How schizophrenia is misrepresented in TV and film — and how we can do better | CBC Arts (2023)

From Yellowjackets to Criminal Minds, the schizophrenic characters we see onscreen are usually supernatural villains, criminals, or inspirational fodder.

How schizophrenia is misrepresented in TV and film — and how we can do better | CBC Arts (1)

We've all seen popular movies and TV shows that have used schizophrenia to drive a story forward. But how often do we stop to consider what those representations actually mean? How do they portray the experience of actually living with schizophrenia, and how do the stereotypes that these representations lean on come back around to harm mad and disabled people?

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A 2021 GLAAD report found that disabled characters made up only 2.8 per cent of all series regular characters in the 2021-22 television season in the U.S. That's roughly 22 characters out of 775 total examined. When looking at that figure, especially considering that 22 per cent of Canadians and 26 per cent of Americans live with visible and invisible disabilities, people with disabilities are shockingly underrepresented onscreen.

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What's even worse is that the few representations of disability and madness that we do see are wrapped up in stereotypes which impact how we view mad and disabled people around us. Schizophrenia is one of the conditions that the general public views most negatively, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Psychiatry Research. The prevalence of stereotypes also creates internalized stigma that impacts the self-image of disabled people.

A commonly observed trope in TV and movies represents schizophrenia as criminal and violent. (Think Norman Bates in Psycho, Mr. Cleg in Spider, or any of the dozens of characters from shows like Criminal Minds' endless carousels of violent depictions of madness and neurodiversity.) Horror, thrillers, and true crime often frame mad people as villains whose motivations are blamed on conditions like schizophrenia, which perpetuates the idea that people who have those conditionsare a danger to others.

Another common representation of schizophrenia makes the condition out to be supernatural or magical, like in the show Yellowjackets or the film Donnie Darko. When schizophrenia is placed in the supernatural or fantasy realms, it diminishes the real-life experience of living with schizophrenia and suggests that it is beyond humanity or our understanding. By aligning schizophrenia with demonic entities and malicious spirits, these supernatural representations similarly perpetuate the idea of schizophrenic people as "other," which can ostracize them and negatively impact their self-perception.

Not every trope makes people with schizophrenia look like villains, but even the more well-intentioned attempts can be harmful in their own way. Take, for instance, the portrayal of the "supercrip" as seen in A Beautiful Mind, The Soloist, or the show Legion. "Supercrip" is a term used by the disabled community to refer to stories where people "overcome" their disability. Although these depictions are sometimes created to challenge the perceptions of what mad and disabled people can and can't do, as explained by Stella Young, they "objectify disabled people for the benefit of nondisabled people."

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This trope also suggests madness and disability exist entirely within a person instead of engaging with the oppressive social, legal, and medical conditions that create barriers for mad and disabled people. "Supercrip" stories can act as a defense mechanism for the status quo — because if one mad or disabled person could beat the odds and live happily in our current society, ostensibly, all mad and disabled people should have it within themselves to do the same.

Criminal and violent representationin Criminal Minds

How schizophrenia is misrepresented in TV and film — and how we can do better | CBC Arts (3)

A 2012 study found that, in 41 movies studied, a majority of schizophrenic characters displayed violent behaviour toward others and themselves, and almost a third of those characters displayed homicidal tendencies. The same study also found that causation is hardly discussed in those films.

Shows like Criminal Minds, which follow a procedural format where a new weekly suspect is pursued by federal officers and caught by the end of the episode, are chock full of exaggerated depictions of schizophrenia. The formulaic approach of Criminal Minds made the show easy to watch, but to keep viewers from getting bored, it had to continue to shock them with more and more gruesome stories. Crimes committed by supposedly schizophrenic people ranged from cannibalism to necrophilia.

Even if the viewer knows to take these stories with a grain of salt, the depiction of these horrific crimes and lack of exploration into a character's motives — coupled with zero follow-up on their fates after they are caught (or often, killed) — reinforced an "us vs. them" mentality that creates a fearsome idea of schizophrenia. This is bolstered by storylines that continuously ask the viewer to sympathize with the neurotypical, non-disabled police, who are billed as heroes for tracking down and capturing the suspects.

Mad and disabled people are actually more likely to be victims of violence rather than the perpetrators of it. And ina study in which 46 mad people were interviewed about the stigma they have experienced, people with schizophrenia reported more verbal and physical abuse than any other group in the study.

(Video) 6 Signs Of Schizophrenia

The show's less overtly negative representations are few and far in between. Spencer Reid's mother Diana, one of the rare recurring characters with schizophrenia, is shown to have a loving relationship with her son. But even though the show sympathizes with her, it also makes her out to be one of the "good ones" against a backdrop of countless violent mad characters; ultimately, whatever positive representation Diana provides is completely overshadowed by an overrepresentation of schizophrenic killers.

Supernatural representation in Yellowjackets

How schizophrenia is misrepresented in TV and film — and how we can do better | CBC Arts (4)

Another common stereotype in TV and movies suggests that schizophrenia is the result of some kind of supernatural force. This trope depicts schizophrenia as something that possesses a person and forces them to do things that they have no control over, often harming others in the process.

Showtime's critically acclaimed 2021 psychological drama Yellowjackets depicts a character named Lottie who experiences hallucinations after running out of her medication for an unnamed condition. While the show was praised for its representation of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it slips into problematic territory with the way Lottie transforms from a sweet background character to becoming possessed, experiencing premonitions and visions of death, and calling on the girls around her to hurt one of their own. Since this transformation happens after Lottie runs out of her medication, the implication is that she is this way when untreated, which reduces a complex condition to a clichéd representation. Yet again, a mad character becomes a villain or someone to be feared, and the only explanation for their motivation is their madness.

With just one season out so far, the show is still well-positioned to turn this representation on its head and provide useful commentary about the way Lottie was medicalized at a young age for her apparently atypical behaviour. But if it continues along the same path, Yellowjackets will become another representation of schizophrenia that dehumanizes mad people and causes the viewer to fear them.

"Supercrip" representation in A Beautiful Mind

How schizophrenia is misrepresented in TV and film — and how we can do better | CBC Arts (5)

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"Supercrip" stories rely on narratives of inspiration and overcoming adversity. One of the most well-known depictions of schizophrenia is A Beautiful Mind, the 2001 film starring Russell Crowe. A Beautiful Mind won four of the eight Academy Awards it was nominated for, including Best Picture, and is based on the life of mathematician John Nash as told through Sylvia Nasar's unauthorized biography of him. Throughout the film, Nash experiences hallucinations that lead him to be forcibly institutionalized; his condition also inadvertently causes him to put his infant son in danger. But Nash is later able to overcome his hallucinations by sheer willpower and return to his work, eventually going on to win the Nobel Prize.

Some have noted that schizophrenia is generally well-represented in A Beautiful Mind, and the viewer is certainly meant to sympathize with John Nash instead of seeing him as a violent person or a criminal. Nash's ability to exercise control over his life and learn to live with schizophrenia, especially with the support of his loved ones, can be an empowering thing for mad people to see on screen. But nevertheless, this type of story paints madness and disabilities as individual "problems" that need to be fixed and overcome in order to live "normally."

How can we represent schizophrenia more thoughtfully?

How schizophrenia is misrepresented in TV and film — and how we can do better | CBC Arts (6)

As with so many movies and TV shows about marginalized people, stories about people with schizophrenia are rarely told with mad people in control of the narrative, and the actors who play them are not part of mad and/or disabled communities. While neurotypical and non-disabled actors take home awards and accolades for their portrayals of madness and disability, real mad and disabled people feel the repercussions of these stereotypical depictions reverberating in their everyday lives.

Mad and disabled people deserve to see themselves represented wholly, not as punchlines, lazy plot points, or inspirational fodder for the benefit of the able-bodied. Our experiences are all unique and multi-faceted, yet the stories told about us are too often boiled down to stereotypes instead of embracing neurodivergence, madness, and disabilities.

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Increasing or improving representation of schizophrenia in the media will not immediately change societally-rooted ableist attitudes. But empathetic and informed storytelling can help to counteract and correct the misinformation that is shared through TV and movies. With stories about schizophrenia still so deeply entrenched in stereotypes that impact the real-life treatment of mad people and the inequities they face, the need to tell better stories isn't just critical — it could be life-saving.


How does schizophrenia affect art? ›

One characteristic of schizophrenia that is unique to the disorder is the creation of highly bizarre artwork. Schizophrenic art refers to art that has been created directly by the hand of a person suffering from schizophrenia.

What are stereotypes of schizophrenia in media? ›

The Reality of Schizophrenia

Myths perpetuated by the media are damaging to the public sphere. Most characters in movies are portrayed as violent, homicidal, suicidal, having multiple personalities, and frequently experiencing delusions, visual hallucinations and auditory hallucinations.

What movies have accurately portray schizophrenia? ›

Here are five movies with characters with schizophrenia that offer accurate depictions of the condition.
The 5 Most Accurate Depictions of Schizophrenia in Hollywood
  • A Beautiful Mind. ...
  • Savage Grace. ...
  • Benny and Joon. ...
  • The Soloist. ...
  • Take Shelter.
Sep 20, 2021

How people suffering from schizophrenia can be improved? ›

While there is no known cure, it is possible to live a meaningful and happy life with schizophrenia. There are many effective treatments, best provided by a team. These include medication, psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, and social services, as well as tools to help you stay in school or keep working.

How can art help schizophrenia? ›

Art therapy allows exploration of the patient's inner world in a non-threatening way through a therapeutic relationship and the use of art materials. It was mainly developed in adult psychiatric inpatient units and was designed for use with people in whom verbal psychotherapy would be impossible.

How effective is art therapy for schizophrenia? ›

Studies have shown improved outcomes in positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia when art therapy was used in addition to standard mental health treatment. Research also suggests that music therapy may improve social functioning and quality of life.

How is schizophrenia misrepresented in movies? ›

A 2012 study found that, in 41 movies studied, a majority of schizophrenic characters displayed violent behaviour toward others and themselves, and almost a third of those characters displayed homicidal tendencies. The same study also found that causation is hardly discussed in those films.

How is schizophrenia portrayed in films? ›

Filmmakers tend to focus on violence, traumatic events, and hallucinations when depicting and shaping characters with schizophrenia. Some critics argue that films overdramatize these elements and doing so dehumanizes people with schizophrenia (Hyler, Gabbard, & Schneider, 1991, p. 1045).

What impact did films have on viewer attitudes towards people with schizophrenia? ›

Films viewed included a fear-based inaccurate, likeable-inaccurate, and an educational-accurate depiction of schizophrenia. There was also a control group. There were significant increases in stigmatizing attitudes for participants in the fear-based inaccurate group compared to the accurate and control group.

How mental illnesses are misrepresented in movies? ›

Hollywood has a long history of misrepresenting those with mental health conditions. These representations are usually portrayals of people with mental illness as violent and dangerous, which contribute to harmful stereotypes about mental illness.

What TV show has a character with schizophrenia? ›

A Beautiful Mind

Russell Crowe performs tremendously to show Nash's struggle with the onset of paranoid schizophrenia, a narrative that begins for Nash in grad school.

Why are people misdiagnosed with schizophrenia? ›

Reported symptoms of anxiety and hearing voices most common reasons for misdiagnosis by non-specialty physicians.

How does schizophrenia affect a person's daily life? ›

Schizophrenia can be extremely disruptive to a person's life, making it hard to go to school or work, keep a schedule, socialize, complete daily tasks, or take care of oneself.

How can schizophrenia improve social skills? ›

Schizophrenia: Social Skills Training
  1. Make better eye contact.
  2. Respond more quickly to others.
  3. Smile, frown, or use facial expressions that fit the situation.
  4. Talk as loudly or softly as needed.

How are schizophrenics treated in society? ›

Stigma for those suffering from schizophrenia are many and are not just limited to those outside the medical community. Common stigma for those with schizophrenia is the idea that they are naturally violent and chaotic, excluding them socially, or labelling them with harmful words.

What art represents schizophrenia? ›

The Scream is definitely Munch's most famous work, and probably the most famous work in schizophrenic art. We also believe that this painting really captures the way that Munch described his struggles with schizophrenia.

How do the arts improve mental health? ›

Studies have shown that expression through art can help people with depression, anxiety, and stress. Art has also been linked to improved memory, reasoning, and resilience in aging adults. We're diving into the powerful impact art can have on your life. The best part is, art is something everyone can participate in.

What is creative art therapy for mental illness? ›

Creative therapy uses art forms — such as dance, drawing, or music — to help treat certain conditions. Trained therapists can administer creative therapy to help people experiencing a range of mental, emotional, and physical issues. Creative therapy does not require a person to have any sort of artistic ability.

What has been most effective in the treatment of schizophrenia? ›

Antipsychotic medications are the most effective treatment for schizophrenia. Medications such as Risperdal and Zyprexa have been shown to reduce both the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia by up to 40%.

Which method of therapy is best for schizophrenics? ›

Cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT, may be a treatment option for people with schizophrenia. CBT teaches a person to modify beliefs or behaviors that may be leading to negative emotions.

What are good activities for people with schizophrenia? ›

Sometimes when a person with schizophrenia is unwell they may turn against people they are normally close to. Encourage them to participate in one-to-one activities, for example card games, chess, jigsaw puzzles, walking.

How is schizophrenia portrayed in a beautiful mind? ›

The movie depicts Nash's journey through life with schizophrenia. Nash displays many characteristic symptoms of schizophrenia, including hallucinations, delusions, fear of persecution, and lack of interpersonal relationships.

Which Disney character has schizophrenia? ›

Pocahontas - Pocahontas

The sad truth is poor Pochaontas is a schizophrenic. Wandering off from her tribe, she spends her days playing out her delusions in the wilderness of rural Virginia and the shock announcement that she is to be married to one of her father's warriors only increased the intensity of them.

Is a beautiful mind a good portrayal of schizophrenia? ›

While A Beautiful Mind is not an entirely accurate depiction of John Nash's life, it does offer an accurate representation of schizophrenia. Delusions of grandeur, or grandiose delusions, are among the most common signs of paranoid schizophrenia.

How do you think mental health is portrayed in movies and TV shows? ›

Mental illnesses, also known as psychiatric disorders, are often inaccurately portrayed in the media. Films, television programs, books, magazines, and news programs often stereotype the mentally ill as being violent or unpredictable, unlike the great majority of the actual mentally ill.

What famous actors have schizophrenia? ›

Faces of Schizophrenia You May Know
  • Aaron Carter. 1/12. The former teen pop star, rapper, and dancer says he's dealing with several mental illnesses, including schizophrenia. ...
  • Zelda Fitzgerald. 2/12. ...
  • Darrell Hammond. 3/12. ...
  • Lionel Aldridge. 4/12. ...
  • Bettie Page. 5/12. ...
  • John Nash Jr. 6/12. ...
  • Eduard Einstein. 7/12. ...
  • Jim Gordon. 8/12.
Jan 12, 2022

How does stigma play out in the film A Beautiful Mind? ›

Mental Illness In Russell Crowe's A Beautiful Mind

The stigma enable his wife to delay seeking for psychiatric help. Due to the lack of early treatment, Nash's symptoms became severe. Nash became very accustom to his symptoms; it was his realty.

How do movies and television influence people's behavior negatively? ›

Movies and television also can make people more violent. The more we see violent acts on television, the less sensitive we become to them: Eventually violence doesn't seem wrong. We may even commit violent acts ourselves. This is especially true because we don't always realize that violence has consequences.

How does schizophrenia impact the brain and thus impact learning? ›

Schizophrenia patients consistently show deficits on tasks of explicit learning and memory. In contrast, their performance on implicit processing tasks often appears to be relatively intact, though most studies have focused on implicit learning of motor skills.

What unique challenges do those with schizophrenia face? ›

Schizophrenia involves a range of problems with thinking (cognition), behavior and emotions. Signs and symptoms may vary, but usually involve delusions, hallucinations or disorganized speech, and reflect an impaired ability to function.

What are common misrepresentations of mental illness in the media? ›

Here are some examples:
  • Using mental illness as the defining characteristic of an individual: “paranoid schizophrenic,” “alcoholic” or “drug addict.”
  • Describing people with mental illness as helpless with little chance of recovery.
  • Using derogatory language: “crazy,” “insane,” “mental,” “crazed,” “deranged,” “nut.”
Oct 23, 2017

Why is mental health misrepresented? ›

Often, the information is inaccurate and creates a false picture of what mental illness really is. People are fed stereotypes that they believe are based on truth, when in fact, they are usually based on misunderstandings.

What are movies that negatively portray mental illness? ›

10 Movies That Inaccurately Portray Mental Health Conditions
  1. 1 The Shining Makes Mental Illness The Monster.
  2. 2 Midsommar Accurately Depicts Trauma But Inaccurately Depicts Bipolar. ...
  3. 3 Me, Myself, And Irene Portrays Inaccurate Symptoms. ...
  4. 4 Turner & Hooch Belittles Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. ...
Nov 14, 2022

Who is the most famous person with schizophrenia? ›

Famous People with Schizophrenia: History Edition
  • Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder in which a person has an abnormal interpretation of reality. ...
  • Mary Todd Lincoln: 1818 - 1882. ...
  • John Nash: 1928 – 2015. ...
  • Eduard Einstein: 1910 – 1965. ...
  • John Hinckley, Jr: 1955 – Present. ...
  • Vincent van Gogh: 1853 – 1890.
Dec 7, 2021

What is the HBO show about schizophrenia? ›

Showing the Truth About Schizophrenia. Author Wally Lamb explains the process behind creating a character with severe mental illness, and what it took to translate his fictional story into the moving HBO series I Know This Much Is True.

What are 3 interesting facts about schizophrenia? ›

9 Facts About Schizophrenia You Should Know
  • Schizophrenia does not involve split personalities. ...
  • Despite what you may have heard, people with schizophrenia are not inherently violent or dangerous. ...
  • Symptoms of schizophrenia usually emerge in adolescence. ...
  • Schizophrenia manifests both “positive” and “negative” symptoms.
Dec 3, 2021

What is commonly misdiagnosed as schizophrenia? ›

Bipolar disorder.

Some people with severe bipolar disorder have delusions or hallucinations. That's why they may be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.

How often are people misdiagnosed with schizophrenia? ›

GlobalData Healthcare. Only around two in three individuals with schizophrenia are diagnosed by a physician, likely due to misdiagnosis of the condition.

What is the most commonly misdiagnosed mental disorder? ›

BPD is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed mental health conditions. It's so misdiagnosed, in fact, that there isn't even an accurate prevalence rate for the condition.

How does schizophrenia affect decision making? ›

But mental disorders often cause problems in the decision-making process. Research shows people with schizophrenia can have trouble understanding the relationship between their actions and the outcomes. This means they might keep selecting A, even if they know it's no longer as valuable as B.

Can a person with schizophrenia act normal? ›

Along with the right support, medication, and therapy, many people with schizophrenia are able to manage their symptoms, function independently, and enjoy full, rewarding lives.

Can a schizophrenic know they are schizophrenic? ›

Unfortunately, most people with schizophrenia are unaware that their symptoms are warning signs of a mental disorder. Their lives may be unraveling, yet they may believe that their experiences are normal. Or they may feel that they're blessed or cursed with special insights that others can't see.

How do you make someone with schizophrenia feel better? ›

Someone I love has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. How can I help?
  1. Educate yourself. ...
  2. Listen. ...
  3. Use empathy, not arguments. ...
  4. Don't take it personally. ...
  5. Take care of yourself, too. ...
  6. Maintain your social network. ...
  7. Encourage your loved one to keep up with their treatment and recovery plan.

How schizophrenia can be improved? ›

Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment, even when symptoms have subsided. Treatment with medications and psychosocial therapy can help manage the condition. In some cases, hospitalization may be needed. A psychiatrist experienced in treating schizophrenia usually guides treatment.

How does the media portray schizophrenia? ›

The portrayals of schizophrenia often focus on symptoms such as visual hallucinations, bizarre delusions, and disorganized speech, and present them as commonplace. In reality, symptoms like decreased motivation, poverty of speech, and flat affect are more common.

How are people with schizophrenia discriminated against? ›

Stigma against people with this condition is intense and widespread, causing social exclusion, and impacting their relationships with others, including family and friends. This contributes to discrimination, which in turn can limit access to general health care, education, housing, and employment.

What is the most effective way of treating schizophrenia and why? ›

Antipsychotics. Antipsychotics are usually recommended as the initial treatment for the symptoms of an acute schizophrenic episode. They work by blocking the effect of the chemical dopamine on the brain.

How does schizophrenia affect visual perception? ›

There is evidence that schizophrenia affects perception of contrast and motion, control of eye movements, detection of visual contours, and recognition of faces or facial expressions.

Does mental illness affect art? ›

Mental illnesses have a large impact on the sufferer's creativity and how they express themselves. Many household names in the art world have dealt with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, mania, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.

Is there a correlation between art and mental illness? ›

Parallels can be drawn to connect creativity to major mental disorders including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, OCD and ADHD. For example, studies have demonstrated correlations between creative occupations and people living with mental illness.

How does mental illness affect creativity? ›

Some argue that the relationship between mental illness and creativity is more complex, that mental health problems allow people to think more creatively than others, but this creativity drops back down to average levels or lower during severe episodes of illness.

What is an example of an illusion in schizophrenia? ›

Chubb Illusion

On average, people will say that the small circle at 10:30 o'clock bears the closest resemblance to the small central circle. However, a 2005 study found that people with schizophrenia estimate the circle at 6:00 o'clock as being most similar to the central circle.

How does schizophrenia alter an individual's perception of reality? ›

Schizophrenia usually involves delusions (false beliefs), hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that don't exist), unusual physical behavior, and disorganized thinking and speech. It is common for people with schizophrenia to have paranoid thoughts or hear voices.

How effective is art therapy for mental health? ›

They discovered strong evidence for the positive impact of the arts on physical and mental wellbeing. A recent report by the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research also found evidence that art therapy was effective at reducing depression and anxiety symptoms associated with psychological trauma.

Does viewing art improve mental health? ›

It's true—recent studies and research have proven that a trip to the art gallery or a museum can positively impact your health and well-being in several essential ways, like lowering anxiety and depression and boosting critical thinking skills.

Is schizophrenia more common in artists? ›

Creative people—or at least those with degrees in creative fields—have a 90 percent higher chance of being diagnosed with schizophrenia than people working in non-creative fields, according to a new study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry.

Which famous painter had schizophrenia? ›

Despite the fact that Edvard Munch suffered from depression, anxiety, and probably schizophrenia, he refused treatment for some time. He stated: “My sufferings are part of myself and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.

What is schizophrenia associated with? ›

Risk factors

Having a family history of schizophrenia. Some pregnancy and birth complications, such as malnutrition or exposure to toxins or viruses that may impact brain development. Taking mind-altering (psychoactive or psychotropic) drugs during teen years and young adulthood.

What are the main mental blocks to creativity? ›

What Blocks People From Creativity?
  • Being Too Serious. ...
  • Not Having Creative Outlets. ...
  • Personal Problems. ...
  • Poor Communication. ...
  • Being Afraid of Taking Risks or Being Wrong. ...
  • Not Knowing What's Expected. ...
  • Bring in Speakers. ...
  • Move to a Different Environment.
Sep 22, 2022

What are the mental barriers to creativity? ›

Need to get your creative juices flowing? It starts by overcoming these hurdles.
  • Conformity.
  • Fear of Judgment/Looking Like a Fool.
  • Ready Acceptance of the Obvious.
  • The Creativity is There--Claim it!
May 23, 2016

What part of the brain affects creativity? ›

Frontal cortex—the frontal cortex has long been thought of as the hub or center of creativity, as it seems to be responsible for many of the functions that contribute to creative thinking (such as working (or short-term) memory).


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