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Life regrets by avoidant and arousal procrastinators: Why put off today what you will regret tomorrow?

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J.R.Ferrariet al.: Procrastination and Life RegretsJournal of IndividualDifferences2009; Vol. 30(3):163–168© 2009Hogrefe& Huber Publishers
Life Regrets by Avoidant
and Arousal Procrastinators
Why Put Off Today What You Will Regret Tomorrow?
Joseph R. Ferrari1, Kelly L. Barnes2, and Piers Steel3
1DePaulUniversity,Chicago,IL,USA,2Ball State University, Muncie, IN, USA, 3University of Calgary, Canada
Abstract. The present study examined the relationship between two types of chronic procrastination and 12 varied life domains in
which individuals report regret. Subjects were 2,887 adults (1,776 women and 1,111 men; Mage = 38.63 years; SD = 14.35) from
across the United States. Initially, pure arousal (n= 386), avoidant (n= 220), and nonprocrastinators (n= 215) were identified. Results
found that nonprocrastinators reported significantly less regret than both avoidant and arousal procrastinators in domains of education
pursuits, parenting, family and friend interactions, health and wellness, and financial planning. There were no significant differences
in feelings of regret between chronic procrastinators and nonprocrastinators in romance, career planning, and spiritual and self-improve-
ments. Further research should explore the specific causes and consequences of regret among chronic procrastinators.
Keywords: procrastination, regret, arousal and avoidance, life satisfaction
Introduction
Many people wait to pay the bills or put off work they need
to do, perhaps thinking: “It can wait until tomorrow” (Fer-
rari, Johnson, & McCown, 1995). Such behaviors may
seem commonplace, but research suggests that frequent,
habitual delays in actions and/or decisions may be mal-
adaptive. Procrastination has been defined as purposively
delaying an intended course of action (Ferrari et al., 1995;
Steel, 2007). As many as 20–25% of normal, healthy adult
men and women in the United States and other countries
were classified as chronic procrastinators, i.e., individuals
whoengageinaneedlessdelayofrelevantandtimelytasks
acrosssituationsandsettings(Ferrari,O’Callahan,&New-
begin, 2004; Ferrari, Diaz-Morales, O’Callaghan, Diaz, &
Argumedo, 2007; Harriott & Ferrari, 1996). Nonprocrasti-
nators, in contrast, are individuals who perform most tasks
in a timely manner. Studies indicated that chronic procras-
tination is related to a variety of personality variables, in-
cluding low states of self-confidence and self-esteem and
high states of depression, neurosis, self-awareness, social
anxiety, forgetfulness, disorganization, noncompetitive-
ness, dysfunctional impulsivity, behavioral rigidity, and
lack of energy (Beswick, Rothblum, & Mann, 1988; Burka
& Yuen, 1983; Ferrari et al., 1995; Lay, 1986; Senecal,
Koestner, & Vallerand, 1995).
Recently, Ferrari and Díaz-Morales (2007) reported that
chronic procrastinators – but not nonprocrastinators –
claimed a self-concept focused on being unreliable as well
as self-presentation styles that reveal a person who self-
sabotages tasks but attempts to justify and excuse perfor-
mance failure. Previous research indicated that procrasti-
nators were very concerned over their social and public
image(Ferrari,1991b,2001),suggestingtheyseekapprov-
al and want to be liked by others. It is possible, therefore,
that procrastinators have a poor self-image and present an
undesirable image to others (Ferrari, Driscoll, & Diaz-Mo-
rales, 2007). It also was found that procrastination may be
related to poor task performance, low self-confidence, in-
creased worrying, depression, stress, and even physical ill-
ness(Ferrari,2001;Stöber&Joormann, 2001; Tice &Bau-
meister, 1997).
At present, two reliable and valid forms of chronic be-
havioral procrastination have been identified for use with
adult men and women living in the United States (e.g., Fer-
rari, 1992, 1993; Ferrari et al., 1995). One type seems to be
related to a tendency to delay tasks as a thrill-seeking ex-
perience, as a way to ward off boredom, and as a belief that
one works best “under pressure.” This behavioral tendency
was assessed by Lay’s (1986) 20-item, unidimensional
scale identifying such delays as being motivated by a need
for arousal (Ferrari, 1992, 2000). Validity studies found
that scores on this scale were related to external attributes
or excuses for delays (Ferrari, 1993) and poor performance
when environmental stressors existed that heightened
arousal at task deadlines (Ferrari, 2001). This self-report
measure seems to be an appropriate measure to assess
forms of arousal procrastination.
The other type of frequent, chronic procrastination
among US adults seems to be a reflection of low self-es-
teem and self-confidence such that a person delays com-
pleting tasks that might reveal potential poor abilities. Mc-
DOI 10.1027/1614-0001.30.3.163
© 2009 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers Journal of Individual Differences 2009; Vol. 30(3):163–168
Cown and Johnson’s (1989) 15-item unidimensional scale
is a global measure of frequent procrastination (see Ferrari
et al., 1995). Validity studies using this scale found that
highprocrastinationscoresonavarietyoftaskswasrelated
to deflecting potential disclosure of perceived inabilities
and incompetence (Ferrari, 1993) and avoiding self-rele-
vant information about one’s skills and competence (Fer-
rari, 1991b). This scale then may be considered a self-re-
port measure of avoidant procrastination.
We propose that habitual, frequent dilatory behavior
may bring a sense of regret over the life opportunities lost
or not completed. Regret is the negative feeling experi-
enced when reflecting back on decisions and actions real-
izing that, if they had been done differently, the outcome
would have been better (Zeelenberg, van den Bos, van
Dijk, & Pieters, 2002). Gilovich and Medvec (1994, 1995;
Gilovich, Medvec, & Kahneman, 1998) found that people
regret their inactions – or failures to act – more often than
they regret behaviors in which they did act upon. They
found that while people may initially regret actions taken
more than the actions forgone, over time regrets for action
fade while regrettable inactions intensify.
Chronic procrastination often results in people failing to
act either because they cannot make up their mind (indeci-
sion), or because they wait to take action until it is too late.
Missing an opportunity to decide or act as a result of en-
gaging in procrastination might result in feelings of regret.
We propose, therefore, that when a chronic procrastinator
compared to a nonprocrastinator reflects on past actions or
decisions that failed to be started or completed, in light of
the negative outcomes, a greater sense of regret about pro-
gress may result. For instance, avoidant procrastinators
may regret not having acted, which then resulted in success
or failure outcomes, while arousal procrastinators feel re-
gret because they missed a chance for a thrill experience.
Given that the present study is the first systematic as-
sessment of types of chronic procrastination and feelings
of regret, we decided to assess regret across a wide range
ofsettingsanddid nothypothesizewhichliferegret domain
may or may not be experienced by either or both chronic
procrastinator. Nevertheless, the present exploratory study
did expect chronic procrastinators (arousal and/or avoid-
ant)toreportmore life regret thannonprocrastinators,since
previous research clearly showed that frequent delay life-
styleshavemorenegativeaffectandengage in maladaptive
behaviors (Ferrari et al., 1995; Steel, 2007).
Method
Participants
The present study included 2,887 adults (1,776 women and
1,111 men; Mage = 38.63 years; SD = 14.35; range = 25
to80years;mode = 48years)fromacross theUnitedStates.
Most participants claimed to be Caucasian (82.4%), edu-
cated with at least a undergraduate degree (79.5%), resid-
ing in suburban settings (64.4%), and employed full-time
(56.4%) with an average yearly income of $61,739.25 (SD
= $26,226.77). Most frequently participants indicated they
were single (46.7%).
Psychometric Measures
The Adult Inventory of Procrastination (AIP)
All participants completed the AIP, a 15-item, 5-point Lik-
ert scale (from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree)
self-report developed by McCown and Johnson (1989; see
Ferrari et al., 1995, for details). This scale measured avoid-
ant procrastination, delays motivated by fear of success or
failure, exposure of skill inabilities, and insecurities of per-
formance (Ferrari, 1991b, 1992, 1993). The AIP has good
temporal stability (1 month, retest r= .80) with acceptable
internal consistency (α ≥ .70; McCown & Johnson, 1989);
and with the present sample, Cronbach’s αwas 0.896 (M
sum score = 43.99; SD = 11.99).
General Procrastination Scale (GP)
Participantsalsocompletedthe GP scale,a20-item,5-point
Likert scale (from 1 = not true of me to 5 = very true of me)
created by Lay (1986), which examines behavioral tenden-
cies to delay the start or completion of everyday tasks for
thrill-seeking experiences and is associated with arousal
procrastination (Ferrari, 1991b, 1992, 1993). The measure
has a good construct and predictive validity, and is a reli-
able measure of procrastination. Various research settings
have shown an average Cronbach’s αof 0.82 (1 month,
retest r= 0.80; Ferrari, 1989). With the present sample,
Cronbach’s αwas 0.901 (Msum score = 64.32; SD =
13.70).
Life Domain Regret (LDR) Inventory
In addition, all participants completed Roese and Summer-
ville’s (2005) LDR inventory, comprised of 12 life domain
areas which individuals report experiencing regret on sin-
gle items. Respondents indicated (from 1 = a little regret
to 5 = a lot of regret) how much regret they had in each
item reflecting areas of life, namely: family, friends, lei-
sure, health, finances, career, education, personal growth,
spirituality, volunteerism, parenting, and romance). Re-
spondents were provided with examples for each item. Ex-
amples included “not spending enough time with family”
or“notfinishingyourcollegedegree.”RoeseandSummer-
villedidnotcollapse across these12domains;instead,each
item was used independently to reflect a life domain in
which a person may experience regret.
164 J.R. Ferrari et al.: Procrastination and Life Regrets
Journal of Individual Differences 2009; Vol. 30(3):163–168 © 2009 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers
Procedure
Participants were solicited by an online website that had
the above-mentioned surveys attached. The website was
linked to the last author’s academic homepage and is one
of the most dominant sites on procrastination to emerge
during Google searches. The survey consisted of demo-
graphic items (e.g., age, gender, ethnic identity, education
level, marital status, employment status, and income), as
well as both procrastination measures and the regret scale
(all three questionnaires were listed in counterbalanced or-
der). All survey items were posted online for 8 weeks, and
pilot testing indicated it took individuals about 20 minutes
to complete all items.
Results
The Relationship Between Procrastination
and Life Regret
We first assessed the relationship between arousal and
avoidant procrastination and each of the 12 life regret do-
mains. Zero-order correlations were performed with the
sum GP and AIP scores on each procrastination scale and
the 12 separate regret ratings (coefficients presented in Ta-
ble 1). As noted, arousal procrastination tendencies were
significantly positively related to feelings of regret for all
life domains except spirituality. Avoidant procrastination
tendencies, however, were significantly positively related
to experiencing regret in most life domains except commu-
nityservice,parentingand family interactions, andspiritual
growth.
However, closer examination of the coefficients indi-
cates that the magnitude of the relationship was extremely
small. For instance, for arousal correlation five significant
coefficients were less than 0.10. Moreover, only one rela-
tionship (between procrastination and regrets over finan-
cial planning) was greater than 0.20. In fact, it is possible
these coefficients were significantly related because of the
large sample size. Taken together, these results suggest that
varied forms of procrastination may be significantly (albeit
small in size) related to a number of life domain regrets.
Identifying Arousal and Avoidant
Procrastinations and Nonprocrastinators:
Pure Types
Zero-order correlations also indicated that GP (arousal)
scores and AIP (avoidant) scores were significantly inter-
correlated with each other in the entire sample, r= 0.71, p
<.001.This fact indicatedthat,forthe present adultsample,
chronic procrastination behavior patterns were not mutual-
ly exclusive. However, our goal was to assess arousal and
avoidant procrastination tendencies separately. We wanted
to examine how individuals who demonstrate either of
these delay techniques may experience life regrets.
Consequently, to assess “pure procrastination” types
among adults (in order to compare independently arousal
and avoidant procrastination with feelings of regret across
a variety of life domains), we regressed GP scores on AIP
scores and then, vice versa, obtained standardized Zresid-
ual scores for the sole variance of the specific procrastina-
tion types. We then identified people who obtained a Zre-
sidual score of 1.00 on one variable and 1.00 on the
other variable to categorize as a pure procrastination type.
Also, we identified persons whose Zresidual scores were
1.00 on both GP and AIP scales, in order to categorize
nonprocrastinators. Setting our criteria to scores to 1.00
permitted us to select what we labeled as “pure” arousal
and “pure” avoidant procrastinators independent of cross-
over effects between typologies. This procedure to identify
pure chronic procrastination types has been used success-
fully in previous research when arousal and avoidant pro-
crastination styles were significantly related (see Ferrari et
al., 2004; Ferrari, Diaz-Morales et al., 2007; Ferrari, Dris-
coll et al., 2007).
We obtained 386 chronic arousal procrastinators (245
women, 141 men), 220 chronic avoidant procrastinations
(133 women, 87 men), and 215 nonprocrastinators (134
women, 81 men). Chi-square analysis indicated no signif-
icant difference in the ratio of women to men within each
category, with the proportion of women to men similar to
the original total sample size. Furthermore, selecting only
pure arousals or pure avoidants and then conducting inde-
pendentt-testsbetweenmenandwomenontheGP and AIP
sum scores, respectively, as well as age yield no significant
gender or age differences on scores (p<.07).Therefore,all
Table 1. Zero-order correlates between sum scores on
arousal and avoidant procrastination with life re-
gret domains
Procrastinator category
Regret life domains Arousal Avoidant
Career opportunities and choices .145* .146*
Community service and volunteering .078* .021
Education degree and studying .106* .120*
Parenting interactions with offspring .052* .014
Family interactions with parents/siblings .098* .077
Financial decisions/investments .215* .233*
Friend interactions .159* .155*
Health, exercise, diet, illness .194* .173*
Leisure, sports, recreation, travel .111* .105*
Romance, love, dating, marriage .055* .074*
Spiritual growth, exploring life purpose .034 –.015
Self-improvement, personal growth .124* .077*
n= 2,893, *p< .001.
J.R. Ferrari et al.: Procrastination and Life Regrets 165
© 2009 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers Journal of Individual Differences 2009; Vol. 30(3):163–168
further analyses were based on these 821 participants, col-
lapsing across gender and age groups.
Comparing Procrastinators and
Nonprocrastinators on Regret Across Life
Domains
Table 2 presents the mean score on each of the 12 life do-
main regret areas for chronic arousal and avoidant procras-
tinatorsandnonprocrastinators.AMANOVAtest, compar-
ing the three procrastination categories with all 12 regret
domains as dependent variables, yielded a significant dif-
ference, Wilks’ Lambda = .857, F(24, 1614) = 5.38, p<
.0001. Follow-up ANOVA comparing procrastination cat-
egories found significant differences in eight regret do-
mains, namely, community service, F(2, 818) = 3.412, p<
.03, education, F(2, 818) = 3.291, p< .04, parenting,
F(2, 818) = 13.214, p< .0001, family, F(2, 818) = 4.470,
p< .01, finance, F(2, 818) = 25.001, p< .0001, friends,
F(2, 818) = 6.231, p< .002, health, F(2, 818) = 28.153, p
<.001,and leisure,F(2, 818) = 5.715, p< .003. There were
no significant differences across procrastination types on
career, romance, spirituality, and self-improvement life do-
mains.
Posthoc comparisons (Newman-Keuls, p< .05) indicat-
ed that nonprocrastinators claimed significantly less regret
than both arousal and avoidant procrastinators in the area
of education, family, finances, friends, and health (see Ta-
ble 2). Furthermore, both arousal and avoidant procrastina-
torswerenotsignificantlydifferentfromeachotherineach
of these five domains. However, chronic arousal procrasti-
nators reported significantly more regret in their life than
nonprocrastinators on community service and leisure time
activities (Table 2). As noted in Table 2, in terms of parent-
ing interactions, nonprocrastinators reported significantly
less regret than chronic avoidant procrastinators, while
chronic avoidant procrastinators reported significantly less
regret than arousal procrastinators.
Discussion
Thepresentstudyaskedchronicprocrastinatorstoconsider
their feelings of regret across a variety of life domains.
There were significant relationships, albeit small effects,
between arousal and avoidant procrastination with a sense
of regret in a number of life domains. We then selected for
individuals who express either arousal or avoidant procras-
tination, similar to other studies in this field (Ferrari &
Diaz-Morales, 2007; Ferrari et al., 2004; Ferrari, Diaz-Mo-
rales et al., 2007). Compared to nonprocrastinators, then, it
seemed that both men and women who were identified as
chronic, habitual, frequent arousal, and avoidant procrasti-
nators reported greater feelings of regret across a variety of
settings.
For instance, both arousal and avoidant procrastinators
claimed more regret than nonprocrastinators in their edu-
cational and academic pursuits. Closer examinations for
confound effects indicated that having earned a Bachelor’s
and/or Master’s degree was common for half the nonpro-
crastinators (50%) and just more than half of both procras-
tinator types (56.6%). However, 42% of procrastinators re-
portedtheywerestudents, while only16.7%ofnonprocras-
tinators were identified as students. Also, 9.9% of the
procrastinators reported having a high school or less de-
gree, compared to only 6.4% of nonprocrastinators. Thus,
it seems possible that procrastinators may regret not trying
to gain a higher education degree and are still enrolled as
students.
In addition, both chronic procrastinator types reported
more regret than nonprocrastinators in family interactions
with parents and siblings, friend interactions, and parental
Table 2. Mean score on life regret domains for arousal,
avoidant, and nonprocrastinators, reflecting
ANOVA and posthoc Neuman-Keul tests
Procrastinator category
Arousal Avoidant None
Regret life domains (n=
386) (n=
220) (n=
215)
Career opportunities and choices 3.57 3.93 3.40
(1.83) (1.97) (2.76)
Community service and volunteering 4.41b4.11a,b 3.73a
(2.43) (2.63) (2.94)
Education degree and studying 4.27b4.35b3.74a
(2.64) (2.49) (3.21)
Parenting interactions with offspring 4.81c3.19b2.25a
(3.11) (3.46) (3.73)
Family interactions with parents/siblings 3.40b3.29b2.84a
(2.19) (2.19) (2.36)
Financial decisions/investments 3.11b3.41b2.23a
(1.62) (2.00) (1.99)
Friend interactions 3.18b3.17b2.68a
(1.73) (1.68) (1.93)
Health, exercise, diet, illness 3.74b3.58b2.78a
(1.46) (1.46) (1.72)
Leisure, sports, recreation, travel 4.29b3.87a,b 3.45a
(3.04) (2.86) (2.93)
Romance, love, dating, marriage 3.79 4.00 3.66
(2.28) (2.65) (2.91)
Spiritual growth, exploring life purpose 4.24 3.85 3.68
(3.06) (3.06) (3.89)
Self-improvement, personal growth 3.28 3.09 2.89
(1.96) (1.76) (2.50)
Note. Values in parentheses are standard deviations. Subscripts with
different letters are significantly different (Newman-Keuls, p< .05).
166 J.R. Ferrari et al.: Procrastination and Life Regrets
Journal of Individual Differences 2009; Vol. 30(3):163–168 © 2009 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers
interactions with their children. When we examined the
variables related to family and friends that were collected
for confound effects, we noted that most of both procrasti-
nators and nonprocrastinators in our sample reported hav-
ing no children (71.6% and 61.5%, respectively). Also, the
number of children was not significantly different for par-
ents in our sample (overall, most parents had 2 children or
less). These results are consistent with other research on
the marital status and family size of procrastinators and
nonprocrastinators, suggesting no significant differences
(see Ferrari, 1991a; Harriott & Ferrari, 1996). Related pre-
vious research found that procrastinators and nonprocras-
tinators have similar social support size networks among
their friends (Ferrari, Harriott, & Zimmerman, 1999). Tak-
en together, it seems the familyand friend issues of chronic
procrastinators may not be related to the size of their fam-
ily, social network, or even their marital status. Instead,
there are some interpersonal dynamic issues arising which
need attention. Future research may want to examine these
networks to see if regret with family and friends is focused
on the quality of these relationships.
It also is important to note that in our sample compared
to nonprocrastinators chronic procrastinators reported
more regret over financial decisions. We found on closer
examination for confound effects that on average nonpro-
crastinators reported they earned $69,648, while procrasti-
nators earned less at $57,959. Most participants, regardless
of their income, worked full-time (57.5%) or at least part-
time (10.9%); therefore, employment status might not a
factor for the difference in income amounts. Procrastina-
tors, at least in the United States, seem to be failing in fi-
nancial planning with their current savings and for future
retirement.
Both chronic procrastinator types reported more regret
than nonprocrastinators over staying healthy and avoiding
illness. Related, chronic arousal procrastinators reported
greatest regret over not taking enough time for community
service/volunteering and leisure activities, compared to
chronic avoidant procrastinators and nonprocrastinators. It
seems that procrastinators who report more illness may not
know effective and efficient ways to serve their local com-
munity or even to enjoy their personal life (Ferrari et al.,
1995).Futureresearchintothese domains might be fruitful.
Finally, it is interesting that procrastinators and nonpro-
crastinatorswerenotsignificantlydifferentin their feelings
of regret reported on areas related to career, romance, spir-
ituality, and personal self-improvement. Current research
suggests that chronic procrastinators are more common
among some corporate, white-collar employees than man-
ual, self-employed workers (Ferrari, Dovosko, & Joseph,
2005; Hammer & Ferrari, 2002). Perhaps while the preva-
lence of procrastinators is more common in some occupa-
tions, there is little regret over having chosen such occupa-
tions. It is unclear why procrastinators and nonprocrastina-
tors were not significantly different in their reported
feelings of regret over romantic situations or spiritual or
self-improvement domains. Future research into these ar-
easmightshedsomelight on understanding procrastination
tendencies.
Of course, the present simple study has limitations. All
data were collected from online surveys, limiting respon-
dentstoonlythosewithaccesstotheinternet.Also, all data
wereself-reportedwithoutactualbehavioralindicesonany
of the regret domains or even tendencies to delay tasks.
While the sample size was rather large, and we did attempt
to differentiate statistically among procrastinator types, the
present sample was not random but rather convenient, and
our analyses may not generalize to men and women from
other settings or contexts. For instance, it is possible that
veryfewtruenonprocrastinators visited thewebsite.There-
fore, membership into that category in the present study
relied only upon ones score relative to other study respon-
dents.
Nevertheless, based on respondents in the present study,
itseemschronicarousal and avoidant procrastinatorsreport
experiencing more regrets in life, in a number of settings
andcontexts,comparedtononprocrastinators.Onemayas-
sociate procrastinators to high rates of neuroticism, worry-
ing over poor performances and public perceptions of their
abilities and in turn experiencing regret over inaction.
However, previous research found types of procrastination
related to low conscientiousness instead of neuroticism
(e.g., Schouwenburg, 1995; cf. Steel, 2007). The present
study suggests that lack of conscientiousness, in the form
of types of procrastination, may promote a person to expe-
riencefeelings of regret inlife.Webelievethatunderstand-
ing the process of procrastination may be fruitful in creat-
ing ways to enhance life satisfaction and create better har-
mony among men and women.
Acknowledgments
The authors express gratitude to Joseph Cohen for his di-
rection and guidance on early versions of the present paper.
Portions of this paper were presented at the 2008 annual
meetings of the Eastern Psychological Association (Bos-
ton, MA) and the Midwestern Psychological Association
(Chicago, IL).
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Joseph R. Ferrari
Department of Psychology
DePaul University
2219 N. Kenmore Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614
USA
E-mail jferrari@depaul.edu
168 J.R. Ferrari et al.: Procrastination and Life Regrets
Journal of Individual Differences 2009; Vol. 30(3):163–168 © 2009 Hogrefe & Huber Publishers
... Entendiendo por perfeccionismo la generación de expectativas poco realistas y rígidas sobre la perfección de su trabajo, la procrastinación probablemente contribuye al mantenimiento del perfeccionismo (Awuni, 2011). Por último, señalar que algunos autores plantean la existencia de un tipo de procrastinador activo (Ferrari, Barmes y Steel, 2009), que encontraría en la procrastinación una fuente de estimulación para llegar a un nivel de alertamiento óptimo al realizar una tarea (Corkina, Yua y Lindtb, 2011; Demeter y Davies, 2013). Sin embargo, otros autores no están de acuerdo con que la denominada " procrastinación activa " sea realmente un tipo de procrastinación, siendo más apropiado considerarlo un constructo totalmente diferente (Kim y Seo, 2015). ...
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