One result of the intake and settlement of migrants and the presence of indigenous peoples is the formation of culturally plural societies. In these societies, the domain of intercultural relations is ripe for social psychological research. Such research can provide a knowledge basis for the development and implementation of policies and programmes in plural societies. There are three hypotheses bearing on intercultural relations being examined in much current psychological research: the multiculturalism hypothesis ; the integration hypothesis ; and the contact hypothesis . These hypotheses are derived in part from statements in the Canadian multiculturalism policy. The multiculturalism hypothesis is that when individuals and societies are confident in, and feel secure about their own cultural identities and their place in the larger society, more positive mutual attitudes will result; in contrast, when these identities are threatened, mutual hostility will result. The integration hypothesis is that there will be more successful psychological and social outcomes for individuals and societies when strategies and policies that support double cultural engagement (ie., with both the heritage and national cultures) are pursued. The contact hypothesis is that greater contact between cultural groups will lead to more positive mutual regard, under most contact circumstances. This paper reviews research that is relevant to all three hypotheses, and concludes that research supports the continuation of the Multiculturalism policy and programmes that are intended to improve intercultural relations.


Un resultado de la llegada y establecimiento de los migrantes y la presencia de indígenas es la formación de sociedades culturalmente plurales. En dichas sociedades, el dominio de relaciones interculturales es propicio para la investigación psicosocial. Tal investigación puede proveer una base de conocimiento para el desarrollo e implementación de políticas y programas en sociedades plurales. Existen tres hipótesis apoyándose en relaciones interculturales que están siendo examinadas en mucha de la investigación psicológica actual: la hipótesis de multiculturalismo , la hipótesis de integración , y la hipótesis de contacto . Estas hipótesis se derivan en parte de declaraciones de la política canadiense de multiculturalismo. La hipótesis de multiculturalismo se refiere a cuando individuos y sociedades confían y se sienten seguros acerca de su propia identidad cultural y de su lugar en una sociedad más amplia, resultando en actitudes mutuas más positivas; en contraste, cuando estas identidades se ven amenazadas, hostilidad mutua será el resultado. La hipótesis de integración se refiere a que habrá mejores consecuencias psicológicas y sociales más exitosas para individuos y sociedades cuando las estrategias y políticas que apoyan el compromiso bicultural (herencia y culturas nacionales) son perseguidas. La hipótesis de contacto habla acerca de que el mayor contacto entre grupos culturales llevará hacia mayor consideración mutua positiva en la mayoría de las circunstancias de contacto. Este trabajo revisa investigaciones relevantes para las tres hipótesis, y concluye que la investigación apoya la continuación de políticas multiculturales y programas que están diseñados para mejorar las relaciones interculturales.


acculturation ; multiculturalism ; attitudes ; identity ; intercultural relations

Palabras clave

aculturación ; multiculturalismo ; actitudes ; identidad ; relaciones interculturales

One result of the intake and settlement of migrants and the presence of indigenous peoples is the formation of culturally plural societies. In the contemporary world, all societies are now culturally plural, with many ethnocultural groups living in daily interaction. A second result is that intercultural relations become a focus of public and private concern, as the newcomers interact with established populations (both indigenous and earlier migrants). How, and how well, these intercultural interactions work out is one of the main contemporary issues to be addressed by researchers, policy-makers, institutions, communities, families and individuals.This existing cultural diversity will become more and more so over the coming years. With research, it may be possible to discern some basic principles that underpin the processes and outcomes of intercultural relations in these plural societies. The search for such principles can be guided by hypotheses. Three such hypotheses are considered in this paper: the multiculturalism hypothesis; the integration hypothesis ; and the contact hypothesis .

The multicultural vision

There are two contrasting, usually implicit, models of intercultural relations and acculturation in plural societies and institutions. In one (the melting pot model), the view is that there is (or should be) one dominant (or mainstream ) society, on the margins of which are various non-dominant (or minority ) groups. These non-dominant groups typically remain there, unless they are incorporated as indistinguishable components into the mainstream. Many societies have this implicit model, including France (where the image is of the “unité de l hexagon,” that is, of one people with one language and one shared identity, within the borders of the country: see Sabatier and Boutry, 2006 ), and the USA (where the motto is “e pluribus unum” or “out of many, one”: see Nguyen, 2006 ).

In the other (the multicultural model), there is a national social framework of institutions (called the larger society ) that accommodates the interests and needs of the numerous cultural groups, and which are fully incorporated as ethnocultural groups (rather than minorities) into this national framework. The concept of the larger society refers to the civic arrangement in a plural society, within which all ethnocultural groups (dominant and non-dominant, indigenous and immigrant) attempt to carry out their lives together. It is constantly changing, through negotiation, compromise and mutual accommodations. It surely does not represent the way of life of the “mainstream”, which is typically that preferred by the dominant group, and which became established in the public institutions that they created. All groups in such a conception of a larger society are ethnocultural groups (rather than “minorities”), who possess cultures and who have equal cultural and other rights, regardless of their size or power. In such complex plural societies, there is no assumption that some groups should assimilate or become absorbed into another group. Hence intercultural relations and change are not viewed as unidirectional, but as mutual and reciprocal. This is the conception that has informed the multicultural vision in Canada (1971) and more recently, in the European Union (2005) .

Both implicit models refer to possible arrangements in plural societies: the mainstream-minority view is that cultural pluralism is a problem and should be reduced, even eliminated; the multicultural view is that cultural pluralism is a resource, and inclusiveness should be nurtured with supportive policies and programmes.

The first Multiculturalism Policy was advanced by Canada (1971) :

A policy of multiculturalism within a bilingual framework… (is) the most suitable means of assuring the cultural freedom of all Canadians. Such a policy should help to break down discriminatory attitudes and cultural jealousies. National unity, if it is to mean anything in the deeply personal sense, must be founded on confidence on one’s own individual identity; out of this can grow respect for that of others, and a willingness to share ideas, attitudes and assumptions…. The Government will support and encourage the various cultural and ethnic groups that give structure and vitality to our society. They will be encouraged to share their cultural expression and values with other Canadians and so contribute to a richer life for all (Government of Canada 1971 , p. 1121).

There are three main components to this policy. The first component was the goal “to break down discriminatory attitudes and cultural jealousies.” That is, to enhance mutual acceptance among all cultural groups in order to improve intercultural relations. This goal is to be approached through two main programme components. One is the cultural component, which is to be achieved by providing support and encouragement for cultural maintenance and development among all cultural groups. The other is the social (or intercultural ) component, which promotes the sharing of cultural expressions among ethnocultural groups by providing opportunities for intergroup contact, and the removal of barriers to full and equitable participation in the daily life of the larger society. A third component acknowledged the importance of learning a common language(s) in order to permit intercultural participation among all groups.

Most recently (2011), the Canadian Federal government has asserted that:

Integration is a two-way process, requiring adjustment on the part of both newcomers and host communities… the successful integration of permanent residents into Canada involves mutual obligations for new immigrants and Canadian society. Ultimately, the goal is to support newcomers to become fully engaged in the social, economic, political, and cultural life of Canada (p. 2).

Together, and by balancing these components, it should be possible to achieve the core goal of the policy: the improvement of intercultural relations in Canada, where all groups and individuals have a place, both within their own heritage environment and within the larger society. In this sense, multiculturalism is for everyone, not only for non-dominant groups. This aspect emphasizes that all groups and individuals are engaged in a process of cultural and psychological change. Research on the acceptance of this policy, and its various programmes, shows a high level of support in Canada (Berry et al., 1977 ; Berry & Kalin, 2000 ; Berry, 2012 ; see also Adams, 2007 , Kymlicka, 2007 ).

The European Union adopted a set of “Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration” in 2005. The first of these principles is:

Integration is a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents of Member States. Integration is a dynamic, long-term, and continuous two-way process of mutual accommodation, not a static outcome. It demands the participation not only of immigrants and their descendants but of every resident. The integration process involves adaptation by immigrants, both men and women, who all have rights and responsibilities in relation to their new country of residence. It also involves the receiving society, which should create the opportunities for the immigrants’ full economic, social, cultural, and political participation. Accordingly, Member States are encouraged to consider and involve both immigrants and national citizens in integration policy, and to communicate clearly their mutual rights and responsibilities (p. 6)

While little-known and even less well-accepted, this EU statement contains the three cornerstones of multiculturalism: the right of all peoples to maintain their cultures; the right to participate fully in the life of the larger society; and the obligation for all groups (both the dominant and non-dominant) to engage in a process of mutual change. Research on the acceptance of this policy in Europe has only just begun. However, there is some indication (eg., van de Vijver, Breugelmans & Schalk-Soekar, 2008 ) that Europeans make a clear distinction between the right of immigrants to maintain their cultures in private (ie., in their families and communities), and the right to expect changes to the public culture of the society of settlement. In much of this research, it was found that it is acceptable to express one’s heritage culture in the family and in the community, but that it should not be expressed in the public domains, such as in educational or work institutions. This view is opposed to the basic principles outlined by the European Union, where the process is identified as one of mutual accommodation.

However, in much of Europe, there is a common misunderstanding that multiculturalism means only the presence of many non-dominant cultural communities in a society (ie., only the cultural maintenance component), without their equitable participation and incorporation into a larger society. It is this erroneous view that has led some in Europe to declare that “Multiculturalism has failed.” However, from the perspective of the Canadian Multiculturalism policy, it has not failed because it has not even been tried!

I have been involved in the examination and evaluation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Policy on previous occasions. The first evaluation (Berry, 1984 ) was ten years after the policy was first announced. In that evaluation, I proposed that a number of core policy elements (and linkages among elements) formed a coherent set of social psychological concepts, principles and hypotheses. Ten years later (Berry & Laponce, 1994 ), I co-edited a volume that included essays that examined a number of facets of the policy. Most recently, I reviewed research on multiculturalism on the occasion of the 40th year of the policy (Berry, 2012 ).

From the original policy statement, I discerned a number of ideas that were ripe for social psychological examination; Figure 1 portrays some of these (from Berry, 1984 .) The clear and fundamental goal of the policy is to enhance mutual acceptance and to improve intercultural relations among all ethnocultural groups (upper right). This goal is to be approached through three programme components. On the upper left is the cultural component of the policy, which is to be achieved by providing support and encouragement for cultural maintenance and development among all ethnocultural groups. The second component is the social (or intercultural ) component (lower left), which seeks to support the sharing of cultural expressions, by providing opportunities for intergroup contact, and the removal of barriers to full and equitable participation in the daily life of the larger society. The last feature is the intercultural communication component, in the lower right corner of Figure 1. This represents the bilingual reality of the larger society of Canada, and promotes the learning of one or both Official Languages (English and French) as a means for all ethnocultural groups to interact with each other, and to participate in national life.

Components and linkages in the Canadian Multiculturalism Policy (from Berry, ...

Figure 1.

Components and linkages in the Canadian Multiculturalism Policy (from Berry, 1984 ).

In addition to these four components, there are links among them. The first, termed the multiculturalism hypothesis , is expressed in the policy statement as the belief that confidence in one’s identity will lead to sharing, to respect for others, and to the reduction of discriminatory attitudes. Berry, Kalin and Taylor (1977) identified this belief as an assumption with psychological roots, and as being amenable to empirical evaluation.

A second link in Figure 1 is the hypothesis that when individuals and groups are “doubly engaged” (in both their heritage cultures and in the larger society), they will be more successful in their lives. This is essentially a higher level of wellbeing, in both psychological and social domains. This is the integration hypothesis , in which involvement with, and competence in both cultural communities provides the social capital to succeed in intercultural living in plural societies.

A third link portrayed in Figure 1 is the contact hypothesis , by which contact and sharing is considered to promote mutual acceptance under certain conditions, including especially that of equality and voluntariness of contact.

Intercultural strategies

The question of how groups and individuals engage in their intercultural relations has come to be examined with the concept of intercultural strategies . Four ways of engaging in intercultural relations have been derived from two basic issues facing all peoples in culturally plural societies. These issues are based on the distinction between orientations towards one’s own group, and those towards other groups ( Berry, 1974,1980 ). This distinction is rendered as a relative preference for (i) maintaining one’s heritage culture and identity, and (ii) a relative preference for having contact with and participating in the larger society along with other ethnocultural groups. These are the same two issues that underlie the multiculturalism policies outlined above (ie., the “cultural” and the “social” components).

These two issues can be responded to on attitudinal dimensions, ranging from generally positive or negative orientations to these issues; their intersection defines four strategies, portrayed in Figure 2. On the left are the orientations from the point of view of ethnocultural peoples (of both groups and individuals); on the right are the views held by the larger society (such as public policies and public attitudes).

Varieties of Intercultural Strategies in Ethnocultural Groups and in the Larger ...

Figure 2.

Varieties of Intercultural Strategies in Ethnocultural Groups and in the Larger Society

Among ethnocultural groups, when they do not wish to maintain their cultural identity and seek daily interaction with other cultures, the Assimilation strategy is defined. In contrast, when individuals place a value on holding on to their original culture, and at the same time wish to avoid interaction with others, then the Separation alternative is defined. When there is an interest in both maintaining one’s original culture, while in daily interactions with other groups, Integration is the option. In this case, there is some degree of cultural integrity maintained, while at the same time seeking, as a member of an ethnocultural group, to participate as an integral part of the larger social network. Finally, when there is little possibility or interest in cultural maintenance (often for reasons of forced cultural loss), and little engagement with the larger society (often for reasons of exclusion or discrimination), then Marginalization is defined.

These two basic issues were initially approached from the point of view of the non-dominant ethnocultural groups. However, there is a powerful role played by the dominant group in influencing the way in which ethnocultural individuals’ groups would relate (Berry, 1974 ). The addition of the views of the larger society produces the right side of Figure 2. From the point of view of the larger society, Assimilation when sought by the dominant group is termed the Melting Pot. When Separation is forced by the dominant group, it is called Segregation. Marginalisation, when imposed by the dominant group, is termed Exclusion. Finally, when both diversity maintenance and equitable participation are widely-accepted features of the society as a whole, Integration is called Multiculturalism.

It is important to emphasize that within this framework, the concept of integration involves engagement with both cultures. It is not a euphemism for assimilation, which involves engagement with only the larger society; that is, cultural maintenance is a core part of the concept of integration. And the concept of multiculturalism does not refer to engagement only within their own ethnocultural groups (ie., separation); members of these communities also engage with, and become constituents of, the larger society.

These intercultural strategies are related to a number of psychological and social factors. The most important is the discrimination experienced by an individual; less discrimination is usually reported by those opting for integration and assimilation, while more is experienced by those opting for separation or marginalization (see Berry, Phinney, Sam & Vedder, 2006 ). This is an example of the reciprocity of intercultural attitudes found in the literature (Berry, 2006 ); if persons (such as immigrants or members of ethnocultural groups) feel rejected by others in the larger society, they reciprocate this rejection by choosing a strategy that avoids contact with others outside their own group.

We now examine three hypotheses that lie at the core of intercultural relations research: the multiculturalism hypothesis; the integration hypothesis; and the contact hypothesis . As we shall see, they are very much inter-related, each one influencing the conditions under which the others may be supported by empirical evidence.

Multiculturalism hypothesis

The multicultural vision enunciated in Canada in 1971 had a key section with implications for research on intercultural relations. We (Berry et al., 1977 ) developed the multiculturalism hypothesis , based on the assertion in the policy that freedom from discrimination “must be founded on confidence in one’s own individual identity.” The basic notion is that only when people are secure in their identities will they be in a position to accept those who differ from them; conversely, when people feel threatened, they will develop prejudice and engage in discrimination (see also Stephan et al., 2005 ). The multiculturalism hypothesis is thus: only when people are secure in their own identity will they be in a position to accept those who differ from them (ie., when there is no threat to their culture and identity).

There is now substantial evidence to support this hypothesis. For example, in two national surveys in Canada (Berry et al., 1977 ; Berry & Kalin, 2000 ), measures of cultural security/threat and economic security/threat were created with respect to extant diversity and the continuing flow of immigration. These two security scores were correlated positively with each other and with various intercultural attitudes. Cultural security was negatively correlated with ethnocentrism, and positively with multicultural ideology and with perceived consequences of multiculturalism. Economic security had a similar pattern of correlations with these variables. In New Zealand, using a structural model, Ward and Masgoret (2008) found that security was positively related to multicultural ideology and with attitudes towards immigrants. In Russia, Lebedeva and Tatarko (2012) studied migrants from the Cacausus to Moscow and Muscovites. They found that cultural security predicted tolerance, integration and social equality in both groups, but to a lesser extent among Muscovites. Most recently, a representative sample of Russian speakers in Estonia was asked about their intercultural strategies, their ethnic self-esteem, their experience of discrimination, and their level of cultural threat, civic engagement and economic and political satisfaction (Kruusvall, Vetik, & Berry, 2009 ). The four usual intercultural strategies were found. Groups following the separation and marginalization strategies had the highest levels of threat and lowest levels of self-esteem and civic engagement. In contrast, the integration and assimilation groups had the lowest threat and discrimination, and highest civic engagement and satisfaction. Public policy attempts in Estonia (which are largely assimilationist) seek to make the Russian-speaking population “more Estonian,” while placing barriers to achieving this. Such a policy appears to have led to the development of a “reactive identity” among Russian-speakers, and their turning away from the country of Estonia.

From this sampling of empirical studies, it is possible to conclude that security in one’s own identity underlies the possibility of accepting “others.” This acceptance includes being tolerant, accepting cultural diversity in society, and accepting immigrants to, and ethnocultural groups in, that society. In contrast, threatening an individual’s or a group’s identity and place in a plural society is likely to lead to hostility.

Integration hypothesis

In much research on intercultural relations, the integration strategy has often been found to be the strategy that leads to better adaptation than other strategies (Berry, 1997 ). A possible explanation is that those who are “doubly engaged” with both cultures receive support and resources from both, and are competent in dealing with both cultures. The social capital afforded by these multiple social and cultural engagements may well offer the route to success in plural societies. The evidence for integration being associated with better adaptation has been reviewed (Berry 2010 ). More recently, Nguyen and Benet-Martínez (2013) carried out a meta-analysis across 83 studies and over 20,000 participants. They found that integration (“biculturalism” in their terms) was found to have a significant and positive relationship with both psychological adaptation (e.g., life satisfaction, positive affect, self-esteem) and sociocultural adaptation (e.g., academic achievement, career success, social skills, lack of behavioral problems).

These general relationships have been further examined in some specific contrasts between societies that have different immigration and settlement policies. In one, second- generation immigrant youth in Canada and France were compared (Berry & Sabatier, 2010 ). The national public policy and attitude context was found to influence the young immigrants’ acculturation strategies and the relationship with their adaptation. In France, there was more discrimination, less orientation to their heritage culture (identity, behaviour), and poorer adaptation (lower self-esteem and higher deviance). Within both samples, integration was found to be associated with better adaptation, and marginalisation with poorer adaptation. However, the magnitude of this relationship was less pronounced in France than in Canada. This difference was interpreted as a result of it being more psychologically costly to express one’s ethnicity in France than in Canada, and to be related to differences in national policy and practices.

Overall, it is now clear that when individuals are engaged in both their heritage cultures and (are accepted in) the larger society, there are higher levels of both psychological and sociocultural wellbeing. The integration hypothesis is now well supported in comparative research.

Contact hypothesis

The contact hypothesis asserts that “Prejudice...may be reduced by equal status contact between majority and minority groups in the pursuit of common goals” ( Allport, 1954 ). However, Allport proposed that the hypothesis is more likely to be supported when certain conditions are present in the intercultural encounter. The effect of contact is predicted to be stronger when: there is contact between groups of roughly equal social and economic status; when the contact is voluntary (sought by both groups, rather than imposed); and when supported by society through norms and laws promoting contact and prohibiting discrimination. A good deal of research has been carried out to test this hypothesis. In a massive comparative examination, Pettigrew and Tropp (2011) conducted a meta-analysis of hundreds of studies of the contact hypothesis, which came from many countries and many diverse settings (schools, work, experiments). Their findings provide general support for the contact hypothesis: intergroup contact does generally relate negatively to prejudice in both dominant and non-dominant samples: Overall, the results from the meta-analysis reveal that greater levels of intergroup contact are typically associated with lower level of prejudice. This effect was stronger where there were structured programs that incorporated the conditions outlined by Allport than when these conditions were not present.

One remaining issue is whether the association between intercultural contact and positive attitudes is due to situations where those individuals with positive attitudes seek more intercultural contact, or whether more such contact leads to more positive attitudes. In the national surveys in Canada, we found substantial support for this relationship, especially when status is controlled. For example, Kalin and Berry (1982) , using data from a national survey in Canada, examined the ethnic attitudes of members of particular ethnocultural groups towards members of other ethnocultural groups. Their attitude data were aggregated by census tracts (essentially neighbourhoods), in which the proportion of particular ethnocultural groups was also known from the Census. They found that the higher the proportion of members of a particular group in a neighbourhood, the more positive were the attitudes of non-members towards that group. This kind of ecological analysis permits the suggestion that contact actually leads to more positive intercultural attitudes. The alternative possibility is that individuals actually move to particular neighbourhoods where already-liked ethnocultural groups are residing. More such research is needed, and in other intercultural settings, before firm conclusions can be drawn.

Longitudinal studies are very important to the disentangling of the direction of the relationship between intercultural contact and attitudes. One study (Binder et.al., 2009 ) has shown an interactive effect of contact and intercultural attitudes. They conducted a longitudinal field survey in Germany, Belgium, and England with school student samples of members of both ethnic minorities and ethnic majorities. They assessed both intercultural contact and attitudes at two points in time. Contact was assessed by both the quality and quantity of contact. Attitudes were assessed by social distance and negative feelings. The pattern of intercorrelations, at both times, supported the positive relationship between contact and attitudes. Beyond this correlational analysis, path analyses yielded evidence for the relationship working in both directions: contact reduced prejudice, but prejudice also reduced contact. Thus, in this study, support for the contact hypothesis is partial: contact can lead to more positive attitudes, but initial positive attitudes can lead people into contact with each other.

A key element in the contact hypothesis is the set of conditions that may be necessary in order for contact to lead to more positive intercultural relations. The three hypotheses are linked because the first two hypotheses speak to some of these conditions under which contact can have positive outcomes. First, for the multiculturalism hypothesis, we saw that when the cultural identities of individuals and groups are threatened, and their place in the plural society is questioned, more negative attitudes are likely to characterize their relationships. This consequence applies to all ethnocultural groups, both dominant and non-dominant. For example, when members of the larger society feel threatened by immigration, and when members of particular groups have their rights to maintain their heritage cultures and/or to participate in the larger society questioned or denied, a mutual hostility is likely to ensue. Under these conditions, increased contact is not likely to lead to more positive intercultural attitudes.

Second, for the integration hypothesis, we saw that “double engagement” (that is, maintaining contact with, and participating in both the heritage culture and the larger society) is associated with better wellbeing, including greater self-esteem and life satisfaction. When psychological and social wellbeing are low (that is, when confidence in one’s identity is low) there can be little basis for engaging in intercultural contact. And when contact does occur, as we saw for the multiculturalism hypothesis, it is likely to lead to more hostile mutual attitudes.

The evidence is now widespread across cultures that greater intercultural contact is associated with more positive intercultural attitudes, and lower levels of prejudice. This generalisation has to be qualified by two cautions. First, the appropriate conditions need to be present in order for contact to lead to positive intercultural attitudes. And second, there exists many examples of the opposite effect, where increased contact is associated with greater conflict. The conditions (cultural, political, and economic) under which these opposite outcomes arise are in urgent need of examination.


Intercultural relations research has been guided by a number of concepts, and has resulted in a number of findings. First, we always need to understand the cultural underpinnings of individual human behaviour; no person develops or acts in a cultural vacuum. Second, in addition to examining these hypotheses in Canada and a few other countries, we need to carry out research comparatively in many societies. This is because research findings from one cultural or social setting alone are never a valid basis for understanding intercultural behaviour in another setting. Comparative research is also required if we are to achieve an understanding of some general principles that underpin intercultural behaviour. Third, policies and programmes for improving intercultural relations take many forms. Some have been shown to threaten individuals and groups, and provide the conditions that generate mutual hostility. Conversely, there are policies and programmes (termed integration and multicultural in this paper) that appear to provide the cultural and psychological bases for enhancing positive intercultural relations.

Plural societies now have the possibility to use concepts, hypotheses and findings from research to guide the development and implementation of policies and programmes that will improve intercultural relations. This way forward stands in sharp contrast to using preconceptions and prejudices that are currently often the basis for intercultural policies. In my experience, policymakers would usually prefer to make informed decisions which are more likely to achieve their goals in the long run, than are decisions based on short-term interests. As researchers, we now have the opportunity to provide the information required for such effective policy decisions, and in a form that can be used.


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