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DUCKWORTH: I remember saying to God, “I swear, I will never ask for another thing.” Now I want other things.

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You’re listening to No Stupid Questions, the podcast that explores all of the weird and wonderful ways in which humans behave. Here are your hosts: Stephen Dubner and Angela Duckworth.

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DUCKWORTH: Stephen, I have a question here from a Per Sundström from Sweden. Mind if I read it to you?

DUBNER: I’d love to hear what Per Sundström from Sweden has to say.

DUCKWORTH: “I have a question,” Per writes, “loosely related to this past summer’s UEFA Euro 2020.”

DUBNER: Ah, the Euros.

DUCKWORTH: Can you just tell me what that is before I read you the rest?

DUBNER: It’s soccer — or what the rest of the world calls football. Essentially, it is the World Cup for the European national teams.

DUCKWORTH: So, it’s the World Cup, but not for the world.

DUBNER: In some ways it’s better, because the relationships and rivalries between, let’s say, Sweden and England, whatever — there’s a lot, a lot of history between them. So, it was held this past summer, which was 2021, because in 2020, when it was supposed to be, it was postponed for COVID.

DUCKWORTH: This makes a lot more sense, then, because the question goes on: “Consider a situation where a team has tried but failed to win a certain title for a long time, and then suddenly manages to emerge victorious.” I don’t know if this had something to do with exactly what played out in the UEFA tournament.

DUBNER: Well, if Per is Swedish, he’s not talking about his national team. Sweden was eliminated in the round of 16 this summer. Italy won the Euros, but maybe Per is a Swede who pulls for Italy.

DUCKWORTH: Was Italy the underdog?

DUBNER: I don’t think Italy is ever really an underdog in the Euros, because they’re really good. Although, England was weirdly the favorite.

DUCKWORTH: The English are really into soccer.

DUBNER: But, you know, the English invented, at least partially, all these sports that they now get crushed at all the time. They invented tennis. I think they invented badminton. 

DUCKWORTH: And cricket.

DUBNER: And they never win anything!

DUCKWORTH: Ping pong.

DUBNER: I don’t think they invented ping pong.

DUCKWORTH: They didn’t? Are you sure?

DUBNER: Okay. Let’s see. “Who invented ping pong?”

DUCKWORTH: Because I feel like they brought it over to China when they colonized Hong Kong.

DUBNER: It does appear you are correct. The answer to the question, “Who invented table tennis?” is Englishman David Foster. The patent was filed in July 1890.

DUCKWORTH: All right, well, since I’m on a roll here, I’m just going to say: then, they colonized parts of Asia, and now we just kick their asses. So anyway, the question continues, “Could such a situation, after the initial celebrations have settled, bring depression to the hardcore fans? The reason I would expect this to be the case is that the fans who have been longing for this win for a long time may have assigned a very strong significance to this event, despite the fact that it is unlikely to bring much actual impact on their lives. It was the sports scenario that brought this question to my mind, but I expect that there may be a more general application to situations where a significance of a wanted event is assigned based on feelings or incorrect predictions, rather than facts.

DUBNER: I could take both sides of this argument. There’s this thing known as a “success hangover.” But I think success has more to do with something that you’ve accomplished, not the team that you root for. So, that’s the wrinkle in this.

DUCKWORTH: But they could be part of the same thing, though. I think what you mean is: I win a gold medal, or you publish a book and it becomes a bestseller, and then you feel bad afterward.

DUBNER: Right. “The arrival fallacy,” which is the false belief that, when you reach your destination, you will continue to be happy.

DUCKWORTH: And then, I’ll be happy forever! And you’re right to point out like, “Well, does it matter if it’s your success or somebody else’s?” But I think there’s a way to explain this parsimoniously and keep it all in the same theory.

DUBNER: There’s some research that I know only vaguely, but I’m sure you know — by Dan Gilbert. This has to do with the vacation you haven’t yet had versus the vacation that you just took. When we are looking forward to something, the anticipation is delicious and large. Is that right?

DUCKWORTH: That’s right. He thinks that we forecast affectively into the future. “Affective” meaning — I don’t know why, but psychologists like to call emotions “affect.” Pretty confusing for the rest of the world. But anyway, affective forecasting is your prediction of how you will feel in the future.

DUBNER: And the problem here is that this vacation you’ve imagined for a while, you think, “Oh, I’m going to take time off work. I’m going to spend time with people that I love. We’re going to go to a different place. We’re going to have that nice fresh-start effect kicking in.” And then, you get to the vacation. And if you’re Angela Duckworth, you’re like, “The Wi-Fi isn’t working well enough here for me to write the paper I need to from the hotel that’s looking at the beach.” Right?

DUCKWORTH: Yes. And Dan’s point, I think, in this affective forecasting work, is that we do a very bad job of accurately predicting how we’ll feel. He doesn’t think that we get the basic valence wrong. He was like, “Look, if you think you’re going to feel generally positive by going on vacation, in general, it doesn’t flip.” But just that we might mis-predict the duration, in particular — like, how long you’ll feel good. You might also mis-predict the intensity. So, in general, the idea is that, to make any decision, you have to predict how you’re going to feel later as a function of this decision. And one of the problems is that human beings are not very good at forecasting how we’re going to feel.

DUBNER: So, I understand all that, and I can see how it applies to the vacation. However, in response to Per’s question of whether you’re inevitably going to be let down or have nowhere to go after climbing this mountain top, I would say that: even with the vacation, you can always take another vacation, and you can look forward to that one.

DUCKWORTH: And you can be wrong about that one, too.

DUBNER: But you can create a new anticipation for yourself. And I would say, similarly, let’s say your team hasn’t won a championship for 50 years. And then they win. Are you going to have a little bit of a success hangover? Maybe, but one of the nice things about sports is: there will always be another one. You can compete and win next year. Now, life is not always like that. Right? You may have some huge goal. Like, you mentioned writing a book. Let’s say you had this one book that you’ve always wanted to write, and then you write it, and you succeed. But then, what happens now? Maybe you’ll write another, but maybe you only had the one book in you. Do you remember the last scene in The Graduate?

DUCKWORTH: When they’re on the bus?

DUBNER: Yeah, on the bus. Benjamin busts into the church, stops the wedding, grabs the bride. They run out. They jump on the bus. They’re ecstatic. They’re looking really, really happy for, like, 20, 30, 60 seconds. And then, their smiles fade as the thrill wears off and the uncertainty sets in. I think that’s a little bit more of what Per is thinking about, whereas sports is a little bit different, because there is that option for renewability. You can do it again, and again, and again.

DUCKWORTH: So, you would say that after your team finally wins, you know, fill-in-the-blank title: the World Series, the Super Bowl, the UEFA title, whatever — that you can now start fantasizing about the next one? Like, it’s just a renewable resource.

DUBNER: It’s a more renewable resource than many.

DUCKWORTH: Before we concede that point — like, yeah, okay, sports are a renewable resources. There’s always the next championship. But I think that, for some of these teams where it’s been, like, 65 years since they won the last title, I think the fact that you then win it— What you were anticipating, what you were affectively forecasting, what you were looking forward to, is the first win in years. If you win it the next year, then you’re like, “Oh yeah, and then another one.”

DUBNER: You won’t appreciate it as much.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I think that this is getting at the projection of a euphoria that you anticipate lasting a really long time. And about how we get it wrong. And I don’t think it’s just sort of like, “Oh, and then just do it again.

DUBNER: I know Robert Cialdini — your friend and a psychologist I admire — he has this work about basking in reflected glory. So, there were these three field experiments that had to do with university students and whether their football team won or lost. This must have been in the 80s, maybe early 90s.

DUCKWORTH: I think it was early in his career. I remember it was because he was kind of despondent that these laboratory manipulations that he was trying out, that he was hopeful about, they kept not really working. And then I think he had an office in the stadium. Like, literally, I don’t know how this worked, but he happened to have an academic office in the sports stadium. And then, when he just watched these sports fans, he was like, “Oh, in the lab, I’m trying to do these very subtle manipulations, so I get these teeny-tiny effects on human behavior. This is big.” Just watching these crazy sports fans screaming like maniacs and walking around the next day elated if they won, depressed if they lost, he was like, “I think I should study this.”

DUBNER: So, he measured how likely they were to be wearing what he called “school-identifying apparel” — meaning, you know, a football jersey that said the name of the team or maybe the name of a player. And after a win, people were much more likely to wear that shirt. Maybe not surprising, but you know, it was good evidence. He also noted that students were much more likely to use the pronoun “we” when describing the team and the victory than if the team had lost. So, what that’s about, to me, is this sort of payoff of an investment. So, when you’re a fan of something, especially a sports team, you do kind of think of yourself as an investor, because good things happen, bad things happen. Sometimes you get rewarded. Sometimes you get punished. But you invest all these hours, maybe money, in this object of your affinity. And if it pays off, I think you do get some residual psychological dividends from that. And so, while I appreciate that there might be diminishing returns if your team hasn’t won for 50 years, and then they win, and then they win again the next year, might you be less joyful the second time? Sure. Diminishing returns happen everywhere, but I think that Per’s supposition that you might just fall off a cliff and be despondent, I don’t buy it in the realm of sports at least.

DUCKWORTH: Because you’re thinking about all these euphoric fans proudly sporting their jerseys the next day, et cetera. And like, that seems pretty good. Right? You’re like, “Per, why so glum?” I mean, here’s the question: How long does this basking in reflected glory effect — as Cialdini termed it — how long does it last? Because I think the affective forecasting research that’s been done by Dan Gilbert and others suggests that we are really bad at predicting how long things are going to last — and generally, for positive feelings, we expect them to last longer than they do. We can also, by the way, expect negative feelings to last longer. I mean, we can get it wrong in lots of different ways. But the reason is even more interesting. And that is something which is even more broad and general than what we’re talking about here, which is called “focalism.” And I know you know about this, because Danny Kahneman, the Nobel Laureate — who we also think is a great person and a friend, you know about his work. And focalism is when we focus on something which is only a small part of the picture — like, we just think about what it will feel like when the Eagles win the Super Bowl. We focus on that, and we ignore everything else. We neglect everything else. So, Danny likes to call this: “What you see is all there is.” And the reason why we make these affective forecasting mistakes is: “I imagine my vacation, I imagine what it’s going to be like to eat sushi every night and not have to do the dishes. It’s going to be great.” And then you neglect other things in the future. Like, there’s going to be a two-hour delay on the flight and we’re going to get into an argument about whether they were supposed to, you know, make the reservation — 

DUBNER: You’re now describing every family vacation ever, by the way.

DUCKWORTH: Well, see, this is a thing. And when we focally decide to, just, imagine the positive, I think that is kind of what happens when you imagine what it will be like when your team wins. Maybe you even imagine basking in the glory. You’re like, “I’m going to wear the jersey.”  Then you’re going to neglect the inevitable, which is like: And then you’re going to have 16 things that you were supposed to do at work. And then, you know, four other things are going to happen. So, you’re not imagining the hassles.

DUBNER: You don’t think much of sports fans, do you, Angela?

DUCKWORTH: Well, here’s the thing: I’m trying — maybe because I know nothing about sports — to extend this to a more general phenomenon. But I’m with Per here, right? Because Per’s like, “Hey, how do we understand this as part of a bigger thing?” And I think, in a way, this failure to account for all the things that are really going to happen? That’s not so bad. Let me give you an example of book-writing, because it’s something that you and I have both done. Actually, I’ve talked to a lot of people right after they finished writing a book. And, while they say, “I’m proud that I finished,” they’re very often in a little depression, because they’re not writing the next book. And I really do think there’s something about fantasizing about the, like, 10 years of joy we’re going to have from finishing a book. Or, you know, I remember saying to God — literally, I said this. I was like, “If you will just let me marry Jason. I swear —” I was going to swear to God, but I was already talking to God. “I swear, I will never ask for another thing. Just give me Jason.” And, you know, I’m very happily married. But I will say that I have a longer list of things on my want list than just marrying Jason. Because now I already married him. So, now I want other things.

DUBNER: Now, what was Jason’s position at that moment? Was he saying, “Dear God, if I have to marry Angela —”

DUCKWORTH: There were a lot of riders on the contract.

DUBNER: No, I’m sure that Jason wanted to marry you as much as you wanted to marry him.

DUCKWORTH: No, I think there was a little bit of asymmetry. Because I’m very extreme in my emotions. And, also, he was already dating someone. So, anyway, it was complicated.

DUBNER: Oh!

DUCKWORTH: I know.

DUBNER: The story gets better by the moment.

DUCKWORTH: That’s why I had to talk to God. It wasn’t straightforward. I had to get God to intervene.

DUBNER: Did you have to poison her, or anything like that?

DUCKWORTH: I don’t think I did anything immoral or untoward.

DUBNER: You were just your bad-ass self and at a certain point, he saw the light.

DUCKWORTH: I think, mostly, my argument was this: “Oh my God. I love you so much. Can we get married?” I think that was my dominant strategy.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela debate whether it’s better to win and feel bummed out or to never have won at all.

DUBNER: I think the moral of that story is: Try to never have any wonderful experience.

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Before we return to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about affective forecasting, I’d like to share some of your thoughts on the topic. We asked listeners to tell us what joy looks like for them after a big win.

@VahagnKarapetry5 writes that success hangovers are a part of their career. Quote, “As an artist, this seems to happen every time I finish a piece I am proud of and it turned out well. First thing I always think of is, ‘Great. how am I going to achieve a similar level of quality for the next one?’”

@BrianRunner says that they experience, quote, “Post-race blues after most long-distance running events.”

@yohan has a trick for managing success hangovers, “I include my family and/or friends as part of the celebration. Taking them to a nice dinner or something like that. This allows the moment to be shared and extended. They will remind me one day about it and revisit the joy again.”

And finally, @budistanervoso responded our question about how people experience success by saying, “You must be f***ing kidding. Success? What the f*** are you taking about?”

If you’d like your thoughts to appear on an upcoming show, make sure to follow our Twitter account, @NSQShow, where we crowdsource responses for future episodes. Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about the arrival fallacy and success hangovers.

DUBNER: So, if we’re going back to sports, I would ask Per a very simple question. “What would you rather be: a fan of the team that hasn’t won a championship in 20 years, or a fan of the team that hasn’t won a championship in 20 years and then wins?” And I think, if you are a sports fan, it’s a pretty simple answer. Will the ecstasy potentially be less fantastic and less long-lasting than you might hope? Of course. As you’ve noted, just about everything that we wish for and predict is a little bit diminished. But I think as the lesser of two evils, I’d rather deal with the slightly diminished ecstasy than the continuing agony of rooting for, you know, the San Diego Padres, who’ve been around since 1969 and haven’t won a World Series. No offense to all our friends in San Diego. But, if you’re a New York Yankees fan, or even a Boston Red Sox fan, I think you would probably trade places with them. You don’t want to give up your team, but you’d rather give up places emotionally.

DUCKWORTH: Interesting. I don’t know if Per’s going to agree with you. I think the ideal, Stephen, is that you get closer, and closer, and closer. What real happiness is, is approaching the goal. And, as we have thoroughly now discussed, I think achieving the goal might be a short-lived euphoria, but I think the pleasure of getting a little bit closer— “Oh my gosh! Now, I’m even closer.” That’s actually much of what makes life worth living.

DUBNER: I see what you’re saying, but here’s the thing: I think that the currency changes a little bit. In other words, the emotion that you anticipate and fantasize about is of a certain flavor. And then, after it happens, it’s a different flavor. So, I’ll give you an example. As you know, I kind of like golf. You’ve ridiculed me roundly for liking golf. And when I started playing about 10 years ago, I was pretty terrible, because, you know, I never played, and it’s really hard. And then, I was getting very, very gradually better, but not fast enough. And then, for a couple of years, I thought I plateaued. And I was really disappointed, and I thought, “Eh, I’m never going to break 80.” That’s a score below which you’re considered a pretty good golfer. And then, last year, finally, toward the end of the season, it happened. And it didn’t feel amazing, but I felt proud. And then it happened again, and now it’s happened five times. And I shot my career low recently, which was a 75 — which is actually a good score!

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. 75 divided by 18, it’s, like, less than four, right?

DUBNER: A little more than four, but that’s okay. Par is usually 72.

DUCKWORTH: Still four-ish.

DUBNER: So, here’s the thing. After that round, I felt no euphoria.

DUCKWORTH: None? Is something wrong? Are you okay? Why not?

 DUBNER: I felt no euphoria. I felt no elation, but I felt something that I think is even better, which is that I felt satisfaction, and I felt accomplishment. And they changed my perception of myself to, “You know what? I really am an okay golfer.” And so, again, it’s a little bit different when you’re rooting for a sports team. Like, I didn’t go out there and throw that 70-yard touchdown pass myself, I just wore the jersey of the guy who did it. So, I think that’s a little bit different than your own accomplishment, but I do think it’s important to measure all the outcomes after that event, which just may have a different shape. Including, you know, maybe there’s a vacation that you took with your family, where you did fight a lot, or there was some real unhappiness, but there may have also been some amazing connections made between people that will pay off in a different way in the long run. So, I think it’s a little bit complicated. But I would say to Per: If you’re worried about your team winning because you’ll feel let down, I would get rid of that worry and worry about why the hell your team hasn’t won yet, because I think that would be the better outcome.

DUCKWORTH: And I would say: Per, if you disagree with Stephen, I got your back. I think there’s something to be said for always approaching, but never achieving, fill-in-the-blank.

DUBNER: Let me ask you one last question. I’m curious how you think this idea might relate to the end of COVID. Because it’s something everybody’s looking forward to, right? To be totally, quote, “normal” again — to be social, to travel, et cetera. And there seems this prediction that the end will usher in this wonderfully wild period of happiness, and parties, and everything. But do you think that the reality is that there will be some post-COVID depression?

DUCKWORTH: I think with the events that are happening even right now, there is an opening up. I mean, in all parts of the country, there’s some level of change from where we were in 2020. It’s not happening all at once. It’s not happening on a single day. So, we’re just going to habituate. And we don’t even notice. I was thinking about this the other day. Jason noted, “Hey, things are kind of getting back to normal. Students are going to school. We see people walking down the street, jovially. They’re eating sometimes outdoors, occasionally indoors. Things are kind of getting back to normal. And I hadn’t even noticed, because it’s kind of transpired over a period of time. And tenure is like this. So, when you are a professor, and you try to keep your job — which is making tenure — you fantasize about it a lot. And you think your whole outlook will be different, and you imagine bugles, and the heavens will open. And really, it’s such a gradual process, because first the deans come back, and they say, “Oh, you passed your third-year review.” And that means that you made it through three years. And then, you get progressively more certain feedback that probably you’re going to be able to keep your job. And, the day it actually happens, you get this phone call: “We are proud to welcome you to our department.” And you’re like, “Thanks.” Or you fake it, and you say, like, “Oh my God! That’s amazing! I’m thrilled.”

DUBNER: I am looking at this paper now that I bet you know. It’s called “The Unforeseen Costs of Extraordinary Experience.” Dan Gilbert is one author. They write that: “People seek extraordinary experiences, from drinking rare wines and taking exotic vacations to jumping from airplanes,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. “But are such experiences worth having?” This is a question that could only be asked in an academic psychology department, by the way. Anyway, “We found that participants thoroughly enjoyed having experiences that were superior to those had by their peers, but that having had such experiences spoiled their subsequent social interactions and ultimately left them feeling worse than they would have felt if they had had an ordinary experience instead. Participants were able to predict the benefits of having an extraordinary experience, but were unable to predict the costs.” So, Angela, I think the moral of that story is: try to never have any wonderful, extraordinary experience. That’s what I take away.

DUCKWORTH: The tall poppy gets cut down. The nail that sticks up gets hammered. This is a lab experiment. So, people are randomly assigned to either have a better or a worse experience — like, watch a really cool video or just, like, a normal video or a boring video. And then they have these people sit around and talk. And I think the finding is that: when you start talking and you’re the only one in a group that had the awesome video and everybody else had the normal or the boring video, then you can feel a little bit left out. You don’t feel like you’re in the group, you’re excluded. And, I guess, under those circumstances, where you have this extremely expensive wine, or you got upgraded — like, you got to fly in first class, but everybody else in your group, they were all back in coach. And then, you all get together, and they’re all talking about their shared experience, and you were like, “Oh, I guess I was in first class by myself. I guess I have no one to talk to.” Yes, under those circumstances, an extraordinary experience can be bad. I could also imagine just being, like annoying by telling everybody about the thing that you got to do and nobody else did. I love it when people tell stories about crazy things that they’ve experienced or that happened to them. There are definitely scenarios in which extraordinary experience can actually increase social connection if relayed with social intelligence. Like, when I told you that I walked through Leaping Tiger Gorge and almost died by falling into the Yangtze Diver hundreds of feet below.

DUBNER: I loved that story, yeah.

DUCKWORTH: And I hope I didn’t make you feel excluded.

DUBNER: No, I was so glad I wasn’t there. I would’ve fallen off. Better you than me.

DUCKWORTH: But my point is that extraordinary experiences do not necessarily lead to social isolation.

DUBNER: Right. But if you want to play it safe, you should go through life trying to have no extraordinary experiences.

DUCKWORTH: Stephen’s advice is to not have extraordinary experiences, but you do want to win the pennant. I think these are, these are my take-homes of your recommendations. Winning the UEFA title is good.

DUBNER: But do it so often that it’s not an extraordinary experience, and then you won’t feel the gigantic let down.

No Stupid Questions is produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversation.

Stephen wonders if listener Per roots for Italy, since they were the team that won the 2021 UEFA European Championship. I reached out to Per to ask which team he supports, and he responded by saying, “I am not really that much of a fan of football or other sports, but I am interested in the economics and psychology surrounding it. Perhaps this is partly because it provides me a means to pivot a sports conversation to somewhere I am more comfortable.” By the sound of it, Per and Angela have quite a bit in common.

Later, Stephen says that he thinks the English invented both tennis and badminton. The game of tennis actually has roots in medieval France, during which time players used the palms of their hands instead of rackets. Welsh Major Walter Clopton Wingfield is credited with designing modern lawn tennis in 1874. The first Wimbledon tournament was held three years later, in 1877. The origins of badminton can be traced to ancient Greece, China, Japan, and India. The modern game — initially called poona — was developed by British army officers stationed in the garrison town of Pune, India. So, to summarize, in both cases, members of the British military received the credit for popularizing sports that already existed in other parts of the world.

Also, Stephen says that psychologist Robert Cialdini began his research on basking in reflected glory in the 80s or early 90s. Cialdini’s seminal paper — “Basking in Reflected Glory: Three (Football) Field Studies” was actually published in 1976. At the time, he was a visiting professor at Ohio State University, and it’s true that his office was located in Ohio Stadium.

Then, Angela says that the global pandemic is finally winding down, and things seem to be getting back to normal. If this seems like an odd statement, it’s because Stephen and Angela recorded the episode before the recent rise in Covid cases.

Finally, Angela references a story that she told Stephen about her near-death experience at Tiger Leaping Gorge along the Yangtze River in southwestern China. To hear the whole story, you can listen to episode 49 of No Stupid Questions, “How Does Facing Death Change Your Life?”

That’s it for the fact-check.

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No Stupid Questions is produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio and is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. Eleanor Osborne is the engineer. Our staff also includes Alison Craiglow, Greg Rippin, Morgan Levey, Zack Lapinski, Mary Diduch, Ryan Kelley, Jasmin Klinger, Emma Tyrell, Lyric Bowdich, and Jacob Clemente. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter at NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to nsq@freakonomics.com. To learn more, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!

DUBNER: You remember when you made fun of me for liking raisins?

DUCKWORTH: Like, are you four?

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