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The stresses of a "brave new world": shyness and school adjustment in kindergarten.

Abstract. Shy children are wary in the face of new social situations and perceived social evaluation. In this regard, the transition to kindergarten may represent a particularly challenging task for shy children. In this review, we explore the kindergarten classroom as a particularly stressful context for shy children. We examine the adjustment difficulties that shy children may face when starting school, including problems with peers, teachers, and academics. We also consider what teachers can do to help ease the school adjustment problems of shy children. It is our hope to continue to raise awareness in parents, educators, and mental health care professionals with regards to the challenges that shy children face at school.

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The transition to kindergarten may be difficult for many children (Duda & Minick, 2006). However, some children may have an especially problematic time with adjusting to the school atmosphere (Rimm-Kaufman, Pianta, & Cox, 2000). One such group of children may be shy children. Shy children may become overwhelmed when attending kindergarten because they are suddenly thrust into a new environment, surrounded by new peers and new adult authority figures. The purpose of this review is to highlight the social, socio-emotional, and academic difficulties that shy children may face when adjusting to kindergarten. Risk and protective factors for shy children also will be discussed. Drawing upon the extant research, we also suggest various ways that teachers may help shy children in their classrooms to "come out of their shells." Early intervention and prevention are important for extremely shy children, who appear to be at risk for more severe maladjustment in later childhood (e.g., see Rubin & Coplan, 2004, for a recent review).

What Is Shyness?

Shyness refers to wariness and anxiety in the face of social novelty and perceived social evaluation and is characterized by an approach-avoidance conflict in such situations (Coplan & Armer, 2007). Thus, although shy children may desire social interaction, this social approach motivation is simultaneously inhibited by social fear and anxiety (Coplan, Prakash, O'Neil, & Armer, 2004). For younger children, shyness manifests itself primarily as nervousness and fear when encountering new people and new situations. For older children, shyness also may be expressed as embarrassment and self-consciousness during situations when the child believes that he or she is the "center of attention" (Crozier, 2001).

There is growing evidence to suggest an underlying biological component related to shyness (Kagan, 1997; Marshall & Stevenson-Hinde, 2001). For example, as compared to their non-shy peers, extremely shy children are thought to have a lower threshold for arousal in the central nucleus of the region of the brain known as the amygdala, and demonstrate increased heart rate, higher early morning levels of salivary cortisol, and patterns of EEG responses characterized by greater right frontal activation (Fox, Henderson, Rubin, Calkins, & Schmidt, 2001; Henderson, Marshall, Fox, & Rubin, 2004; Kagan, Reznick, & Snidman, 1988; Schmidt & Tasker, 2000). The biological characteristics combine to make extremely shy children very reactive to stressful situations.

Parents also may play an influential role in their children's shyness (for a review, see Burgess, Rubin, Cheah, & Nelson, 2005). In general, an overprotective (or over-involved) parenting style has been linked to child shyness/inhibition (e.g., Rubin, Burgess, & Hastings, 2002). Parents who are overprotective of their children may discourage their children from exploring new situations and may steer their activities and behaviors (Rubin et al., 2002). In essence, parents may believe they are protecting their children from potentially stressful situations, but they may inadvertently be fostering children's dependency on parents and decreasing their sense of self-efficacy (Rubin, Stewart, & Coplan, 1995), which may lead to continued inhibited behavior (Rubin et al., 2002), as well other socio-emotional difficulties (Coplan, Arbeau, & Armer, 2008).

Shyness is moderately stable (particularly among extreme groups) from early childhood through to adolescence (Fordham & Stevenson-Hinde, 1999; Pedlow, Sanson, Prior, & Oberklaid, 1993). Moreover, shy children appear to be at increased risk for a host of social, emotional, and adjustment difficulties, particularly along the internalizing dimension (Coplan & Armer, 2007; Crozier, 2001; Rubin & Coplan, 2004). For example, from middle childhood through to adolescence, shyness becomes increasingly related to the habit of internalizing problems, which is then often manifested through loneliness, depression, and social anxiety, as well as deficits in social competence, lower self-esteem, and peer rejection (Boivin, Hymel, & Bukowski, 1995; Crozier, 1995; Fordham & Stevenson-Hinde, 1999; Prior, Smart, Sanson, & Oberklaid, 2000; Rubin, Chen, McDougall, Bowker, & McKinnon, 1995).

Moreover, results from a growing number of studies suggest that extreme shyness in early childhood might be linked to the later development of anxiety disorders (Hayward, Killen, Kraemer, & Taylor, 1998; Kagan, Snidman, Zentner, & Peterson, 1999; Mick & Telch, 1998; Van Ameringen, Mancini, & Oakman, 1998). Remarkably, Rapee and colleagues (Rapee, Kennedy, Ingram, Edwards, & Sweeney, 2005) recently reported that 90 percent of an "extremely shy" (i.e., those in the top 15 percent of the sample) group of preschool-age children also met criteria for an existing anxiety disorder.

Shy Children in Kindergarten

Successful adjustment to kindergarten represents an important and unique developmental milestone for young children (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Ladd, Buhs, & Seid, 2000; Ramey, Lanzi, Phillips, & Ramey, 1998). The reputations that children receive from peers and teachers in kindergarten may follow them throughout their years in school, affecting both their academic and social development (Ladd & Price, 1987).

The kindergarten classroom can be quite different from preschool and other child care environments. For example, children starting kindergarten (even if they have previously experienced some form of out-of-home care) are typically faced with a new school environment, a larger group of (initially unfamiliar) peers, and increased academic demands (Ladd & Price, 1987). Moreover, kindergarten classrooms usually have one teacher (Early, Pianta, & Cox, 1999), and tend to have higher child-to-staff ratios than do child care centers and preschools (Holloway & Reichhart-Erickson, 1988; McCartney et al., 1997). Given these environmental characteristics, the transition to kindergarten tends to be particularly stressful for shy children (Evans, 2001; Henderson & Fox, 1998; Rimm-Kaufman & Kagan, 2005). Moreover, the increased demands of the school environment may exacerbate shy children's feelings of social fear and self-consciousness (Evans, 2001). For example, children in kindergarten may be called upon to speak during "show and tell," a task that appears to be particularly arduous for shy children (Evans & Bienert, 1992).

Temperamentally shy children enter the school environment with a predisposition to respond to this social (and initially novel) environment with caution, uncertainty, and fear (Kagan, 1997). It is our assertion that this tendency toward wariness, in concert with its behavioral consequences, has important implications for the psychosocial and school adjustment of shy children. For example, shy children speak less frequently than their peers at school; have a longer latency period before speaking in novel, social, and structured settings; and make fewer verbal requests to teachers (Crozier & Perkins, 2002; Evans, 1993, 2001; Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2002; Rimm-Kaufman & Kagan, 2005). Moreover, Asendorf and Meier (1993) reported that shy children speak less upon arrival at school, in discussions, at break, and upon leaving for home.

This lack of verbal participation appears to have negative implications for shy children's academic success and school adjustment. Student participation, talkativeness, and social interaction are viewed as important contributors to the attainment of learning objectives (Daly & Korinek, 1980). Shy children's quiet demeanor may be perceived by teachers as a lack of interest in or understanding of the topic (Crozier & Perkins, 2002). In fact, quiet children often are perceived by teachers and peers as being less intelligent (Gordon & Thomas, 1967; McCroskey & Daly, 1976; Richmond, Beatty, & Dyba, 1985). Further, when given the opportunity to demonstrate their academic competence, shy children may evidence performance deficits because of the stresses associated with test performance (Crozier & Hostettler, 2003).

Thus, conceptually, it is not hard to envision how these issues may interfere with the learning process for shy children (Evans, 2001). In addition, there is at least some preliminary empirical evidence linking shyness and social withdrawal with a lack of displayed academic competence, both in early childhood (Coplan, Gavinski-Molina, Lagace-Seguin, & Wichmann, 2001; Lloyd & Howe, 2003; Rubin, 1982) and later childhood (Masten, Morison, & Pellegrini, 1985; Rubin, Chen, & Hymel, 1993). Most recently, Nelson, Rubin, and Fox (2005) reported a link between reticent behavior and lower perceived academic competence at age 4.

Aside from being "quiet" at school, shy children in preschool and kindergarten are more likely to withdraw from social interaction with peers, and less likely to initiate social interactions with peers (e.g., Coplan et al., 2004; Ladd & Profilet, 1996). More specifically, during free play with peers in these early education settings, shyness appears to be manifested behaviorally through the display of reticent behavior. Reticent behavior is considered a behavioral expression of a social approach-avoidance conflict (Asendorpf, 1990), and includes being unoccupied and the prolonged watching of other children without accompanying play (onlooking) (Coplan, Rubin, Fox, Calkins, & Stewart, 1994). There is strong empirical support linking shyness with the display of reticent behavior in the classroom, both on the first day of school (Coplan, 2000; Gersten, 1989) and several months into the school year (Coplan & Rubin, 1998; Coplan, Findlay, & Nelson, 2004; Coplan et al., 2001; Rimm-Kaufman & Kagan, 2005).

Problems With Peers. The early childhood period is a critical time for young children to acquire important social skills that will aid them in engaging in successful interactions with peers (Coplan & Arbeau, in press). It should not be considered shocking that shy children would have particular difficulty navigating the social world of kindergarten. Their deficiencies in social competence (Bohlin, Hagekull, & Andersson, 2005) and lack of social initiations (Coplan et al., 2004) do not make them attractive playmates for peers (Coplan, Girardi, Findlay, & Frohlick, 2007). Not surprisingly, shyness and reticent behavior have been associated with peer rejection, exclusion, loneliness, and even victimization in preschool and kindergarten (Coplan et al., 2004; Coplan, Closson, & Arbeau, 2007; Eisenberg, Shepard, Fabes, Murphy, & Guthrie, 1998; Gazelle & Ladd, 2003; Hart et al., 2000; Nelson et al., 2005; Perren & Alsaker, 2006).

In and of themselves, poor-quality relationships with peers are a significant risk factor for a host of negative outcomes in childhood (see Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2006, for a recent review). It seems likely that these difficulties with peers serve to exacerbate shy children's already existing tendency towards negative moods, worries, and fears (Stevenson-Hinde & Glover, 1996). If shy children continue to withdraw from peer interactions in middle and later childhood, they will likely be at increased risk for peer difficulties. With increasing age, keeping to oneself becomes more noticeable and less acceptable to the peer group (e.g., Younger & Boyko, 1987; Younger, Schwartzman, & Ledingham, 1985). In early childhood, being and playing alone is not considered very unusual, since a lot of children tend to engage in constructive play in early childhood (Rubin, 1982). In later childhood, however, the display of solitary behaviors becomes more deviant to age-norms, and withdrawn children may become salient targets for peer rejection and peer attacks (e.g., Boivin et al., 1995; Rubin & Mills, 1988).

Problems With Teachers. Different perspectives exist on shy children's relations with teachers. To begin with, some researchers have suggested that young shy children may go unnoticed by teachers (e.g., Keogh, 2003) or that teachers may sometimes even encourage shy behaviors because they help maintain order in the classroom (e.g., Rubin, 1982). In support of this notion is the argument that the internalizing symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression) that shy children tend to experience in kindergarten do not stand out in the classroom environment and thus may be more difficult to assess accurately (Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2002; Rimm-Kaufman & Kagan, 2005).

In contrast, results from other research suggest that shy children's adjustment problems do not appear to go unnoticed by teachers. Indeed, Arbeau and Coplan (2007a) recently reported that kindergarten teachers believed that shyness had just as much of a negative social cost to children as aggression does. In this same study, teachers also claimed that they would be more likely to intervene directly in response to shyness than all other forms of social and nonsocial behaviors, except for aggression. Thijs, Koomen, and Van Der Leij (2006) reported that the kindergarten teachers in their study used socioemotional supportive strategies (e.g., "I encourage this child to play with other children") to help inhibited children in their classrooms. This finding is consistent with results from recent behavioral observation studies indicating that shy children tend to require more attention from teachers (e.g., Coplan & Prakash, 2003). It may be that teachers are becoming more sensitized to the potential difficulties of shy children, due to the increased research and media attention paid to these children in recent years (Arbeau & Coplan, 2007a).

Researchers also have reported that shy and withdrawn children tend to form less close (but also less conflicted) and more dependent relationships with teachers (Birch & Ladd, 1998; Howes, Hamilton, & Matheson, 1994; Ladd & Burgess, 1999; Rudasill, Rimm-Kaufman, Justice, & Pence, 2006; Rydell, Bohlin, & Thorell, 2005). Children who have a dependent relationship with their teacher are overly "clingy" and needy of the teacher. These children may prefer to be around the teacher than with their peers, which may have negative implications for the development of children's social skills. Interestingly, Rudasill and colleagues (2006) recently reported that shy children with greater language complexity were particularly likely to form dependent relationships with teachers. These authors postulated that shy children with stronger language abilities might use these skills to elicit more attention from their teachers.

Children who are dependent on their teachers also have been found to have more academic difficulties, to be more lonely, like school less, be less self-directed in class, and are more likely to display other behavior problems (e.g., conduct problems, poor attention span) at school, as compared to children with less dependent teacher-child relationships (Birch & Ladd, 1997; Pianta & Nimetz, 1991). Further, a dependent relationship with a kindergarten teacher predicts problematic and less competent behaviors in grade 1 (Pianta & Nimetz, 1991; Pianta & Steinberg, 1992; Pianta, Steinberg, & Rollins, 1995).

It is optimal for children to develop close relationships with their teachers (Hamre & Pianta, 2006). Close teacher-child relationships are characterized by warmth, support, and caring. Such relationships are positively related to competence behaviors in the classroom (e.g., positive work habits, assertive social skills), academic performance, liking school, and self-directedness (Birch & Ladd, 1997; Pianta et al., 1995), and negatively related to antisocial behavior and classroom behavior problems (Birch & Ladd, 1998; Pianta et al., 1995). In addition, children at risk of being retained in kindergarten but who actually moved on to the next grade have been found to have more positive relationships with their teachers (Pianta & Steinberg, 1992; Pianta et al., 1995). Thus, shy children may benefit more from close, positive relationships with their teachers than from dependent teacher-child relationships.

Socio-emotional Problems. Results from several studies have subsequently linked shyness with the observed display of anxious behaviors during play, parent/teacher ratings of anxiety and internalizing problems, and self-reported loneliness and lower self-esteem (Coplan, 2000; Coplan & Armer, 2005; Coplan et al., 2007; Coplan et al., 2004; Coplan, Findlay, & Nelson, 2004; Coplan & Rubin, 1998; Henderson et al., 2004; Ladd & Profilet, 1996; Levy-Shift& Hoffman, 1989; Sanson, Pedlow, Cann, Prior, & Oberklaid, 1996; Spinrad et al., 2004).

Not only are shy children at risk for immediate short-term detrimental effects, they are also in jeopardy for long-term difficulties (e.g., Caspi, Elder, & Bern, 1988; Gest, 1997; Ishiyama, 1984; Ollendick, Greene, Weist, & Oswald, 1990; Prior et al., 2000). For instance, Gazelle and Ladd (2003) reported that shy and withdrawn children who were excluded shortly after they started kindergarten were more likely to remain shy and withdrawn over time (through to grade 4) and to display more depressive symptoms than shy children who were not excluded.

Risk and Protective Factors. Although shy children are at increased risk for a number of difficulties, it is certainly not true that all young children who are shy develop later problems (Arcus, 2001; Wachs & Kohnstamm, 2001). Researchers have begun focusing on risk and protective factors, as well as considering potential moderating variables between shyness and adjustment in childhood.

For example, there is growing evidence to suggest that being shy is particularly problematic for boys in school (Coplan & Armer, 2007). Shyness in girls is more likely to be rewarded and accepted by parents (Radke-Yarrow, Richters, & Wilson, 1988). Moreover, shy boys in preschool display more behavior problems and are more likely to be excluded by peers than are shy girls (Coplan et al., 2004; Gazelle & Ladd, 2003). Throughout childhood and adolescence, shy and socially withdrawn boys continue to display greater adjustment difficulties than shy girls, including more loneliness, poorer social skills and coping strategies, and lower self-esteem (Eisenberg et al., 1998; Morison & Masten 1991). Rubin and Coplan (2004) suggest that these findings reflect a greater social acceptance of shyness for girls than boys in Western cultures.

Another buffer against negative outcomes for shy children appears to be language ability. Increased verbal skills may be particularly important in facilitating social interactions for shy children. Results from several studies indicate that various language skills appear to serve a protective role for shy children, including verbal IQ (Asendorpf, 1994), expressive vocabulary skills (Coplan & Armer, 2005), and pragmatic language (Weeks & Coplan, 2007).

As mentioned previously, parental overprotection (i.e., overcontrol, not encouraging a child's independence) also appears to exacerbate the negative outcomes of shyness (Coplan et al., 2008; Rubin et al., 2002). Overprotective parents may view their shy children as vulnerable, and their consistent intervention may inhibit shy children from developing effective coping strategies. Maternal warmth and sensitivity, on the other hand, may be beneficial to shy children. For example, Early et al. (2002) reported that children who were wary at 15 months of age but who had mothers who were rated higher on maternal sensitivity (e.g., warm, responsive) were less likely to be inhibited during their transition to kindergarten than children who were wary at 15 months of age but who had mothers who were rated lower on maternal sensitivity. Early et al. (2002) suggested that sensitive mothers may encourage inhibited children to develop social skills.

Having a high-quality friendship also appears to be particularly helpful to shy children (Rubin, Wojslawowicz, Rose-Krasnor, Booth-LaForce, & Burgess, 2006), whereas peer exclusion appears to be particularly hurtful (Gazelle & Ladd, 2003). Recently, Gazelle (2006) also demonstrated that shy children are particularly at risk for experiencing adjustment difficulties when they are placed in classrooms with negative emotional climates (which may include frequent disruptive child behaviors, conflict between students and the teacher, and infrequent prosocial peer interactions).

Finally, positive teacher-child relationships also may be particularly helpful for shy children. Not suprisingly, positive relationships with teachers have been found to be beneficial for at-risk children in general (Copeland-Mitchell, Denham, & DeMulder, 1997; Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Hughes, Cavell, & Jackson, 1999; Meehan, Hughes, & Cavell, 2003). Most recently, Arbeau and Coplan (2007b) explored the protective role of close teacher relationships for shy children. They found that among children with closer teacher-child relationships, shyness was less likely to be associated with internalizing difficulties, peers' exclusion/rejection, and loneliness. These findings suggest that even though shy and withdrawn children are likely to form less close and more dependent relationships with their teachers (e.g., Ladd & Burgess, 1999; Rydell et al., 2005), if shy children do happen to develop closer relationships with their teachers, they will be at lesser risk for a number of potential negative adjustment outcomes.

What Can Teachers Do To Help Shy Children in Kindergarten?

Teachers play an important role in children's lives, especially in early childhood. Without their parents at school, children look to their teachers for guidance. Consequently, shy children may respond well to teachers' efforts to help them become less inhibited. In this section, we put forth some ideas on how kindergarten teachers can help young shy children become more sociable and adjusted in the classroom.

Eliciting Verbal Participation. Teachers tend to ask shy children a lot of direct questions (Evans, 1987; Evans & Bienert, 1992). Such questioning may intimidate shy children, because it reinforces their image of the teacher as an authority figure. Evans and Bienert (1992) demonstrated that kindergarten teachers can enhance shy children's verbal performance by altering their strategies for soliciting verbal participation. The researchers compared shy children's performance during "Show and Tell" in kindergarten under three conditions. In the first condition, teachers' normal interactions with the children were observed. In the next case (high control), teachers were instructed to frequently ask children direct questions to solicit responses. In the final condition (low control), teachers were trained to use indirect personal comments and phatics (e.g., "hmmm ...") to help maintain conversations. The researchers found that in the low control condition, shy children spoke more words, spoke more spontaneously, and took longer speaking turns. Thus, the study's results suggest that shy children are best encouraged to speak more often through more subtle and less commanding forms of maintaining conversations. Teachers should attempt to refrain from controlling conversations with shy children and to use the same duration of "wait time" between their responses to shy children's remarks as they do with non-shy children (Evans, 2001).

Evans (2001) also suggests that teachers encourage children to play games in which they are required to take speaking turns. In this way, shy children have the opportunity to speak and not just be overshadowed by the more talkative children (such as in a game like "Fish"). Teachers should then praise shy children for speaking (Brophy & McCaslin, 1992; Evans, 2001), albeit remaining mindful not to draw too much attention to these children, who may then become more self-conscious (Brophy & McCaslin, 1992; Comadena & Prusank, 1988). In this regard, teachers should consider praising shy children after class, by using such nonverbal forms of behavior as smiling or by other more subtle means (Evans, 2001; Paget, Nagle, & Martin, 1984; Richey & Richey, 1978).

Other Strategies. Evans (2001) interviewed teachers in grade 1 with regards to their techniques for assisting shy children in their classrooms. Common suggestions included asking shy children questions that the teacher was sure they could respond to, in order to help build the child's confidence. Teachers also recommended helping shy children gradually participate in class, even if it was by having them just say their name.

Having an orderly classroom was also seen as beneficial for shy children, perhaps by making them feel less intimidated to speak in class. Teachers also commented that more vocal children often speak for and interrupt shy children when they are talking; thus, the teachers suggested that quieter children be asked for their responses prior to opening up the question to the rest of the class.

Teachers also believed that they should try to establish a personal relationship with shyer children, perhaps by initiating discussions about their families and outside of school experiences. These conversations may help shy children trust their teacher, an important component of developing a close and warm teacher-child relationship. Brophy and McCaslin (1992) also reported that teachers in their study mentioned using supportive strategies (see also Thijs et al., 2006) to help shy children in their classrooms, including such strategies as having private conversations with them and helping them feel better about themselves academically. As we have already described, it appears to be particularly important for shy children to develop more positive (and less dependent) relationships with their teachers.

In this regard, teachers should persist (albeit gently) to encourage shy children to interact with other children in the classroom. The goal here is for teachers to provide a secure base from which shy children can venture out from to explore the social world of the classroom. However, given that shy children will be likely to resist such exploration, they may need a gentle "push" (Brophy & McCaslin, 1992). This might take the form of modeling and reinforcement of appropriate social skills and behaviors. Teachers could assist shy children by pairing them with more prosocial or sociable classmates (Furman, Rahe, & Hartup, 1979), thus creating a scenario in which the shy child's social initiations would have a higher chance of being successful.

Finally, teachers should remind themselves to be sensitive to shy children's particular needs (Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2002). For example, shy children do not typically respond well to changes in routine. This may be the case, even when the reason for the change is an enjoyable "special event" that everyone is looking forward to. In these instances, having shy children prepare ahead of time can help to reduce the inherent nervousness that these new events might trigger (Henderson & Fox, 1998).

Conclusions

Historically, much more attention has been paid to aggressive, inattentive, and highly active children at school. This is not surprising, given that such children pose challenges to teachers, cause problems in class, and may bully their peers or otherwise victimize them. In contrast, shy children are quiet and are rarely disruptive in the classroom. In this regard, some teachers might be quite happy to have an entire class filled with shy children! However, although shy children may not attract a lot of attention, it has become clear that they need to be "noticed." Extremely shy children are at risk for a host of negative outcomes at school. In this regard, the potential "victim" is the shy child him/herself.

Much research has been given over in recent years to the development and implications of shyness in childhood. However, research in early intervention and prevention is still in its earliest stages. We must continue to develop evaluation programs specifically designed and targeted to meet the needs of shy children. We also must continue to raise awareness in parents, educators, and mental health care professionals with regards to the challenges that shy children face at school. Greater understanding of this phenomenon will enhance the abilities of those in the position to assist shy children at school--and ultimately help more shy children face the "brave new world" of school.

Authors' Note: This research was supported by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada research grant to author Coplan and a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada doctoral fellowship to author Arbeau. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Robert J. Coplan, Department of Psychology, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 5B6, Canada. Phone: 613-520-2600, ext. 8691; e-mail: robert_coplan@carleton.ca.

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Robert J. Coplan

Kimberley A. Arbeau

Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada
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Date:Jun 22, 2008
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