Teaching and Learning in Affective Domain

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Mary Miller
The University of Georgia

Review of the Affective Domain



When instructional designers consider the affective domain, they frequently think only in terms of a student's motivation to learn. As Smith and Ragan (1999) have pointed out, "any 'cognitive' or 'psychomotor' objective has some affective component to it (if at no deeper level than a willingness to sufficiently interact with learning resources to achieve the learning)" (p. 250, parentheses in original). Motivation is certainly important, as "a student's attitude toward a given course or subject area can be a contributing factor to his achievement in it" (Edwards & Porter, 1970, p. 107). Previous chapters in this book have elaborated upon instructional strategies to increase motivation. This chapter will explore other aspects of instruction related to the affective domain.

Even when they are not explicitly stated, attitude objectives are pervasive in school work (Smith & Ragan, 1999). In each of the following examples, affective learning outcomes are linked to explicit cognitive goals. Although they may not always be aware of it, most teachers are involved in some form of attitude teaching. In some cases, attitude learning is the main objective of instruction. Anti-drug campaigns and corporate diversity training are examples of this type of attitude-focused instruction. Whether attitude learning is one component, or the central focus, of instruction, specific instructional strategies may be employed to bring it about.


Every year, Mr. Saunders teaches his Introduction to American Government classes about the 19th Amendment, which guarantees all American women the right to vote, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which reinforces the 15th Amendment's nationwide guarantee of the right to vote. Mr. Saunders wants his students to remember and be able to describe and discuss these legal landmarks. In addition, he wants them to understand the importance of the participation of all Americans in the democratic process. He hopes they will appreciate the struggle by women, African Americans, and other previously disenfranchised groups to overcome barriers to such participation, and that they will also register to vote if they have not already done so.

Ms. Wallace's 4th grade students are learning about ecology and the environment. They are reading about the damage that pollution can cause to fragile ecosystems. During the week that they are studying this topic, nothing in her class is thrown away. Each student has a bag by his or her desk in which they place the things they would normally toss into the trash can. By the end of the week, the room is becoming a cluttered and somewhat smelly place. Ms. Wallace wants her students to be able to explain how plants, animals, and the environment interrelate. She also wants them to understand their own role in changing the environment and to become more thoughtful citizens of the planet.

Mrs. Gibson is teaching her students about foods and nutrition. They learn which nutrients are found in which foods, why human bodies need these nutrients, how much of each nutrient is needed, how fat, protein, and carbohydrates should be balanced, and what can happen if nutritional needs are not met. Mrs. Gibson will ask her students to list and discuss the material they have learned on a test, but she also hopes that they will recognize the importance of a healthy diet and improve their eating habits.

Definition of Terms

Affective Learning Outcomes. Affective learning outcomes involve attitudes, motivation, and values. The expression of these often involves statements of opinions, beliefs, or an assessment of worth (Smith & Ragan, 1999).

Attitudes. Attitudes are learned or established predispositions to respond (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991). Today, most researchers agree that attitudes are acquired and therefore "subject to fairly predictable change" (Simmons & Maushak, 2001, p. 84), although some researchers do believe that some attitudes may be innate or may have biological origins (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). Attitudes are systems or constructs that are composed of four interrelated qualities: affective responses, cognitions, behavioral intentions, and behaviors. They vary in direction (positive or negative), degree (amount of positive or negative feeling), and intensity (the level of commitment the individual has to the position). Attitudes are not directly observable, but the actions and behaviors to which they contribute may be observed (Bednar & Levie, 1993). Although the cognitive and affective "domains interact significantly in instruction and learning" (Martin & Briggs, 1986, p. 3), any behavior that has an emotional component lies within the affective domain.

Attitude Change. Attitude change is any alteration in the direction, degree, or intensity of an attitude. A change in one component of a given attitude may produce change in other components. Moreover, attitudes about one object may be connected to attitudes about another object, and change in one attitude may lead to change in others (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991).

Theories of Attitude Formation and Change

Click Here to Play Lecture that summarizes Krathwohl's Taxonomy in the Affective Domain. This narrated presentation by Naomi Craver, Kristin Ruzicka, and Allison Watson (Fall, 2007)

Learning theories of attitude change, no longer as popular as they once were, focus on reinforced behavior as the primary factor responsible for attitude development. Early research on attitude change drew on Festinger's cognitive dissonance theory, which posits that, when a person is persuaded to act in a way that is not congruent with a pre-existing attitude, he or she may change the attitude to reduce dissonance (Smith & Ragan, 1999). To use dissonance to produce attitude change, the persuader must first establish the dissonance, and then provide a method to reduce it. Ideally, this will involve making the chosen alternative attractive, showing a social group with the desired attitude, demonstrating the issue's importance, providing free choice, and establishing a wide latitude of acceptance through successive approximation (Martin & Briggs, 1986).

Similarly, consistency theories assume that individuals need to have consistency between and among their attitudes and behaviors and will modify one or both to achieve this balance (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991). Affective-cognitive consistency theory examines the relationship between attitudes and beliefs and posits that individuals are in an unstable state when their attitudes towards an object, event or person and their knowledge about that object, event, or person are inconsistent (Simonson & Maushak, 2001). The theory suggests that the affective component of the attitude system may be changed by providing new information (changing the cognitive component) via a persuasive message. Once the individual has processed the new information, he or she will undergo an attitude change to bring the knowledge and affect into harmony. Processing the message requires that the audience pay attention to and comprehend the message, then accept and retain it (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991). Affective-cognitive consistency theory suggests that the affective component of the attitude system may be changed by first changing the cognitive component through providing new information. It does not matter how the new cognition is produced, only that it occurs. Thus, any of the learning theories discussed in this e-book may be used in conjunction with this approach.

Although the fact that attitudes are stored separately from their related cognitions means that a person may experience a feeling without remembering the information or event that triggered it, attitudes will generally be stronger when the link between their cognitive and affective components is consciously recalled (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991). For this to work, of course, the recipient must attend to the message providing that information. A tendency toward passive viewing of mediated messages may be reduced by instructing students to attend and alerting them to the fact that the content will be tested (Wetzel et al., 1994). According to Zimbardo and Leippe (1991), "a persuasive message is most likely to cause attitude and behavior change if it can shape both beliefs about its topic and beliefs about what important individuals and social groups think about the topic and how they behave toward it" (p. 188). The most effective persuasive messages are those "that get the audience to think about an issue or object in concrete, vivid images that have definite implications for behavior" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 194).

Social judgment theories emphasize the role of prior attitudes in shaping attitude formation and change. They describe attitude as a kind of spectrum with a "latitude of acceptance" surrounding a current attitude; a new position is more likely to be accepted if it falls within this latitude and less likely to be accepted if it does not (Smith & Ragan, 1999). This theory suggests that change in attitude position might be greater in response to the presentation of a moderate persuasive position than in response to a more extreme message. As with dissonance theory, social judgment theory presents attitude change as a response to the receipt of a message that is not entirely congruent with the currently held attitude. Acceptance of the new position is contingent upon its falling within the latitude of acceptance of the receiver. "The use of successive approximations can expand the latitude of acceptance and thereby permit greater attitude change than might otherwise be possible" (Bednar & Levie, 1993, p. 295). The latitude of acceptance is analogous to the zone of proximal development in social development theory as discussed in the chapter on Vygotsky's Constructionism.

Social learning theory focuses on the development of cognitions related to the expected outcome of behavior. This theory suggests that an individual learns attitudes by observing the behaviors of others and modeling or imitating them (McDonald & Kielsmeier, 1970). An observed behavior does not have to be reinforced to be learned (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991), and the model "can be presented on film, by television, in a novel, or by other vicarious means" (Martin & Briggs, 1986, p. 28). The model must be credible to the target audience (Bednar & Levie, 1993). Credibility is largely a function of expertise and trustworthiness. Observational learning is greater when models are perceived as powerful and/or warm and supportive, and "imitative behavior is more likely when there are multiple models doing the same thing" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 51). While "attitudes formed through direct experience with the attitude object or issue are more predictive of behavior than those formed more indirectly" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 193), "media can be substitutes for many live experiences" (Wetzel et al., 1994, p. 26). Thus, observing a model via video is a viable method of learning a new attitude. For passive learners, instruction delivered by media may facilitate the rapid acquisition of complex affective behaviors more effectively than live demonstrations (McDonald & Kielsmeier, 1970). However, receivers may attend mediated messages less closely than those presented directly, thereby diminishing their effectiveness (Bednar & Levie, 1993). Social learning theories of attitude change are closely related to theories that emphasize the role of social learning in cognitive development. See the chapters on Social Constructivism and Cognitive Apprenticeship, for example, for discussions of the importance of the social context for cognitive development. Social learning theory also shares cognitive apprenticeship's emphasis on modeling as a way of sharing knowledge.

Finally, functional theories suggest that attitudes serve a variety of psychological needs and that changing an attitude requires an understanding of its purpose in the life of the individual who holds it. The utility of this theory is limited by the fact that attitude research in this area has not produced a consistent set of categories relating attitudes to psychological needs (Bednar & Levie, 1993). Research has shown that attitudes related to self-concept frequently perform an ego-defensive function and that ego-defensive attitudes are particularly difficult to change (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991).

There have been several attempts to classify types and levels of learning in the affective domain. Perhaps the best-known classification was developed by Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia in 1964 (Smith & Ragan, 1999). The Krathwohl taxonomy, as it is known, has five major categories, each with several sub-categories. These levels are:

  • Receiving / Attending - willingness to become aware
  • Responding - appreciating or internalizing
  • Valuing - accepting, preferring, becoming committed to
  • Conceptualizing / Organizing - incorporating into a value system
  • Characterizing by value - orientation toward / identification with.

Learning in a given level depends on prior learning in lower levels (Atherton, 2004).

The following table provides an overview of the basic premises and key instructional implications of these theories.

Table 1. Overview of the theories of attitude formation and change
Theory Basic Premise(s) Suggested Intervention(s)
Behavioral Learning occurs when behavior is positively reinforced
  • Have learner act out behaviors consistent with desired attitude
  • Provide positive reinforcement
Cognitive dissonance Unstable state created when attitudes inconsistent with behavior
  • Create dissonance
  • Provide means to reduce dissonance - free to make attractive choice
Affective-cognitive consistency Unstable state created when attitudes inconsistent with knowledge Change cognitive component first by providing new information
Social judgment Existing attitudes surrounded by latitude of acceptance Incremental provision of messages within (ever-shifting) latitude of acceptance
Social learning Individual learns attitudes by observing and imitating the behavior of others
  • Provide powerful model
  • Multiple models doing same thing
Functional Purpose attitude serves for person who holds it determines best method for changing it Acknowledge ego-defensive role of attitudes related to self-concept
Krathwohl's taxonomy Intensity of given attitude built through successive stages Learning at a given level depends on prior learning at lower levels

Research on Attitudes and Attitude Change

Simonson and Maushak (2001) have found that there is a dearth of good instructional technology research on attitudes:

"It is obvious that attitude study is not an area of interest or importance in mainstream instructional technology research. Of the hundreds of studies published in the literature of educational communications since [1979] less than 5% examined attitude variables as a major area of interest" (p. 996).

Moreover, there are several flaws common to many of the attitude studies that have been undertaken. These include poor definition of the construct (attitude) in question, poor measurement practices, including the failure to document development of the measurement instrument, and tacking on an attitude variable after data collection has occurred rather than considering attitudes at the onset of the research (Simonson & Maushak, 2001). In contrast, attitude research has been popular in the social sciences, particularly in social psychology since the 1920s, and continues to remain central to the discipline (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993).

Because attitudes cannot be directly observed, they are inferred from behavior, usually in the form of verbal responses or observable actions (Bednar & Levie, 1993). Most of the existing measurement instruments for assessing attitudes and attitude change employ quantitative survey scales with the assumption that different respondents will interpret items in a similar manner (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991). Research has shown that even rigorously tested measures of attitude such as the Quick Discrimination Index (QDI) may only be valid measures for members of a specific group (Burkard et al., 2002).

Instructional technology research findings do generally suggest that "mediated instruction does contribute to desired attitudinal outcomes in learners, especially when the instruction is designed specifically to produce certain attitudes or attitude changes" (Simonson & Maushak, 2001, p. 1000, emphasis in original). These findings also indicate that the three most important qualities such instruction should have are: the use of follow-up activities and open-ended questions; the use of realistic types of media devoid of contradictory cues; and the creation of an aroused state in the learner through emotional and intellectual involvement.

A 1984 study by Ball-Rokeach et al. found that uninterrupted home viewers of a persuasive half-hour television program called The Great American Values Test showed significant change in attitudes toward race, gender equality, and environmental protection, and that residents in the experimental viewing area were 60% more likely to respond positively to solicitations from groups associated with those issues than were residents of the control city (where the experimental program was not broadcast). This demonstration of media potency as a tool for attitude change -- and related research which suggested the power could be used for good or for ill -- so impressed the researchers that they considered not publishing their findings.

Findings from several studies of workplace diversity training reveal that instruction in the affective domain can have unintended negative outcomes. Hood et al. (2001) reported on a quantitative study designed to evaluate the changes in attitudes of university students resulting from the completion of a required course in organizational behavior. They found that white Anglo males are less likely than other groups to show positive changes as a result of diversity training initiatives and may in fact exhibit worse attitudes than they had before the intervention. This disturbing finding was echoed by Alderfer et al. (1992), who found that white Anglo males of middle-management status at a given corporation who were required to participate in a diversity workshop exhibited negative attitude changes, and by Ungerleider and McGregor (n.d.), who found similar negative effects in studies of anti-racist teaching of police and teachers. Given the potential of negative outcomes, it is essential that this type of affective domain instruction be carefully designed and that learning be closely monitored and rigorously assessed.

Instructional Design for Attitude Change

Simonson and Maushak (2001) have drawn on findings from a number of studies to create a series of six guidelines for effective design of attitude instruction. These are:

  • make the instruction realistic, relevant, and technically stimulating
  • present new information
  • present persuasive messages in a credible manner
  • elicit purposeful emotional involvement
  • involve the learner in planning, production or delivery of the message
  • provide post-instruction discussion or critique opportunities

Smith and Ragan (1999) focus on the behavioral aspect of attitude learning and emphasize the importance of three key instructional approaches:

  • demonstration of the desired behavior by a respected role model
  • practice of the desired behavior, often through role playing
  • reinforcement of the desired behavior

Bednar & Levie (1993) make similar recommendations: When designing instruction for attitude change, "three approaches emerge from the theoretical literature: providing a persuasive message; modeling and reinforcing appropriate behavior; and inducing dissonance between the cognitive, affective, and behavioral components of the attitude. These approaches are ideally used in tandem" (p. 286).

There is, at present, no firm agreement about the optimal order in which to present the various cognitive and affective messages contained in a given unit of instruction. Some researchers have found that "knowledge about a topic was often a necessary prerequisite for a positive attitude position toward the idea" (Simonson & Maushak, 2001, p. 1010). Others suggest that "more educated people are better equipped to counter argue and hence less likely to accept or be persuaded by new information" (Ansolabehere et al., 1993, p. 151). The former theory would suggest that learners will experience more attitude change if the cognitive aspects of a lesson are presented before the affective aspects are introduced, while the latter suggests the opposite effect. The ability of a persuasive message to produce attitude change is closely linked to its strength, and "dry statistical information has less effect than vivid and concrete examples" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 337). However, studies of home television viewing have shown that stories that "deal with topics about which viewers already have some knowledge tend to be remembered better" (Wetzel et al., 1994, p. 53). Presenting first the general and then the particular, first the abstract and then the concrete, would seem to be sound instructional design for both cognitive and affective domains.

Since the presentation of credible and persuasive messages is a key component of attitude instruction, further exploration of what makes instruction persuasive and credible may be of use. Acceptance of a given message is "not so much about the content of the message as the cognitions - in the form of evaluative responses - that the receiver has in response to it" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 150). If a given topic is of low salience or high complexity, message acceptance and attitude formation is often guided by a heuristic, most commonly source credibility. The effectiveness of a persuasive message is contingent upon the receiver's perception of the source's credibility, and credibility is a function of expertise and trustworthiness. A source or model who appears to argue against his or her self interest is often perceived as relatively trustworthy.

When the information presented is important to the viewer and familiarity is low, an intellectual message will likely be more persuasive, and encouraging objectivity can help overcome resistance to attitude change. Conversely, when the message's importance is relatively low and familiarity is higher, emotional appeals are more successful. "Emotional images need the sight, sound, and movement quality that TV offers" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 149).

"The trick with designing the ideal persuasive message is that it has to be of such quality that the recipients' own cognitive responses to it are numerous as well as favorable" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 182). For example, studies (e.g., Allison, 1966; Wade and Pool, 1983; Bage, 1997) have found that persuasive videos were more likely to produce attitude change when post-viewing discussions were held. If the instructional unit begins with an emphasis on cognitive outcomes, continues with the persuasive media message, and concludes with a discussion session, then students will be challenged with several opportunities to develop and express their own cognitive responses to the information presented. Each phase of the instruction should present "plausible, important messages with new information [in order to] provoke more cognitions and hence increase attitude change" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 150). Thus, the persuasive component should not merely restate the information provided earlier, but should elaborate and expand upon it.

One advantage of mediated instruction is its exact replicability: the same affective attitude instruction can be delivered exactly to multiple groups (McDonald & Kielsmeier, 1970). Following the cognitive and persuasive components with a discussion may help to make the attitude change more permanent, since self-generated messages are more memorable than received ones (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991). "People become more mindful when they encounter novel stimuli that do not fit established categories and when they are motivated to engage in systematic thinking, rather than lapse into mindless processing" (Zimbardo and Leippe, 1991, p. 259). The importance of this cognitive engagement for attitude change should not be underestimated. "Attitude changes that result from active and systematic mental processing are the most durable, persisting changes" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 181).

As discussed above, affective components are often already present in many lesson plans. Adding affective objectives to other instruction need not take an overwhelming amount of time. A meta-analysis of attitude change studies relating to bias and prejudice has shown that shorter treatments generally produced more attitude change than did longer ones. In other words, "less treatment time was apparently more conducive to prejudice reduction" (McGregor, 1993, p. 222). The implications of this finding are greatest for interventions where attitude change is the principal goal.

If a teacher perceives that his or her students' attitudes are already aligned with the objectives, he or she may be tempted not to address the affective component of the lesson. However, reinforcement remains important. "Lack of resistance [to persuasion] is likely when attitudes and beliefs are still in formative stages or when the individual is cast into a new and vastly different social environment" (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991, p. 225). Thus, the importance of confirming and strengthening existing positive attitudes should not be overlooked. The more thought-through an attitude is, the more resistant it is to change (Zimbardo & Leippe, 1991). By motivating students to reflect on their attitudes, instruction may lead to an increase in their intensity and permanence.

While general attitudes are good predictors of general behaviors, and specific attitudes are good predictors of specific behaviors, the general does not reliably predict the specific, nor the specific the general (Simonson & Maushak, 2000). Therefore, in assessing attitude learning, any Likert-type scales or similar close-ended measurements should be used in tandem with more open-ended instruments.

Although the teachers in our introductory scenarios have not had formal training in teaching for attitude change, their classroom experiences and observations have enabled them to formulate some effective strategies to achieve their attitudinal objectives.

Examples Revisited

In Mr. Saunders' political science class, the unit on voting rights begins with a lecture. Because of the demographics of his university, Mr. Saunders' classes are usually more than fifty percent female. His students are often appalled to realize how recently women in the United States won the rights of full citizenship, and they have an emotional response to the information presented. In the next class, they watch an episode of the PBS series "Eyes on the Prize" entitled "Mississippi: Is this America?" This program depicts the efforts of black and white college student volunteers to help African American Mississippians register to vote during the "Freedom Summer of 1964." These student workers serve as role models for the student viewers. In particular, white viewers are able to relate to the positive actions of students like themselves, rather than only seeing the negative actions by white racists. The information shown in the video is more extreme than that delivered by the lecture, but the lecture set the stage by expanding the latitude of acceptance. Finally, the class discusses what they have learned through the lecture and video. They are able to voice positive statements about the importance of voting rights and to have these statements reinforced. This lesson has used the presentation of new information to create cognitive dissonance, incremental presentation of stronger messages, positive role models, emotional presentations, and opportunities to exhibit and receive reinforcement for desired attitudes and behaviors.

In Ms. Wallace's ecology class, students are gradually forced to confront the accumulating consequences of their trash production. They research alternatives to disposable packaging and create a display of environmentally conscious choices. The overflowing trash bags create cognitive dissonance, and their research helps them develop attractive dissonance-reducing choices. By creating the display, they have publicly advocated and modeled positive attitudes and behaviors, thus becoming more likely to internalize them.

Ms. Gibson realizes that even when her students know the importance of making healthy food and exercise choices, they may not have the freedom to act on this knowledge. Some of her students write letters to the local school board about a proposed reduction in physical education classes at their school. Others compare the nutritional quality of school lunch programs in their area and present recommendations for improvement to their school board. The entire class works together to write and film a rap video about the importance of good nutrition and exercise. The video is shown at a PTA meeting, and each student receives a copy to take home. The video helps the students model healthy habits to their parents and may inspire the parents to provide healthy food choices for their children. Students whose diet and exercise habits were not consistent with good health probably experienced cognitive and affective dissonance during the lessons. For example, a student may have believed that orange soda and french fries were healthy fruit and vegetable choices. Whether they are advocating physical education classes and fresh fruit in the lunchroom, or writing and filming a rap about healthy habits, students are behaving in ways that are consistent with positive attitude change toward diet and exercise. These behaviors are reinforced when adults listen and respond to them.

Lesson Plans for Attitudinal Objectives

The Gateway to Educational Materials GEM provides numerous examples of lesson plans that include instructional goals in the affective domain. The following discussions of these instructional approaches are this author's interpretations and were not found on the Web sites provided.

The "Voices for Votes - Suffrage Strategies" lesson plan for 4th-6th graders at the Library of Congress American Memory site has students research the history of suffrage for women before creating their own messages to promote voting in current elections. The suffragists the students learn about serve as models for pro-voting behavior. Once the students have articulated their own pro-voting messages, dissonance-avoidance will lead them to personally accept those messages.

PBS presents a study guide to accompany its film "Family Name." The film recounts a father's experiences with his own prejudices and the way he was able to confront himself and change. The message should be reinforced by discussion questions to support the learners' identification with the characters, provoke a variety of related cognitions, and provide the learners with a variety of opportunities to make observations related to the affective aspects of the presentation.

PBS's lesson plans to accompany the "Journey into Amazonia" video include a lesson on "Chico Mendes of Brazil" that depicts Mendes as a hero who fought to save the rain forests. Readings, discussions, and activities all reinforce the message of the video, including the importance of sustainable use of rain forest resources and the valuable contributions made by Mendes and others like him. One activity calls for students to prepare a news story about Mendes. Since Mendes serves as an attractive and credible role model, this opportunity to make a public statement supporting the desired attitude should facilitate attitude adoption as an alternative to dissonance. Although Mendes' murder may seem like the harshest of negative reinforcement, careful leadership during the discussion can mitigate this by pointing out the fact that he is remembered as a hero.


Attitudinal components are present in many, if not most, instructional plans, whether or not they are stated explicitly. Although much research is still needed, it is clear that there are effective instructional strategies to promote attitude formation and change. Effective attitude instruction presents a persuasive message containing new information which relates to something the learner already knows. It involves the learner emotionally, for example, by presenting a credible role model demonstrating a behavior that is consistent with the desired attitude and that is positively reinforced. Finally, it provides learners with an opportunity to express or act out the target attitude, and responds to that expression with positive reinforcement. Any instruction that includes these qualities is likely to result in the desired attitude formation or change.


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APA Citation: Miller, M. (2005). Teaching and Learning in Affective Domain. In M. Orey (Ed.), Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved <insert date>, from http://projects.coe.uga.edu/epltt/

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