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About this book

This book explores the use of technology to detect, predict and understand social cues, in order to analyze and prevent conflict. Traditional human sciences approaches are enriched with the latest developments in Social Signal Processing aimed at an automatic understanding of conflict and negotiation. Communication—both verbal and non-verbal, within the context of a conflict—is studied with the aim of promoting the use of intelligent machines that automatically measure and understand the escalation of conflict, and are able to manage it, in order to support the negotiation process. Particular attention is paid to the integration of human sciences findings with computational approaches, from the application of correct methodologies for the collection of valid data to the development of computational approaches inspired by research on verbal and multimodal communication.

In the words of the trade unionist Pierre Carniti, "We should reevaluate conflict, since without conflict there is no social justice."

With this in mind, this volume does not approach conflict simply as an obstacle to be overcome, but as a concept to be fully analyzed. The philosophical, linguistic and psychological aspects of conflict, once understood, can be used to promote conflict management as a means for change and social justice.

Table of Contents


Theoretical Approaches to Conflict


Chapter 1. The Cognition of Conflict: Ontology, Dynamics, and Ideology

What is the relationship between actors’ mental representations (e.g., beliefs, goals) and the conflicts between them? And what is the relation (if any) between individual/subjective conflicts (among my goals) and social conflicts? How does one build a systematic ontology of conflicts taking into account objective and subjective types, the internal or individual and the external or social? Do external conflicts require internalized/mentalized conflicts? Are there objective conflicts that agents are unaware of? How do they work? What is the relation between contradictions and conflicts and the need for mental coherence?
With regard to prejudice against conflicts, does human society reflect “social cohesion,” “solidarity,” or cooperation (Durkheim)? Or “Bellum omnium contra omnes” (Hobbes)? Why are they necessarily expressions of the same ground. Why are conflicts (social and mental) good and useful and not something negative, and why do they represent the real condition for democracy?
Cristiano Castelfranchi

Chapter 2. Group Conflict as Social Contradiction

This paper is a contribution to the development of an ontology of conflict. In particular, we single out and study a peculiar notion of group conflict, that we suggestively label “social contradiction.” In order to do so, we shall introduce and discuss the methodology of social choice theory, since it allows for defining the notion of collective attitude that may emerge from a number of possibly divergent individual attitudes. We shall see how collective attitudes lead to define a specific notion of group and therefore a specific notion of group conflict. As a conclusion, we shall present our abstract analysis of group conflicts and we shall position social contradiction with respect to other types of conflicts.
Daniele Porello, Emanuele Bottazzi, Roberta Ferrario

Chapter 3. On Stages of Conflict Escalation

One of the issues in the theory of conflict is the question of whether there are stages, steps, phases, or levels (the terminology varies with different authors) in conflict escalation and, if there are such stages, how many there are and what their respective identifying characteristics might be. Different authors have suggested different numbers of stages and different ways of characterizing them, e.g., Friedrich Glasl suggests nine steps, Douglas Noll suggests five phases, and Eric Brahm suggests eight phases.
Some authors do not suggest a definite number of stages; rather, they give lists of possible stages, see, for example, the book Everyone Can Win by Cornelius, Faire, and Cornelius or the book Interpersonal Conflict Escalation Levels by Hocker and Wilmot.
In our paper, we argue that there is not only one correct answer to the issue of how many stages of conflict escalation there are and what these stages are. Rather, we think that the number and types of stages must be related to the type of conflict we are concerned with. Thus, different types of conflict may typically show different numbers and stages with different properties.
We illustrate this claim by an analysis of the number and types of stages found in short conflict episodes, occurring between politicians in televised political debates from different countries (Germany, Italy, Greece, and the USA), involving different types of conflict episodes, characterized by more or less aggressive, accusing, scornful, derisive, ironic, triumphant, defiant, resigned, etc. stances. An analysis of the “social signals” for these stances, i.e., multimodal expressions of such stances at different moments in the conflict episodes has yielded a set of clusters of behavior, which can be used for identifying possible stages, steps, or phases in the different types of episodes.
Jens Allwood, Elisabeth Ahlsén

Chapter 4. Revenge and Conflict: Social and Cognitive Aspects

Revenge can be conceptualized as an attempt to restore the power balance destroyed by an aggression. It can be risky and costly for the individuals, and it can become completely disruptive at the social and societal level. At the individual level, revenge implies the risk of a counterattack, either coming from the target or from his or her kin and relatives, and it is costly because of the effort it requires. At the social level, a likely and dangerous consequence of revenge is the emergence of feuds, with whole families and groups fighting against each other. Moreover, material resources can get wasted in the conflict, thus further increasing the costs of revenge. Even so, revenge is still part of our behavioral repertoire, humans take revenge continuously, both at a small and at a larger scale. How could have revenge survived if it is costly and dysfunctional? Why do humans still resort to revenge when reacting to a wrong suffered?
The aim of this chapter is to apply cognitive analysis in order to unveil the tension between a need for equity restoration and the related dangers, showing that revenge exploits other social mechanisms, like fairness and equity restoration. We will go through the motivations of an avenger, and we will bridge individual and social factors in order to understand the complex relationship between individuals’ motivations to take revenge and the constraints imposed by societies. We posit that revenge had to be restrained by societies in order to prevent conflicts, and this was done by limiting the contexts in which revenge may take place, thus transforming it into an institution in which revenge is regulated (e.g., Kanun in Albania), or promoting alternative ways of reacting, like punishment and sanction.
Francesca Giardini, Rosaria Conte

Chapter 5. Competition and Cooperation in Language Evolution: A Comparison Between Communication of Apes and Humans

This paper analyzes the topic of conflict in reference to the evolution of language. Specifically, it examines two key elements involved in conflicting interactions, competition and cooperation, and shows how they are involved in the evolution of linguistic skills. According to a model of language origins recently proposed by Michael Tomasello, competition and cooperation are crucial to explain the transition from ape communication to human language. The idea is that ape communication is mainly individualistic because of the competitive nature of nonhuman primates; on the contrary, human language has an intrinsically cooperative nature and this makes human communication qualitatively different from animal communication. The aim of this paper is to call such a model into question by pointing to an “altruism of knowledge” in apes by discussing some recent experimental data on chimpanzee vocal communication.
Ines Adornetti

Chapter 6. The Price of Being Social: The Role of Emotions in Feeding and Minimizing Conflicts

Although, as many scholars state, hierarchical social groups arose in order to manage conflicts among individuals (Sapolsky R (1999) Hormonal correlates of personality and social contexts: from nonhuman to human primates. In: Panter-Brick C, Worthman C (eds) Hormones, health and behavior. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 18–46), it is clear that social stratification may be a source for new conflicts. Thus, societies can exist only on a condition that an equilibrium between conflicting and cooperative factors is maintained. What are the cognitive mechanisms underlying this balance? Among the models facing this issue, some lay a crucial function on emotional devices. Intuitively it may seem that rational argumentation plays the leading role in negotiation, but there is an interesting tradition introduced by Darwin (Darwin CR (1872) The expression of the emotions in man and animals. John Murray, London) that highlights the importance of emotions in interactional cohesiveness (Gratch J, Mao W, Marsella S (2006) Modeling social emotions and social attributions. In: Sun R (ed) Cognition and multi-agent interaction: extending cognitive modeling to social simulation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge).
In this article, we discuss the reasons why the hypothesis that a main system grounding the rise of societies and the negotiation of conflicts is represented by emotions seems to be persuasive. Specifically, in a phylogenetic perspective, we will make reference to a specific phenomenon characterized by emotional elements that have had an adaptive value in terms of cohesion and cooperation among groups: ritual (Alcorta and Sosis, Hum Nat 16:323–359, 2005; De Waal FBM, Aureli F (1996) Consolation, reconciliation, and a possible cognitive difference between macaques and chimpanzees. In: Russon AE, Bard KA, Parker ST (eds) Reaching into thought: the minds of the great apes. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge; De Waal F, Lanting F (1997) Bonobo: the forgotten ape. University of California Press, Berkeley). However, some scholars point out that such cohesive property is combined with another opposite feature: namely, the emotional nature of ritual can feed conflict by turning the symbols of groups into sacralized values (Ginges et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci 104:7357–7360, 2007). In this sense, the deep emotions that engender group cohesion are also elements advancing out-group hostility (Wilson EO (2012) The social conquest of earth. Liveright Publishing Corporation, New York).
In light of these considerations, the analysis of the emotional components tied to collective rituals gives an interesting interpretation of the relationship between conflicts and integration.
Alessandra Chiera

Argumentation and Conflict


Chapter 7. Arguments, Conflicts, and Decisions

The relationship between conflict and argumentation presents an interesting ambivalence, both in ordinary language and in theoretical models: although argumentation is often depicted as a discursive practice aimed at reasonable resolution of an initial conflict, arguments are also frequently perceived as inherently conflictual engagements, more akin to vicious fights than to rational discussion. In this paper, I argue that a decision-theoretic approach to argumentation allows to make sense of this tension, and I review some empirical evidence in favor of this claim. In turn, this highlights the complex role that conflict plays in orienting our argumentative moves. I conclude by offering some implications, both theoretical and practical, of this particular view of arguments, conflicts, and decisions.
Fabio Paglieri

Chapter 8. Common Ground or Conceptual Reframing? A Study of the Common Elements in Conflicting Positions in French Interactions

The notion of “common ground” is one of the most used tools when people want to describe the elements that the speakers engaged in a discursive interaction share. In this paper, some phenomena are presented involving common elements in two conflicting positions whose description is inadequate if we apply the notion of common ground, understood as pieces of information accepted by both parties. In particular, the way in which some repliers organise their opposition seems to require considering the positions as concepts, rather than as pieces of information. We define these concepts as connective entities, which can be interrelated. We analyse three conflicting discursive sequences in French (one from a political debate broadcast on television and two from Internet forums) by mobilising a theoretical approach in which meaning involves connective concepts. We claim that in a conflicting pair statement—reply, there is one kind of reply strategy which consists in reinterpreting the statement of the opponent, a strategy that we call reframing, which accepts two versions depending on which part of the opponent’s position is maintained (internal vs. external reframing). Moreover, the connective concepts approach is motivated both at the level of the conflict and at the level of the individual positions taken per se.
Alfredo M. Lescano

Chapter 9. Disaffiliation and Pragmatic Strategies of Emotive Communication in a Multiparty Online Conflict Talk

This chapter examines the emergence and the development of a multiparty conflict talk within an Italian computer-mediated community, with a special focus on the pragmatic resources and sequential strategies wherewith the users express their stance. Namely, the former are described by means of six multimodal emotive devices of evaluation, proximity, specificity, evidentiality, volitionality, and quantity proposed by Caffi and Janney (J Pragmatics 22: 325–373, 1994), while the latter are described by identifying the users’ disaffiliative responses. Reflections on how these two sets of communicative choices possibly interact in the strategic signaling of disagreement among the users will be presented. The chapter will be divided into the following parts: a concise presentation of the relevant theoretical background, with a highlight on linguistic pragmatic concepts and on conversational analytic resources related to affectivity in interaction; a presentation of the choice of methods and of the objectives of the research; the analysis of an extract of an exchange selected from a 155-post thread from the Italian online forum; and conclusive remarks and a call for increased discussion on how further studies on multimodal pragmatic markers and conversational strategies might help to better understand the dynamics of multiparty conflict talk.
Laura Bonelli

Communication of Aggression and Aggressive Communication


Chapter 10. Giving Voice to Silence: A Study of State Violence in Bolzaneto Prison during the Genoa G8 Summit

The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the reader to the legal narratives produced during hearings at the trial for violence that took place inside the Bolzaneto prison at the Genoa Group of Eight Summit (G8) of 2001. First we summarize the events of the G8, during which, according to international observers, there occurred the most serious violation of human rights in a Western country since the Second World War. Then comes the empirical research conducted on Bolzaneto prison during the trial, adopting three perspectives of analysis: courtroom narrative, social delegitimization, and therapeutic jurisprudence. The research on courtroom narrative analyzes the relationship between social structure and power on the one hand and linguistic patterning and use on the other. On the basis of the qualitative analysis of the storytelling, we elaborate our conception of delegitimization, distinguished into definitional, behavioral, and environmental. Finally, we outline the role of the law as a therapeutic agent in reducing the negative consequence of delegitimization, which in the case of Bolzaneto prison turns out to be a practice of state violence as exercised within a sociopolitical context.
Adriano Zamperini, Marialuisa Menegatto

Chapter 11. The Rhetoric of Conflict Inside and Outside the Stadium: The Case Study of an Italian Football Cheer Group

Since ancient times, sports have played the role of transposing, on a symbolic level, the aggressive behaviors that are built into human sociality. Mostly in their team manifestations, sporting events represent a so-called tame war. The main aim of this study is to show how the cultural psychology of sport might contribute to an understanding of the sense-making dynamics active in human intergroup infighting, though conditioned to a sublimated and ritualized acceptability.
Rosa Scardigno, Maria Luisa Giancaspro, Amelia Manuti, Giuseppe Mininni

Chapter 12. Some Puzzles of Politeness and Impoliteness Within a Formal Semantics of Offensive Language

Puzzles of linguistic politeness and impoliteness are outlined. A framework for articulating formal semantic theories of linguistic politeness and impoliteness is adopted. The framework provides a foundation for a semantic theory that builds on past argument that (im)politeness behaviors arise from offence management associated with disgust. The theory is shown to explain some of the puzzles of (im)politeness.
Carl Vogel

Chapter 13. Direct and Indirect Verbal and Bodily Insults and Other Forms of Aggressive Communication

The chapter outlines a model of insult in terms of a socio-cognitive view of multimodal communication. After setting it apart from other types of aggressive communication, like curse, imprecation and bad words, it explores its social and emotional causes and effects in everyday life and political communication, and finally proposes a semantic and pragmatic analysis of direct and indirect, verbal and bodily insults in Italian political talk shows and social media.
Isabella Poggi, Francesca D’Errico, Laura Vincze

Emotions and Multimodal Communication in Conflict


Chapter 14. Multimodal Analysis of Low-Stakes Conflicts: A Proposal for a Dynamic Model

The chapter attempts to define a dynamic model for the analysis of conflictive processes caused by verbal aggression and impoliteness. The linguistic interest in verbal aggression is motivated by the illocutionary force and perlocutionary effects of aggressive utterances, i.e., by the performed acts associated with the interlocutor’s communicative behavior (“action-leading dimension”). The output hypothesis is that verbal aggression is an expression of non-dialogic communicative behavior aimed at gaining power and rejecting the other. It can be motivated by a variety of reasons (the need for power, hostile illocutions, asymmetries in knowledge, compensation mechanisms, etc.). Considering various attempts at classifying antidialogic behavior, made on the basis of Brown and Levinson’s concept of face, a new dynamic model of verbal aggression is proposed. This theoretical model puts interactional balance at the center of the analysis and takes into account the relational, interactional, and multimodal dimensions of conflictive acts. An exemplary analysis of a video recording will clarify how this method makes it possible to distinguish phases within conflict formation (the onset phase, the stroke phase, the offset phase, and possible phases in between) and to point to recurrent moments and specific cues at the verbal, vocal, and kinetic levels in each phase. The claim for interactional power can be retraced through the participants’ attempts to gain control of the informative structure and the topic of a conversation. Further accommodation processes are evident at the level of lexical choices, loudness, pitch, and movements of the head and body.
Silvia Bonacchi, Mariusz Mela

Chapter 15. Rhetoric of Truthfulness in the Battle Between Social Attributions and Empathic Emotions

Theoretical background. Understanding what motivates adults to improve social relations has captivated the interest of a number of scholars in different fields, including philosophers, psychologists, and anthropologists. In this framework the study of empathy, which is considered a complex, multifaceted experience and one of the most intriguing phenomena in social life, has recently become relevant also in the analysis of both positive and negative intergroup relations.
Empathic emotions have received much theoretical and empirical attention in recent decades, mostly because of their contributions to reducing social aggression and their ability to promote conflict resolution, social inclusion, and solidarity (Genç and Kalafat 2008). Empathy is considered an essential component of the motivation to engage in prosocial behaviors (Einlof 2008; Stephan and Finlay, 1999) and to reduce aggression (Bandura 1999; Fesbach 1989; Rehber 2007). Moreover, some researchers have recently found that empathy is also significantly related to conflict management (LeBlanc et al. 2012; Wied et al. 2007).
Although the literature has greatly contributed to our understanding of the relationship between empathy and social relations, and researchers have no doubts that the feeling of empathic emotions for another person may compel people to trigger better relationships and reduce conflicts (see, for example, Batson 1991; Batson et al., 1997b; Davis et al., 1996), what remains a matter of some controversy, however, is the reason why this relation exists.
The idea that people’s affective responses to a person are shaped by the attributions they make regarding the person’s plight, for example, found great empirical support (Batson et al. 1997; Weiner 1980; Weiner 1995). However, in which direction this relationship develops, it still has to be explored. Empathy, for example, may represent or not a response to a story, and empathic reactions may depend on the kind of inferences this story can elicit.
Aims and method. The present research partially fills this research gap by providing answers to the questions regarding whether and how empathic emotions are affected by social attribution processes. In particular, for the first time, the roles of empathy, truthfulness, social desirability, and emotional impact on positive intergroup attitudes were simultaneously analyzed. To this end, participants’ (N = 66) empathy, their perceived social desirability of the empathic answer, together with the story’s emotional impact and perceived truthfulness were measured following the reading of a short fictional story.
Data analyses and results. To verify whether attribution processes and social desirability simultaneously affect both directly and indirectly the empathic reaction toward another person, structural equation modeling (SEM) was employed (Bollen 1989). According to our findings, perceived truthfulness influences the emotional impact of a story, which causes social desirability. In turn, social desirability results as the direct predictor of empathy.
Conclusions. In sum, the empathic response appears as the output of manifold and complex phenomena: it requires innate capacities and social competences; it is the result of a complex interlacing of cognitive and affective factors, but also the outcome of a battle between so-called “social constructions”, modulated by values and beliefs shared in a certain culture and collectivity. Because of its polyphonic nature, empathy may help persons in conflict to overcome the enunciative arrest in which they are trapped.
F. Milena Marzano, R. Scardigno, G. Mininni

Chapter 16. Social Behaviour in Police Interviews: Relating Data to Theories

We analysed a corpus of enacted police interviews to get insight into the social behaviour of interviewees and police officers in this setting. We (exhaustively) collected the terms used to describe the interactions in those interviews. Through factor analysis, we showed that the theories interpersonal stance, face, and rapport and the meta-concepts information and strategy are necessary to include in a model that captures the social interaction in a police interview. Subsequent validation and relational analysis of the concepts from these theories showed which concepts from these theories are related. This work will be used to inform the construction of a virtual agent acting as a suspect in a training game for police officers.
Merijn Bruijnes, Jeroen Linssen, Rieks op den Akker, Mariët Theune, Sjoerd Wapperom, Chris Broekema, Dirk Heylen

Chapter 17. From Personalization to Parrhesia: A Multimodal Analysis of Autobiographical Recalls in Barack Obama’s Political Speech

This paper analyzes autobiographical recalls in Barack Obama’s political speech, framing them by two main theoretical perspectives rather than by the more commonly evoked theory of personalization. The first theoretical framework refers to Arendt’s concept of the self-aware pariah, as opposed to the concept of parvenu. The second theory invoked refers to the work of Michel Foucault on parrhesia, seen as a risky yet empowering communicative game. In accordance with these theoretical premises, four political speeches delivered by Barack Obama, both when he was still a “strange” incumbent and after he had become president of the USA, were selected, given the high political risks these particular speeches were addressing. Extracts sharing autobiographical memories were analyzed with both a multimodal analysis of communication and an analysis of facial expressions of emotions (facial action coding system, or FACS). Results show that these autobiographical memories conveyed parrhesiastic narratives about the social origins of Obama as a pariah. Together with these risky rhetorical moves, emotional expressions (mainly negative) were clearly evident, yet well regulated. Our concluding remarks on this first explorative analysis suggest that Obama could apply a parrhesiastic attitude to himself making clear to all his socially disadvantaged origins – in order to persuade his audience to accept a similar parrhesiastic game for communicating about difficult aspects of the political situation of his listeners. The limitations of the study and possibilities for future developments of this line of research are discussed at the end of the chapter.
Giovanna Leone, Francesca Di Murro, Livia Serlupi Crescenzi

Technologies for Conflict Detection and Simulation


Chapter 18. Detecting Speech Interruptions for Automatic Conflict Detection

This contribution is in the field of automatic detection of conflict in group discussions from voice analysis. A reliable detector of conflict would be useful for many applications, such as security in public places, the quality of customer services, and the deployment of intelligent agents. Experiments were conducted on the SSPNet Conflict Corpus during the Interspeech 2013 Conflict Challenge. The audio clips, which were extracted from political debates, have been classified into two classes of conflict level (low or high). In this study, we have used the turn-taking characteristics, such as interruptions, for improving the conflict detection. In a group discussion, overlapping speech (overlap) corresponds to interruption. Two overlap detectors have been developed using the SVM classifier and audio features. The first detector aims at detecting whether interruptions occur in a speech segment. The second detector aims at detecting when interruptions occur in a speech segment and whether these interruptions are related to low- or high-level conflict. A multi-expert architecture has been defined to incorporate the knowledge that arises from the interruption detectors. The two-class conflict detector (low or high conflict) consists of an SVM classifier that uses a composite feature set as input. This feature set is a concatenation of selected audio features and overlap detector-based features. Experiments provide an unweighted accuracy recall (UAR) of 85.3 % on the Test set. These results indicate an improvement of 4.5 % compared to the official baseline system results. In conclusion, the interruptions in speech can be detected and can significantly improve the automatic conflict detection.
Marie-José Caraty, Claude Montacié

Chapter 19. Be at Odds? Deep and Hierarchical Neural Networks for Classification and Regression of Conflict in Speech

Conflict is a fundamental phenomenon inevitably arising in inter-human communication and only recently has become the subject of study in the emerging field of computational paralinguistics. As speech is a predominant carrier of information about the valence and level of conflict we investigate and demonstrate how deep and hierarchical neural networks, which have become the new mainstream paradigm in automatic speech recognition over the last few years, can be leveraged to automatically classify and predict levels of conflict purely based on audio recordings. For this purpose we adopt a neural network architecture which we previously have applied successfully to another paralinguistics task. On the Conflict Sub-Challenge data set of the Interspeech 2013 Computational Paralinguistics Challenge (ComParE) we obtained the best results reported so far in the literature on both the classification and the regression task. These results demonstrate that deep neural networks are also appropriate for the prediction of conflict levels, both for classification and regression.
Raymond Brueckner, Björn Schuller

Chapter 20. Conflict Cues in Call Center Interactions

The detection of conflict cues in call center interactions may be related to the quality assessment of the services provided, since these cues reveal both speakers’ emotional states and positioning as expressed through complaining and identifying problematic issues on the one hand and managing requests or resolving problems on the other hand. This paper describes a set of emotional and conversational cues associated to conflict as well as a machine learning approach to classify emotional speech units occurring in a call center dataset by employing emotion labels as well as automatically extracted acoustic and additional context-related features.
Maria Koutsombogera, Dimitrios Galanis, Maria Teresa Riviello, Nikos Tseres, Sotiris Karabetsos, Anna Esposito, Harris Papageorgiou

Chapter 21. Serious Games for Teaching Conflict Resolution: Modeling Conflict Dynamics

Serious games have already found use in several non-leisure contexts including simulation, training, health and education. In this study we present a serious game designed for the purpose of enhancing the ability of children between the ages of 9 and 12 to cope with conflict situations. Inspired by theoretical models of human conflict and experiential learning, we designed a game through which players experience and try to resolve conflict situations themselves in a virtual environment. In our multiplayer game, Village Voices, each child plays the role of a villager and is asked to complete a number of conflict quests that require social interaction and resource management; the game allows anything from very aggressive behaviours (stealing resources and spreading negative rumors) to collaborative play (trading resources). To model conflict intensity in Village Voices and evaluate its ability to elicit strong emotions and conflict, we ran a game user survey in Portugal from 32 children. Data collected include demographic information and conflict profile types, as well as in-game behavioural data and self-reported notions of conflict and affect during play. The analysis presented in this paper shows that there appear to be strong effects between gender, age, conflict resolution strategy type, cultural tendency, reported emotions and perception about the other players, and reported conflict intensity. Indeed, Village Voices serves as an excellent vehicle for teaching conflict resolution as it is able to elicit bounded conflict situations of varying intensities, and, importantly, enables us to further understand conflict dynamics amongst students of this age group and beyond.
Yun-Gyung Cheong, Rilla Khaled, Christoffer Holmgȧrd, Georgios N. Yannakakis


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