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The Study Of Paranormal Phenomena Psychology Essay

4783 words (19 pages) Essay in Psychology

5/12/16 Psychology Reference this

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The study of paranormal phenomena or paranormal belief is a component of parapsychology. According to Kennedy (2005), paranormal belief is still a poorly understood aspect in humanity. Some people believe in it but some are strongly opposed to the idea of paranormal phenomena; both parties are standing firmly in their own viewpoint to an extreme. According to Cline (n.d.), parapsychology is a field that engages the study of psychological phenomena which are unexplainable by means of science or can say that it has against the principles and theories of science. The term “parapsychology” was invented in year 1889 by a psychologist, Max Dessoir. Paranormal phenomena can be divided into three types which are clairvoyance or precognition, telepathy, and telekinesis. Telepathy is the capacity to sense and exchange information across the spaces through mind power. Telekinesis is the using of mind power to move objects. Clairvoyance or precognition is the capability to predict future events. Yet Tobacyk (2004) has divided the belief in paranormal phenomena into seven dimensions namely traditional religious belief, psi, witchcraft, superstition, spiritualism, extraordinary life forms, and precognition.

Paranormal beliefs have been found in many cultures for more than a thousand years (Jahoda, 1969 as cited in Wiseman & Watt, 2004) and the recent surveys showed that these paranormal beliefs are continuing to flourish nowadays (Newport & Strausberg, 2001 as cited in Wiseman & Watt, 2004). Paranormal phenomenon was experienced and believed by people of all cultures. This means that people from different cultures will have different belief systems toward paranormal phenomena. According to Irwin (2009), people will normally reckon all these paranormal phenomena as realities or truths instead of just a belief system that should be adopted by them in term of their own cultures. Besides, the paranormal belief within a society also consists of its cultural and chronological contexts. In the cultural context, a particular paranormal belief is largely endorsed by a culture setting but it is not necessary to have endorsed by people from other places who practiced different cultures. On the other hand, in the context of chronological setting, the paranormal belief that is mostly adopted in one time might be abandoned in another time within the same community. This may be due to that particular community has become skeptical and is being more emphasized on scientific evidences in viewing events or maybe the belief is just no longer adopted within that community.

Why are there so many people believing in the paranormal phenomena? According to Hood (2009), paranormal beliefs are not simply spreading by people and making others what to think. However, he claimed that human brain has a mind design that guides them naturally to form and understand the world schema and to make sense of it by constructing the intuitive theories. These intuitive theories produce a paranormal sense and feeling. He declares that all these can take place early in the development before culture emerges to lead people’s thinking styles. The influences of culture may happen later during child’s development stages. Children will construct information about the world through their own intuitive reasoning which directs them to both normal and paranormal beliefs. Nevertheless, there is something in the human mind that guides people to belief. The sense of paranormal experiences or beliefs is a part of our mind design and thus it is deeply implanted in the ways of how we explain all these paranormal phenomena.

On the other hand, according to Fritscher (2012), paranormal belief is a possible sign of disordered thinking in the field of psychology. There may have some lesions in the brain of the paranormal believers which cause them to have hallucinations. However, it is undeniable that the paranormal phenomenon has formed a crucial part of many belief systems and world views of the people which affected their interpretation of the world throughout their life.

Problem Statement

A lot of researches have been carried out in order to test the paranormal beliefs based on the demographic variables such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, races and culture. However, the hypothesis of social marginality had been used to predict the paranormal belief in these demographics (Irwin, 1993). Bainbridge (1978) and Wuthnow (1976) as cited in Irwin (1993) had declared that the socially marginal groups such as the people from low society status, jobless or having the low education level were prone to believe in paranormal phenomena. This may because they believe that these can lead them to a better life. On the other hand, a research which examines the social marginality hypothesis in paranormal belief has been conducted by Emmons and Sobal (1981). The finding of their research shows that females and unmarried people will normally associate with paranormal belief. The factors such as age, low education level and jobless usually do not have any correlations with paranormal belief. Therefore, it can be concluded that in terms of education level and employment, the social marginality hypothesis has a contradictory finding which failed to obtain the consistent results in all situations.

Many researches such as the study of Irwin (1985), Mc-Garry and Newberry (1981), Randall (1990), Randall and Desrosiers(1980), and Tobacyk and Milford (1983) as cited in Irwin (1993) have showed that there are more female than male paranormal believers. However, according to Gray (1990), there was an absence of gender differences for the students from science or non-science courses. The male students of non-science courses showed the same level of strong paranormal belief as female students. Besides, the female science students showed low level of paranormal belief as male students. Thus we cannot generalize that females have stronger paranormal belief than males.

Some researchers have claimed that the belief in traditional religions is same as the belief in paranormal phenomena, but this still remains questionable whether paranormal belief is related to religious belief (Irwin 1993). Some of the researches stated that religious belief was correlated with paranormal belief, for example, the research of Buhrmann and Zaugg (1983), Orenstein (2002), Thalbourne and Hensley (2001) as cited in Tam and Shiah (2004). On the other hand, the study of Ellis (1988) and Rice (2003) as cited in Tam and Shiah (2004) declared that religious belief is not related with paranormal belief. However, according to Rice (2003), in the relationship between religious belief and paranormal belief, there was a lack of confirmation whether their correlation is significant or not. This is because the relationship between them is much more multifaceted and diverse among the theories proposed.

Besides the researches stated above, there are also many other researches about paranormal beliefs. There are some psychological inquiries which are very important and needed to be investigated and known by everyone. Why do people believe in paranormal phenomena? Which group of people will tend to believe in these phenomena? In this modern era, most people tend to be more logically and scientifically in forming their ways of thinking which are evidence-based yet it still has many people who believe in these paranormal phenomena. Therefore, it is necessary for us to know what kind of people and what are the reasons that lead them to believe in paranormal phenomena. On top of that, the identification of the effects or consequences of paranormal belief that may have for human life are very important because it may have a great impact on the development of human civilization.

Significant of Study

The research and career that related with parapsychology or transpersonal psychology are not popular in Malaysia. There is no research done on this topic by Malaysian as their dissertations or theses temporarily. Therefore, there is a need to carry out a research on this topic in Malaysia.

People from different parts of the world will have their own unique type of paranormal beliefs regardless of their cultures. These paranormal beliefs will have some influences in different aspects of human life. For example, it can influence the critical thinking or cognitive ability, socioeconomic status and creativity of an individual. Thus, it is necessary to carry out a project at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) based on the students in Perak campus in order to examine their paranormal belief level and to identify the effects of strong paranormal belief in their life.

It is important to know whether Asian females are stronger in paranormal belief compared with males, since almost all the western researches showed the consistent results that females will have a stronger paranormal belief compared to males. Moreover, it is interesting to know if religion(s) will make their followers to have strong belief in paranormal phenomena and how they achieved that. Lastly, it is interesting to know whether students from Arts and Science stream will have different paranormal belief level in Asian countries like Malaysia as most of the Western researches showed that Science stream students tend to have less paranormal belief compared to Arts stream students. All these researches carried out to examine gender differences, different religions and Arts and Science streams in level of paranormal belief are aimed to investigate whether the findings have cross-cultural consistency.

Objectives

To determine whether females are stronger in paranormal belief compared to males as shown in most of the researches carried out by psychologists from western countries.

To identify whether Science stream students will have less paranormal belief compared to Arts stream students as they have more scientific knowledge and more scientifically ways of thinking.

To find out whether the different religious beliefs will influence the belief of paranormal phenomena.

Research Question

Is there any difference in paranormal belief between males and females?

Is there any difference in paranormal belief between Arts and Science stream students?

Is there any difference in paranormal belief among different religious beliefs?

Hypothesis

Females will have stronger paranormal belief than males.

Students from Arts stream will have stronger paranormal belief than Science stream students.

There is a difference in paranormal belief among different kinds of religious beliefs.

Operational Definition

Sex According to American Psychological Association (APA) (2011), the term of sex is referred to the biological category of an individual, which is being classified as male and female. The term of gender was not suitable to use in this study as gender is referred to the behavior or attitude given by culture or society that is linked with the individual’s biological sex according to APA (2011).

Religion It still remains undefined under the international law (Gunn, 2003). However, according to Yinger (1970), religion is a system of beliefs and practices in which a group of people are struggling with the ultimate questions of life. There are many different religions in Malaysia, such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Sikhism. However, this study is mainly focused on Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Christianity as most of the UTAR’s students are Chinese and Indian. Nevertheless, other religions like Islam and Sikhism are very rare.

Arts stream The faculties of Arts stream in UTAR Perak campus are Faculty of Business and Finance (FBF), Faculty of Arts and Social Science (FAS), Faculty of Information and Communication Technology (FICT). The courses offered by FBF are Banking and Finance, Business Administration, Communication and Network, Accounting, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Financial Economics, and Finance. In FAS, it consists of the courses such as Languages and Linguistics, Psychology and Counseling, Journalism, Public Relation and Advertising. For FICT, the courses offered are Computer Science, Business Information Systems, Information Systems Engineering and Computer Engineering.

Science stream The Science stream departments in UTAR Perak campus are Faculty of Science (FSc) and Faculty of Engineering and Green Technology (FEGT). The courses of FSc included Logistics and International Shipping, Agricultural Science, Biological Science, Biomedical Science, Biotechnology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Statistical Computing and Operations Research and Microbiology. While FEGT offered the courses of Electronic Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Petrochemical Engineering, Construction Management and Industrial Engineering.

CHAPTER II

LITERATURE REVIEW

Numerous journals, dissertations and theses about paranormal beliefs have been published by Western researchers. Almost all findings are consistent with the hypotheses stated. Below is the review of some journals, dissertations and theses about the concept and history of paranormal beliefs, its theoretical framework and paranormal beliefs based on the demographic variables of sex differences, religions and different areas of study (arts and science stream).

Paranormal Beliefs

Besides the term of paranormal, there are also other words which have the same meaning such as superstitious, magical and supernatural. According to Lindeman and Svedholm (2012), psychologists have raised the awareness and interest in the issues of paranormal, superstitious, magical and supernatural (PSMS) since the year of 1800. The term PSMS belief is defined as category mistakes which confuse the basic knowledge of material objects, mental phenomena, living organisms, and the development as a whole. This term has been applied inconsistently in many research literatures. PSMS came out with the conceptual definitions which are classified into domain-general and domain-specific since last two decades. The definition of domain-general consists of five sets, namely belief in scientifically impossible phenomena, false beliefs, and associative biases (irrational acts, co variation bias and laws of sympathetic magic). Nevertheless, this definition failed to differentiate other unfounded beliefs from PSMS beliefs as they covered a wide range of beliefs. The domain-specific definition can be further divided into two groups which are intuitive and counterintuitive beliefs about the phenomena of biological, physical and psychological. This definition is more appropriate to classify the PSMS beliefs because it can explain some of the types and dissimilarities among them. Overall, there is no significant difference among the operation of PSMS beliefs. (pp. 1-11)

Richman and Bell (2012) found that the levels of paranormal belief dropped over the years. This can be seen from two experiments by Richman and Bell (2012) with the university student latest sample (2010) as well as Tobacyk and Milford (1983), which were both carried out in Southeastern US state university. Even though there were similar levels of belief in a variety of phenomena for two samples, there were still some aspects of the paranormal beliefs which decreased dramatically over the period of 27 years. The paranormal belief subscales of precognition and traditional religious belief showed less significant differences for the two samples. Precognition will be endured due to the reality that more people had experienced the predictive dream compared to other paranormal phenomena. In this case, the study of Royalty (1995) showed a significant relationship between the paranormal belief levels and the self-reported history of paranormal experience (as cited in Richman & Bell, 2012). For the subscales of traditional religious belief in paranormal belief, it has been a human continuous lifestyle regardless of cultures and age groups. Furthermore, there were some researches, including Richman and Bell (2012), proposed that traditional religious beliefs have little or no relation with paranormal beliefs, for example, Randall and Desrosiers (1980) and Rice (2003) as cited in Richman and Bell (2012). There are various personalities and factors which cause people to belief in paranormal phenomena, for instance, high fantasy proneness, sensation seeking and high openness, external locus of control and neuroticism may also contribute to paranormal beliefs. (pp. 197-206)

Moreover, Oh, Kim and Oh (2011) had done a cross-cultural study and revealed that Korean students have higher paranormal beliefs compared with United States (US) students in general. Nevertheless, the paranormal beliefs, in both religious and non-religious people, have decreased in Korea and US throughout the ten year period whereby it can be seen from the two testing periods which are 1999 and 2009. A dramatically decrease can be seen in Korea. Korean students have higher paranormal beliefs in all subscales besides traditional religious belief compared with US students at the year of 1999. In 2009, Korean students still have stronger paranormal beliefs than US students apart from spiritualism and religiosity although there is more decrease in Korean students compared to US students. Therefore, the differences in paranormal beliefs between Korean and US students were not significant in 2009. This result obtained is most likely due to the advance in scientific knowledge which may affect their thinking. The findings showed that people who possess and understand scientific knowledge will have lower paranormal beliefs and this idea is consistent with the study of Lim (1983) as cited in Oh, Kim and Oh (2011). (pp. 35-51)

Sex and Paranormal Beliefs

There are many researches that have been done to examine the relationship between sex and paranormal beliefs. Many researches reported that females have higher level of paranormal beliefs than males. The review of Irwin (1993) pointed out some of the studies which proved that females will have higher global paranormal beliefs than males, such as Randall and Desrosiers (1980), McGarry and Newberry (1981), Tobacyk and Milford (1983), Irwin (1985), and Randall (1990). There are lots of studies stated in the review of Irwin (1993) illustrated that females will normally has higher belief in ESP than males in terms of precognition and telepathy, for example, Kennedy (1939), Emmons and Sobal (1981), Thalbourne (1981), Haraldsson (1981, 1985a), Tobacyk and Milford (1983), Irwin (1985), Gray (1990b), and Clarke (1991). According to Irwin (1993), females also portray higher paranormal belief in the subscales of psychic healing (Gray, 1990b), superstitions (Emme, 1940; Scheidt, 1973; Blum & Blum, 1974; Blum, 1976), traditional religious concept (Hay & Morisy, 1978; Emmons & Sobal, 1981; Tobacyk & Milford, 1983; Black, 1990), reincarnation (Gray, 1990b), astrology (Salter & Routledge, 1971; Za’rour, 1972; Wuthnow, 1976; Emmons & Sobal, 1981; Fichten & Sunerton, 1983; Grey, 1988; Gray, 1990b; Clarke, 1991), and hauntings (Haraldsson, 1985a). On the other hand, males have showed higher belief in extraordinary life forms like Loch Ness monster (Tobacyk & Milford, 1983; Tobacyk & Pirttila-Backman, 1992), and in UFOs (Gray, 1990b; Clarke, 1991). (pp. 8-9)

The research of Wolfradt (1997, pp. 15-19) revealed that females have higher level of paranormal belief compared to males because they scored higher on some subscales of the Revised Paranormal Belief Scale (RPBS) such as superstition, psi belief, spiritualism, witchcraft and precognition. Nevertheless, there were no sex differences at the RPBS subscales of belief in extraordinary life forms and religious belief. On the other hand, Eder, Turic, Milasowszky, Adzin and Hergovich (2010, p. 521) declared that females will generally portray higher paranormal beliefs in the subscales of spirituality and traditional religious belief, but it was less significant to the subscales of witchcraft and psi. Besides, males showed higher paranormal belief in subscale of extraordinary life forms. However, there was no sex difference in the subscales of precognition and superstition. On the contrary, the study of Blackmore and Moore (1994) stated that there were no significant gender differences in paranormal beliefs in term of Paranormal Belief Scale (PBS) score (p. 95).

Gray (1990) revealed that females are prone to adopt the paranormal beliefs like psychic, reincarnation, astrology and ESP, while males tend to believe in extraterrestrial life forms like aliens compared to females (p. 181). This is because males will take the initiative to think and learn while females put more emphasis on their feelings or sentiments (Abele, 2003, pp. 768-776). Thus, females are more likely to believe in verbal phenomena such as psychic readings and males tend to believe in physical paranormal phenomena or science phenomena like UFO or aliens (Hauser, 2008, p. 1). Simultaneously, Houran and Lange (2007) concluded this as the cognitive differences between males and females in which males are more headed to naturally related phenomena while females are prone to humanly related paranormal phenomena (as cited in Hauser, 2008, p. 1). Therefore, these researches indicate that there are sex differences in the type of paranormal beliefs, but not the quantity of paranormal beliefs.

Furthermore, the study of Preece and Baxter (2000) drew a conclusion that sex differences were basically being discovered at each year group with females are normally less skeptical than males in term of paranormal beliefs such as ESP and psychic ability. This is because according to Preece and Baxter (2000), females have been influenced by the popular media such as newspaper articles or magazines. On the other hand, males are usually less skeptical than females about the UFO belief. Males tend to belief that aliens from other planets had visited Earth in the past. This may due to the particular interests of males in space traveling and universe which are always being portrayed in the films or novels according to Preece and Baxter (2000). Nevertheless, the critical reasons for both males and females to adopt different types of paranormal beliefs might be the combination of biological aspects like genetic and cultural aspects like social norms whereby different roles were being instilled to them based on their gender. (pp. 1147-1156)

Kennedy (2003, pp. 27-39) claimed that males will always be extreme skepticism toward paranormal belief because they tend to put a significant assessment on manipulation and rational thinking. Therefore, they may frequently imagine that they are threatened by all these paranormal beliefs and thus showing aggressiveness toward different belief systems. National Canadian survey also obtained a consistent finding which claimed that males are prone to be the extreme skeptics of paranormal beliefs and think that spirituality was insignificant, while females will have the higher paranormal beliefs and think that spirituality was significant. According to Blackmore (1994b), most of the males were not concerned or attracted by the paranormal phenomena in terms of examining the atypical declaration or trying out the psychic experiences by themselves, they just uphold their own belief systems (as cited in Kennedy, 2003). The fact contributed to these phenomena which has been stated by Kennedy (2003) is that males possess the genetic predispositions for analytical thinking and social authority. On the other hand, the findings of Lindeman and Aarnio (2006, pp. 597-599) stated that females possess higher intuitive and lower logical thinking and thus it seems to be the generative mechanisms for females to have adopted more paranormal beliefs compared with males.

Art and Science Stream text in Paranormal Beliefs

The research of Gray and Mill (1990, pp. 162-172) showed that English graduate students tend to adopt more paranormal beliefs such as ESP, UFO, astrology, psychic healing and reincarnation compared to Biology graduate students who have stronger belief in non-paranormal phenomena like evolution. The Biology graduate students needed fewer signs compared to English graduate students for the analysis of the information in the text they read. Even though less signs are needed by Biology graduate students on the scientific contents, their performances were not significant different with English graduate students. However, there was a significant positive relationship between the number of signs required and paranormal belief in which the more signs required in order for completing a scientific context, the stronger the belief in paranormal phenomena. This is because they do not approach the scientific evidences with a proper critical standpoint. Therefore, this study pointed out that there were more English graduate students who have the higher paranormal beliefs compared to Biology students. Besides, the study of Craig (1991) demonstrated that the students from music-art and English-foreign language majors have stronger paranormal beliefs than the students from social studies and mathematics-science majors (p. 64).

Morier and Keeports (1994, pp. 443-453) stated that students from science and pseudoscience class (treatment group) were generally having lower level of paranormal belief compared with the students in psychology and law class (control group). Initially, both groups did not show any differences before the course started. However, the participants from treatment group revealed a significant decrease in paranormal belief than control group in which the standard score units for control group only dropped with an average of 0.17 while treatment group was dropped with an average of 1.08. The ultimate cause that science and pseudoscience course has successfully changed the level of paranormal beliefs may be due to the dealing with such beliefs obviously and clearly during the class. In addition, Jones (1980) also proposed that paranormal beliefs can only be eliminated through the direct confrontation with the paranormal phenomena (as cited in Morier & Keeports, 1994). This is because the science and pseudoscience course has provided students with more scientific knowledge which lead them to acknowledge science as a way to investigate and evaluate the paranormal events or misconceptions. Overall, the findings for this study discovered that skeptical behavior can be achieved by scientific teaching or critical thinking abilities. These results support the study of Grimmer and White (1992) whereby it claimed that science education may add to the better skeptical attitude as science students will normally have a lower level of paranormal beliefs compared to arts students (as cited in Preece & Baxter, 2000, p.1154).

We can see that when an individual has more scientific knowledge or is interested in science, then he or she will tend to have lower paranormal beliefs compared to others who know little or nothing about science. Prichard (2011) had done a research to investigate paranormal beliefs and science motivation among the biology and psychology students. The participants consist of the students from advanced biology, introductory psychology, and advanced psychology. The findings showed that introductory psychology students have more paranormal beliefs compared to the students from advanced biology and advanced psychology. Although science motivation is assumed to have an effect in reducing the paranormal beliefs, there was no significant difference between advanced biology and advanced psychology students in paranormal beliefs, albeit Biology students have higher level of science motivation compared to both introductory and advanced psychology students. Thus, Prichard (2011) had found that study through psychology course may become the greater predictor for reducing the paranormal beliefs compared to science motivation. Therefore, it cannot be concluded that science motivation will lead to a more rational thinking about paranormal beliefs as it is not the only factor for skepticism. (pp. 2-20)

Religious Belief and Paranormal Beliefs

There are a lot of researches that have been carried out to investigate the relationship between paranormal beliefs and religiosity. In the review of Irwin (1993), Irwin (1985) reported that global paranormal beliefs such as psychic healing, precognition, telepathy, psychokinesis (PK), and astral projection have a positive relationship with religiosity; however there is no relation between the global paranormal beliefs and religiosity reported by Alcock (1975). Besides, Tobacyk and Milford (1983) declared that there is a positive correlation between belief in precognition and religiosity (as cited in Irwin, 1993). Both researches of Haraldsson (1981) and Thalbourne (1984) claimed that belief in ESP was associated with religiosity in which ESP belief is positive correlated with praying, reading the religious materials and attending religious gathering (as cited in Irwin, 1993); but according to Irwin (1993), this was not proved by Irwin (1985) and Clarke (1991). Nevertheless, Jones et al. (1977) claimed that church involvement do not have significant relationship with global paranormal belief and belief in various paranormal phenomena (Alcock, 1975; Sheils & Berg, 1977), but Wuthnow (1976) reported that there is a negative correlation between church involvement and astrology belief (as cited in Irwin, 1993). On the other hand, according to Irwin (1993), religious affiliation has been declared that there is no significant relationship with either ESP belief (Murphy & Lester, 1976) or global paranormal belief (Jones et al., 1977). Although Sheils and Berg (1977) reported a correlation between religious and paranormal beliefs, Thalbourne’s (1981) had reexamined the data and pointed out that the result was not significantly different (as cited in Irwin, 1993). Tobacyk and Milford (1983) had examined the religiosity in which it has a positive relationship with witchcraft belief, a negative relation with spiritualism, and do not have significant relationship with superstitions and extraordinary life forms belief (as cited in Irwin, 1993). The study of Clarke (1991) revealed that religiosity have a positive relationship with psychic healing belief and negative relation with belief in UFO or aliens (as cited in Irwin, 1993). (pp. 13-14)

The research of Shiah, Tam, Wu and Chang (2010, pp. 367-382) had been conducted in Chinese population to find out the relationship between paranormal beliefs and religiosity. They reported that the believers of traditional Chinese religious will generally have stronger paranormal belief compared to Christian believers and atheists. Therefore, the greater participation of traditional Chinese religious believers in the activities which focus on paranormal experiences might contribute to greater paranormal belief, especially when it was compared to Christianity. The findings are consistent with the connotation that Christianity might have less paranormal belief compare with other religions.

According to Hergovich, Schott and Arendasy (2005, pp. 293-303), the findings showed that there was a low but significant relationship between paranormal belief and religiosity. People who are self-reported religiosity and intrinsic religiosity have stronger relation with paranormal belief compared to people who held extrinsic religiosity. Yet, the relation of Catholics and Protestants to paranormal belief is little or even portrayed a negative relationship between intrinsic religiosity and paranormal belief. Besides, there was a stronger paranormal belief with the participants who do not have the religious attachment. However, all these findings proposed that paranormal belief can be a substitute for the traditional religious belief. The main idea of this research is that there was a slightly positive relationship between paranormal belief and religiosity.

Aarnio and Lindeman (2007) had conducted a research showing that the different results have been found for the correlations of religious

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