorer self-concept clarity, and have slightly lower resilience levels. Generally, these findings are in line with the previous bivariate literature that has reported that women with high degrees of stress tend to exhibit strong ruminative behaviors (Mezo & Baker, 2012; Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008). Strong self-rumination has been associated with poor self-concept clarity (Campbell et al., 1996; Simsek, 2013). Resilience behaviors tend to be less likely to occur when individuals engage in rumination when experiencing stress after experiencing a traumatic event (Bonanno et al., 2007; Troy & Mauss, 2011).
For male students, the current findings suggest that those with high degrees of stress tend to ruminate strongly. The findings also indicate that males who ruminate more are likely to have poor self-concept clarity and low resilience levels. These findings support prior research studies that have reported similar results (Bonanno et al., 2007; Campbell et al., 1996; Csank & Conway, 2004; Mezo & Baker, 2012; Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2008).
The present study also found that female students experienced higher levels of perceived stress and ruminated more compared to their male counterparts. Although this finding was expected, the small effect size for perceived stress should be viewed with caution. Previous studies have indicated similar differences between males and females (Butler & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1994; Jose & Brown, 2008; Matud, 2004; Mezo & Baker, 2012; Misra & Castillo, 2004; Misra & McKean, 2000; Morrow & Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990; Russo, Miller, & Vitaliano, 1985). Hence, the current findings suggest that gender differences related to perceived stress and rumination, have remained consistent over time. More research is needed on females who are raised in non-traditional female role expectation environments in order to clarify whether these differences are truly due to social status (nurture), biology (nature) or a combination of both.
This study may be the first to examine perceived stress, rumination, self-concept clarity and resilience in combination for analysis, along with investigating the corresponding gender differences. Further research is needed to examine if resilience acts as a moderating or mediating agent among the combination of variables examined in this study based on whether this factor is defined as a personality trait (e.g., Adhern, Kiehl, Sole, & Byers, 2006; Coutu, 2002; Kumpfer, 1999) or as a state (e.g., Bonnano, 2004; Wagnild & Young, 1993).
The present study used a correlational and group differences analytical approach, thus no causal conclusions could be drawn. Data were also collected from a college sample, thus limiting the generalizability of the results. This study also relied on self-report measures. Another limitation is the possibility that resilience may have had some influence on the other variables in our study; however, this was not controlled for or examined using a partial correlation or mediation/moderation analysis. The variables that were selected for this study were based on how these factors relate to the general theories of the transactional model of stress and coping and Response Styles Theory. There are likely other important variables that were not measured in our study.
An important implication of our findings is the need for college campuses to adequately support student well-being through the provision of mental health and other related resources (including campus-wide prevention activities) that build and reinforce resilience skills. Such interventions could help students to increase their ability to manage stress more effectively, reduce destructive ruminative behaviors, and elevate clarity of self-trust about one's ability to successfully manage adverse life circumstances in the collegial environment.
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Kayla D. Willis and Harvey J. Burnett, Jr.
Author info: Correspondence should be sent to: Dr. Harvey Burnett, Behavioral Sciences Department, Andrews University, 8488 E. Campus Circle Drive, Berrien Springs, MI 49107. E-mail: email@example.com
TABLE 1 Group Differences for Scores on the PSS, RSQ, SCC & RS-14 Between Males and Females Male Female Measure M SD M SD t(162) p [[eta].sup.2] PSS 19.36 3.84 21.10 4.58 -2.47 .01 * .04 RSQ 38.49 9.56 43.91 11.0 -3.17 .00 ** .06 SCC 62.63 9.49 62.90 9.13 .240 .81 .00 RS-14 47.54 8.78 47.18 10.9 -.168 .87 .00 Note. * p < .05, ** p < .01 (2-tailed). PSS = Perceived Stress Scale; RSQ = Ruminative Response Style Questionnaire; SCC = Self Concept Clarity Scale; RS-14 = Resilience Scale. TABLE 2 Intercorrelations for Scores on the PSS, RQS, SCC, & RS-14 Measure 1 2 3 4 1. PSS -- 2. RSQ .580 ** -- 3. SCC -.228 ** -.362 ** -- 4. RS-14 -.393 ** -.444 ** .122 -- Note. * p < .05, ** p < 0.01 (2-tailed), Pearson Correlation. PSS = Perceived Stress Scale; RSQ = Ruminative Response Style Questionnaire; SCC = Self-concept Clarity Scale; RS-14 = Resilience Scale. TABLE 3 Intercorrelations for Scores on the PSS, RSQ, SCC, and RS- 14 as a Function of Gender Measure 1 2 3 4 1. PSS -- .601 ** -.262 ** -.474 ** 2. RSQ .463 ** -- -.376 -.507 ** 3. SCC -.163 -.357 ** -- .095 4. RS-14 -.215 -.343 ** .183 -- Note. * p < .05, ** p < .01 (2-tailed). Intercorrelations for male participants are presented below the diagonal, and intercorrelations for female participants are presented above the diagonal. PSS = Perceived Stress Scale; RSQ = Ruminative Response Style Questionnaire; SCC = Self-concept Clarity Scale; RS = Resilience Scale.
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|Author:||Willis, Kayla D.; Burnett, Harvey J., Jr.|
|Publication:||North American Journal of Psychology|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2016|
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