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Good self esteem is realizing what is valuable to us is important, and is valuable to others as well.

The Negative Outcomes of Having Low Self Esteem
Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Volumes have been written about self esteem. Definitions given in self esteem literature run a yard long. But after cutting through all the verbiage, the question of self-esteem really boils down to something quite simple: How do you feel about yourself? If you feel good about yourself, you have a high self-esteem. If you feel bad about yourself, you have a low self esteem.
To tell whether you have a positive self esteem or not, ask yourself the following questions: Do I respect myself? Do I take pride in myself? Do I believe in myself? Do I take good care of myself? If the answer is "yes, " to these questions, you don't need to read any further, you have a good self-esteem. Your self esteem should be independent of what others think or feel about you.
Individuals with truly high self esteem feel good about themselves and continue believing in themselves regardless of what others think of them. Some people feel good about themselves only as long as others support them and approve of them. The moment another person criticizes them, or withdraws her or his support from them, they not only feel bad about themselves, they may even hate themselves.
When you act like that, life can be hurtful for most of the time and you find yourself at the mercy of others. When you don't have the emotional freedom and independence from the criticism and approval of others, your choice of action is limited. There may be options far superior and promising but you may be too apprehensive to choose them because you depend too much on other people's immediate approval. '
People who are unsure of themselves have trouble sustaining their relationships because their feelings get easily hurt. They are too quick to read insult and ridicule in the innocent remarks of others. Since they feel insulted, hurt, embarrassed, and ashamed without due cause, their reactions baffle and alienate others. They ride an emotional rollercoaster and some of them resort to alcohol and drugs. Addiction is not always in pursuit of pleasure. Many addicts are dissatisfied and frustrated with who they think they are and what they feel about themselves. When the pain of living with oneself becomes hard to bear, addictions are born to drown the pain. When and if an addiction is formed, an individual with low self esteem does not have the self confidence or the will power to stand up to his or her addiction.
Our ability to persevere and overcome hurdles is also compromised by low self esteem. For instance, a person with low self esteem may not stick to a challenging task long enough because a challenge is not merely a challenge, it is intimidation. Self doubting, a function of low self esteem offers many reasons why one should avoid the challenge. People with low self esteem shun the risk of a failure, as failure for them, once again, confirms their feeling of incompetence. When they are confronted with a new task, they underestimate their abilities and tend to say too quickly, "I can't do it. "
If you have a low self esteem, you think about all the bad things that have happened to you and selectively forget many of good things that have happened in your life. Thinking too much about failure, sets one up for failure. Each repetition of a failure-thought pushes one's mind and body towards a dead-end.
To understand this principle clearly, let's take a concrete example, such as of falling down. If you keep thinking you may fall, you are likely to fall. Such is the power of thinking. Whatever you think comes around. You may get so busy thinking what can go wrong that you may not have enough time to think about how to do it right.
Once I explained this principle to a friend of mine, it was like a light bulb flashed in his mind. He exclaimed, "No wonder! my golf ball keeps going into the pond. " Instead of thinking about the hole where he wanted the ball to fall, he would think about the pond. I don't have to tell you that the ball, each time, by some magnetic power, would find its way to the very pond he wanted to avoid. When we take aim at a target, we have better chances to hit it if we keep our eyes on it.


Relationship between Drug and Alcohol abuse and Self Esteem:

KEEGAN, 1987--Low self-esteem either causes or contributes to neurosis, anxiety, defensiveness, and ultimately alcohol and drug abuse.
SKAGER, 1988--Self-esteem is indeed involved in addictive substance use. The use of drugs is often used to compensate for low self-esteem and feelings of a lack of control over one's life. Those with a strong sense of self do not have to be sustained at the expense of others. They do not need to control or humiliate other people or resort to substance abuse to compensate for low self esteem.
GOSSOP, 1976--Results of his study show considerable deficiencies in self-esteem among drug-dependent patients, and believes that teenagers with low self-esteem who are exposed to drugs must be considered to be at-risk.
MILLER, 1988--Demonstrated that a program to increase self-esteem significantly changed the attitudes of students regarding their alcohol and drug use.

Sexual Addiction

Concept of Sexual Addiction
The idea that sex can be an addiction is new to many people.
The term "addiction" has become a popular metaphor to describe any form of self-destructive behavior that one is unable to stop despite known and predictable adverse consequences. For some people, sexual behavior fits that description. It involves frequent self-destructive or high risk activity that is not emotionally fulfilling, that one is ashamed of, and that one is unable to stop despite it causing repeated problems in the areas of marriage, social relationships, health, employment, finances, or the law.
Recognition that self-destructive sexual behavior can be an addiction has spawned the rapid growth of four nationwide self-help organizations for persons trying to recover from this problem. All are 12-step recovery programs patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous.
One might ask how sex can be an addiction when it is doing what comes naturally and does not involve abuse of a psychoactive substance like drugs or alcohol. The scientific argument for addiction is based, in part, on recent advances in neurochemistry that suggest we carry within us our own source of addictive chemicals.
When pleasure centers in the human brain are stimulated, chemicals called endorphins are released into the blood stream. Endorphins are believed to be associated with the mood changes that follow sexual release. Any chemical that causes mood changes can be addictive, with repeated exposure altering brain chemistry to the point that more of the chemical is "required" in order to feel "normal."
For example, experiments with hamsters have shown that the level of endorphins in their blood increases dramatically after several ejaculations. Experimental rats habituated to endorphins will go through much pain in order to obtain more. In rats, the addiction to endorphins is even stronger than the addiction to morphine or heroin.
Indicators of Sexual Addiction
The sex addict uses sex as a quick fix, or as a form of medication for anxiety, pain, loneliness, stress, or sleep. Sex addicts often refer to sex as their "pain reliever" or "tension reliever." In a popular novel, the heroine describes sex as "the thinking women's Valium."


Medical Aspects of Sexual Addiction/Compulsivity of the American Journal of Preventive Psychiatry and Neurology, dated May 1990 and Spring 1991.

Patrick Carnes (1991). Don't call it love: Recovery from sexual addiction, (New York: Bantam, pp. 22-23, 30-34). Also see H. B. Milkman & S. Sunderwirth (1986). Craving for ecstasy: The consciousness and chemistry of escape, (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books).

L. Sanders (1983). The seduction of Peter S, (New York: Putnam).

Relationship of Self Esteem to Teenage Pregnancy:

CROCKENBERG and SOBY, 1989--In a review of research studies they found that in 4 of 5 studies low self-esteem is associated with less frequent or less sustained use of contraceptives.
HOGG, 1979--Found that the primary reason juvenile girls run away from home and go into prostitution is because of negative identity development as a result of negative experiences. It was found that the most effective way to get them to give up prostitution was to help them regain their self-esteem.
BEANE, 1984--Determined that 85-90% of the teenage mothers elect to keep their babies rather than give them up for adoption in the belief that a baby will provide the kind of unconditional love and acceptance that they perceive society does not.


KELLEY,1978 --Found a correlation between delinquency and low self-esteem. He found that as programs were implemented to raise the level of self-esteem, the incidence of delinquent behavior in schools declined.
KAPLAN, 1975--Found evidence that for individuals with low self-esteem who have experienced consistent failure, delinquent behavior serves to enhance self-esteem as a way of getting back at the system. He also found in a long term study of 3,000 7th grade students that lower levels of self-esteem were most likely to adopt deviant behavior patterns. Low self- esteem becomes a tremendous source of anger and hostility which frequently results in violence.
TOCH, 1969 and DAVIS, 1993--Concluded there were 10 factors that promoted violence, the most common was "self-image compensating" that involved aggression in defense of the self-image. They found that many commit violence to compensate for their feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem.
JOHNSON, 1977--Documented that juvenile delinquents not only had low self-esteem, they also had significantly lower reading skills and achievement. Juvenile delinquency prevention programs often fail because they overlook the crucial element of self-esteem and its impact on reducing delinquent behavior.
SAHAGAN, 1991--Today kids join gangs because of the need to belong. To reduce gang membership we must focus on enhancing the self-worth and self-esteem of our youth so that they do not seek out and need the gang to meet their basic human needs.
LOPEZ, 1992--The reasons for forming gangs involve the need for recognition and identity, tradition, a sense of belonging, and peer pressure. These factors all relate to self-esteem.
INTERNATIONAL ASSOC. OF CHIEFS OF POLICE, 1979--Concluded that a significant loss of self-esteem is an immediate cause of deviant behavior.
STEFFENHAGEN & BURNS, 1987--Concluded from their studies that low self-esteem is the underlying psychodynamic mechanism underlying all deviant behavior.


BROOKOVER, THOMAS, AND PATTERSON, 1985--Found there was a significant relationship between self-concept and academic achievement.
COOPERSMITH, 1965--Reported that children's self-concept predicted a child's ability to read in first grade at least as well as measures of intelligence.
WYLIE, 1979--There is considerable empirical evidence that self-concept predicts and influences achievement in school, from the primary grades through undergraduate education.
HOLLY, 1987--Compiled a summary of all the studies and indicated that most supported the idea that self-esteem was more likely the result than the cause of academic achievement. However, he acknowledged that a certain level of self-esteem is required in order for a student to achieve academic success and that self-esteem and achievement go hand in hand. They feed each other.
COVINGTON, 1989--As the level of self-esteem increases, so do achievement scores; and as self-esteem decreases, so does achievement. Furthermore, and perhaps most important, he concluded that self-esteem can be modified through direct instruction and that such instruction can lead to achievement gains.
WALZ & BLEUER, 1992--Factors which are important to school success, such as positive feelings about self, absenteeism, and school retention, are affected by successful school self-esteem programs.
SCHEIRER & KRANT, 1979--Reported on several studies that have demonstrated that educational achievements are influenced by self-concept.

Relationship Between School Dropouts and Self Esteem:

KITE, 1989--Found that of seven major factors contributing to school dropouts, four of the factors were related to self-esteem, feeling that they lack the intelligence or the ability to succeed in school. In other words, they suffered from low self-esteem, reinforced consciously or unconsciously by parents or teachers.
BLOOM, 1977--School dropouts tend to have more negative self-esteem as learners than those who stay in school.
EARLE, 1987--Found that two common characteristics among girls who drop out of school include low academic achievement and low self-esteem.


BATTLE, 1990--His research studies confirm the relationship between depression in adolescents and low self-esteem.
BHATTI, 1992--Refers to clinical studies documenting the relationship between low self- esteem in adolescents and thoughts about suicide, depression, and drugs.


WHITELY, 1980--Found a high correlation between moral decision making and the level of self-esteem. After implementing a course to raise the level of self-esteem of college students they found there was less cheating and stealing and more concern about the common good of other students.
PICCININI, 1987--Reported that a sample of bulimic subjects were found to exhibit significantly lower levels of self-esteem as compared to those not exhibiting bulimic behavior.
SAGAN, 1990--Psychological factors, including self-esteem, have a greater impact on health than drugs, new medical procedures, and high-tech equipment of modern medicine. The healthiest person today is one with self-esteem and a sense of personal control. Those who feel good about themselves are less susceptible to not only psychosomatic illnesses but also more resistant to disabilities like cancer.


Definitive research on self-esteem has been difficult due to the variety of definitions and the many self-esteem measures being used, and the multiple factors which influence it. Nevertheless, the preponderance of evidence underscores the significance of self-esteem and its relationship to so many of the problems facing youth today. It is also evident that programs to foster self-esteem can serve as a "social vaccine" in reducing the incidence of many such problems.

THE PROBLEM: The condition of our youth has significantly deteriorated.

One-fifth of all 8th graders in the U.S. are considered to be at high risk of school failure.
Approximately 30% of our youth drop out and fail to complete high school.
Homicide is now the nation's third leading cause of death for elementary and middle school children. There were 2,555 juvenile homicides in 1990.
It is estimated that 135,000 guns are brought into schools every day. Violence in schools is now the primary concern of educators nationwide, and 82% report a significant increase in violence over the past five years.
The incidence of births to unmarried teens nearly doubled between 1965 and 1985. Over a million adolescents get pregnant each year.
The federal government spent more than $21.5 billion last year on welfare for families started by teenagers. This is $1.7 billion higher than in 1988.
The teen suicide rate has doubled since 1968. Ten (10) percent of adolescent boys and 18 percent of girls have attempted suicide and approximately 30% contemplated it. In 1985, some 5,399 young people between ages 5 and 24 took their own lives in suicide.
In the last 20 years, the incidence of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that stems from psychological distress, has doubled.
Evidence supports the fact that most schools are not conducive to self-esteem since the level of self-esteem declines for most students the longer they are in school.


Battle, J.(1990) Self-Esteem: The New Revolution. James Battle & Associates, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Beane, J. and Lipka, R. (1984)Self-Concept, Self-Esteem, and the Curriculum. New York: Teachers College Press.

Bhatti et al. (1989) "Association Between Child Maltreatment and Self-Esteem." The Social Importance of Self-Esteem. U.C. Press, Berkeley, CA.

Bloom, B.S.(1978) "Affective Outcomes of School Learning." Phi Delta Kappan ; 193-199.

Brookover, W. B. (1965)Self-Concept of Ability and School Achievement.. East Lansing, Michigan: Office of Research and Public Information, Michigan State University.

Coopersmith, S. (1967)The Antecedents of Self-Esteem. San Francisco, CA. W.H. Freeman.

Covington, M.(1989) "Self-Esteem and Failure in School." The Social Importance of Self- Esteem. U.C. Press, Berkeley, CA.

Crockenberg, S, & Soby, B. (1989) "Self-Esteem and Teenage Pregnancy." The Social Importance of Self-Esteem. U.C. Press, Berkeley, CA.

Davis, Eddie. (1991)" Youth Violence: An Action Research Project." Journal of Multicultural S Social Work v1 n3 p. 33-44.

Earle, J. (1987) Female Dropouts: A New Perspective. Alexandria, VA: National Association of State Boards of Education.

Gossop, M. (1976) "Drug Dependence and Self-Esteem." International Journal of Addictions. Vol. 11.

Hogg, J.A. (1979) Female Adolescent Prostitution. Master's Thesis. University of Oregon, Eugene, OR.

Holly, W. (1987) Self-Esteem: Does It Contribute to Students' Academic Success? Eugene, OR: Oregon School Study Council, Univ. of Oregon.

International Assoc. of Chiefs of Police. (1979) Indecent Exposure - Training Key No. 275. Gaithersburg, MO.

Johnson, P.S. (1977) School Failure, School Attitudes, and the Self-Concept in Delinquents. Doctoral Dissertation. Walden University, Arlington, VA.

Kaplan, H.B. (1975) Self-Attitudes and Deviant Behavior. Goodyear, Pacific Palisades, CA.

Keegan, A. (1987) "Positive Self-Image--A Cornerstone of Success." Guidepost. February, 19.

Kelley, T.M.(1978) "Changes in Self-Esteem Among Pre-Delinquent Youths in Voluntary Counseling Relationships." Juvenile and Family Court Journal v29, May.

Kite, H. (1989) How To Prevent Dropouts. Orlando, Florida.

Lopez, L. "Keeping Kids Out of Gangs." Thrust for Educational Leadership, Jan. 1992.

Miller, R.L. (1988)"Positive self-esteem and alcohol/drug related attitudes among school children." Journal of Alcohol and Drug Education. 33: 26-31.

Piccinini, H. & Mitic, W.M. (1987)"Self-esteem levels of female university students who exhibit bulimic behavior." Canada's Mental Health. 35: 15-19.

Reasoner, R. (1992) "What's Behind Self-Esteem Programs: Truth or Trickery?" The School Executive. April.

Sahagun, L. (1990) "Drugs Not Main Cause for Gangs, Sheriff Says." Los Angeles Times. September 20.

Scheirer, M. & Kant, R.(1979) "Increasing educational achievement via self-concept change." Review of Educational Research. 49, 131-150.

Skager, Rodney. (1987) Prevention of Drug & Alcohol Abuse. California Attorney General's Office, Sacramento, California.

Steffenhagen, R.A. & Burns, J. (1987) The Social Dynamics of Self-Esteem. Praeger, New York, N.Y.

Toch, H. (1969). Violent Men. Chicago, Aldine.

Walz, G. & Bleuer, J. (1992) Student Self-Esteem: A Vital Element of School Success. ERIC Counseling and Personnel Services, Inc., Greensboro, N.C.

Whitely, J. (1980)Moral Character Development of College Students. U.C. Irvine, Irvine, CA.

Wylie, R.C. (1974) The Self-Concept. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press

From: Kelly Shields
Course: CD170: Contextual Influences on Cognitive Development
College: San Jose State University
Instructor: Eugene Matusov, Ph. D.
ClassWeb: http://www.ematusov.com/cd170
Children Observations: No
Date: 21 May 1997
Time: 14:49:35
Remote Name:

Learned helplessness is a severe problem and needs to be fixed. The causes are by how parents and or teachers respond to children's failures and successes. If humans feel as though they cannot control their environment this lack of control will impair learning in certain situations. This is shown through Bruce Overmier and Martin Seligman's experience with dog going through a shock treatment. The effects of learned helplessness are a lack of self-confidence, poor problem solving, wandering attention and feeling hopeless. This might set children behind in academic subjects and damper social skills. Another issue is that learned helpless children are extrinsically motivated and not so much intrinsically motivated because of their failures. A child suffering from learned helplessness will ultimately give up gaining respect through academic performance an turn to other domains for solace.
Learned helplessness was recognized by Martin Seligman, Steven Maier, and C. Peterson. Incidentally in the mid- 1960’s, during their attempts to test prediction of two-process learning theory, they had discovered this disorder. Their learned helplessness research lasted from 1967 to 1975 and concentrated on the clash between the explanation they had offered and the traditional theories. They did most of their research in experiments with animals. They recognized Russell Leaf's and Bruce Overmier’s experiment with dogs who were experienced with an unavoidable and avoidable shock method (Peterson, Maier, & Seligman, 1993).
There are certain ways that one could look at the learned helplessness deficiency. This paper will be focusing on the definition and understanding of learned helplessness as well as the characteristics involved. Another consideration is the affects of intrinsic and extrinsic motivational understandings.
Learned helplessness is a motivational problem where one might have failed in a task or two in the past which have made that individual believe that they are incapable to do anything in order to improve their performance in that task(s) (Stipek, 1988). This is detrimental to a children's development throughout life if it is not fixed appropriately. If humans feel as though they cannot control their environment, this lack of control will impair learning in certain situations (Ramirez, Maldonado, & Martos, 1992).
Parents and / or the children’s teacher cause learned helplessness. They both might indicate that the child's failures are caused by their lack of competence, rather than suggesting that they are not trying hard enough (Cullen & Boersma, 1982).
It is said that a humans' basic drive is to control their environment (Stipek, 1988). In turn, if a person has a lack of control over an aspect of their environment in one situation this will impair learning in similar situations. If a person is put in a situation where their behavior is unaffected, they become passive and their desire to act or try harder dissolves. B. Overseer and M. Seligman have shown this in their experiments with dogs who were delivered with shocks (Seligman, 1975). The dogs that are inexperienced with the shock treatment learned fastest to avoid the shocks. The dogs that experienced unavoidable shocks before hand did not learn and just lied there; they gave up. These experienced dogs laid there and soaked up the shocks because they felt that they had no control over their environment, so they did not try.
Learned helplessness has detrimental effects on children. They develop a lack of self-confidence in challenging tasks which result in deterioration of performances (Dweck, Davidson, Nelson, & Enna, 1978). These children also use poor solving strategies; their attention wanders and they feel that they are struggling for nothing. This might even put learned helpless children behind a grade or two in academic subjects and damper their social skills. In the end, they get a message that they are worthless and hopeless (Berger, 1983). They feel incompetent and unable to master any new material or task. Learned helpless children "know" that they are failures and will not think otherwise. In Erikson's view, he suggests that children with few successes will become inferior which leads them to have a low self-esteem (Berger, 1983). Most learned helpless students give up trying to gain respect through their academic performance so they turn to other means for recognition. They may become the class clown, bully or tease. When they begin adolescent years, they try to gain respect through antisocial behaviors (Berger, 1983).
There is more to understanding of learned helplessness than its definition and characteristics. Intrinsic motivation (Stipek, 1988) is innate; a natural propensity to engage one’s interest and exercise one’s capacities. Intrinsic motivation affects the developing child’s experiences in three ways: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. With learned helpless children, competence is almost entirely distorted. They lose confidence with in themselves because they experience failures, leading them to believe they are failures. They might feel competent about something at first but if they fail in that activity, they will not bother to try it again for fear of failure. Autonomy is also faint in a learned helpless student’s life. They feel as though they have no control over their environment because no matter how hard they tried in the past, they never succeeded. As for relatedness, learned helpless students feel as though they don’t belong because they believe that they don't relate to the environment. This is why they become the class clown, bully or tease in order to get their recognition. These results may include becoming an antisocial individual during their adolescent years or earlier. These three factors are all detrimental to an individual's growth and development in our social world today.
Intrinsic motivation is when one does something because they want to and not because they have to. When one is suffering from learned helplessness they feel as if they have to do the task because it is out of their control; they have no choice. Learned helpless students might be intrinsically motivated at first, but if they fail at the task than they become uninterested and are intimidated in subjecting themselves to do the task again in the future. Their curiosity dissolves as well. The optimal challenge is lost and it seems to this type of person as if it is not available in the environment for them, they will not try to seek out solutions. They lose their desire to challenge the tasks they have failed in the past, therefore, denying themselves success.
Most humans have an intrinsic need to be competent and to explore behaviors. If they fail, their competence diminishes and they feel no need to explore. This is when one becomes helpless.
Intrinsic motivation deals a lot with learning and achievement which tends to be associated with creativity, increased cognitive flexibility, positive emotional tone, and a development of high self-esteem. If one is pushed away from the intrinsic motivation to learn or to achieve something they will most likely lose all of the characteristics that makes a happy person. In other words, learned helpless students are depressed because they feel as if they have no creativity, that they are not cognitively flexible, they have little positive emotional tone and that they have a low self-esteem (Milkulincer, 1994).
Learned helpless students do not fit under the intrinsic motivational characteristic. They fit more in the area of extrinsic motivation (Stipek, 1988). This motivation is based on external rewards, the avoidance of threats or punishments, gaining recognition, and conforming to socially accepted behavior. Learned helpless students try to avoid failure and punishment from their teachers. They try to become recognized by others through being the class clown, tease, or bully, and they only work for external rewards because they have no interest to do a task but to get a grade, a sticker, a candy, a token, etc. When they go into the adolescent years, they become very antisocial in order to conform to socially accepted behavior. Learned helpless students feel the need to respond to socially prescribed demands, limits and patterns of behavior. Extrinsic motivation is also oriented towards separable goals, rewards, contingencies and values upon individual’s satisfaction of the task. Learned helpless students feel as if they have no choices because no matter what they do they will fail.
In conclusion, learned helplessness deficiency is detrimental for students in the motivational theory of education and life itself. Teachers need to help cure and prevent these problems, as much as possible, by identifying whether a student is intrinsically or extrinsically motivated in the tasks children are involved with.
Berger, K. S. (1983). The school year: Psychosocial development.
Dean, P. (Ed), The developing person through the life span (337-338). New York: Worth Publishers.
Cullen, J. L. & Boersma, F. J. (1982). The influence of coping strategies on the manifestation of learned helplessness. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 7, 346-356.
Dweck, C. S., Davidson, W., Nelson, S., & Enna, B. (1978). Sex differences in learned helplessness: II. The contingencies of evaluative feedback in the classroom and III. An experimental analysis. Development Psychology, 14, 268-275.
Milkulincer, M. (1994). Human learned helplessness: A coping perception. PB PLenum Press: New York.
Peterson, C., Maier, S. F., & Seligman, M. E. P. (1993). Learned helplessness. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
Ramirez, E., Maldonado, A., & Martos, R. (1992). Attribution modulate immunization against learned helplessness in humans. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 62, 139-146.
Seligman, Martin E. P. (1975). Learned helplessness: Depression, development and death. W. H. Freeman: New York Stipek, D. E. P. (1988). Motivation to learning. Allyn & Bacon: Boston.
Web References
Gem from Chapter 2. This response submitted by Viraf Karai on 11/12/96. http//ape%.cudenver.edu/VOH/CSC5816articles/Gemfromchapter2.html
Mastery Oriented vs. Learned Helplessness in Children. By Shawn Parrish. http//129.49.7L236/psy104/presentations/shawn.htm.

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