Strange Bedfellows: The Family Proclamation and Evolutionary Psychology

December 13, 2008    By: Geoff J @ 10:24 am   Category: Evolutionary psychology,Mormon Culture/Practices

Satoshi Kanazawa is an evolutionary psychologist and he blogs over at Psychology Today. Earlier this week he published a post called “How to be happy” (Hat tip to the BCC sideblog). Here are some relevant excerpts:

What can evolutionary psychology say about how to be happy? …

I would say that the best thing for people to do to become happier is to get in touch with their animal nature … Recognize and accept that we are animals. We are all designed by evolution to be certain way, and no amount of denial or fighting will change our evolutionary legacy and its implications.

One of the things that evolution has done is to make men and women very different. … One of the ways that men and women are different is in what makes them happy.

Forget what feminists, hippies, and liberals have told you in the last half century. They are all lies based on political ideology and conviction, not on science. Contrary to what they may have told you, it is very unlikely that money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power will make women happy. Similarly, it is very unlikely that quitting their jobs, dropping out of the rat race, and becoming stay-at-home dads to spend all their times with their children will make men happy.

Money, promotions, the corner office, social status, and political power are what make men happy (as long as they win, of course, but then dropping out is by definition a defeat). Spending time with their children is what makes women happy. … it is very unlikely that women will be truly happy without having children …

Men and women are very different, because they are designed by millions of years of evolution to be very different. Women cannot become happy by pretending to be men, and men cannot become happy by pretending to be women.

By happy coincidence for Mr. Kanazawa, two days later Neilson released a study that backed up his opinions very nicely. Here is an excerpt from the Reuters article on the study:

LONDON (Reuters) – Men are happier with money, while women find greater joy in friendships and relationships with their children, co-workers and bosses, a new global survey reveals. …

“Because they are happier with non-economic factors, women’s happiness is more recession-proof which might explain why women around the world are happier in general than men are,” Nielsen Vice President of Consumer Research Bruce Paul said in a statement.

Now if this advice sounds familiar to our Mormon readers that is probably because it is strikingly similar to the advice we Mormons have received on how to be happy from our spiritual leaders. Here are some relevant quotes from the The Family: A Proclamation to the World:

The family is ordained of God. … Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. … By divine design, fathers are … responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.

So from both of the perspectives the goal of human happiness is best achieved via fathers primarily making the money and providing for the family while women primarily care for children. But while the means and the ends match very closely, the explanation for why the recipe works is very different. One says our bodies have been pre-programmed by millions of years of evolution to make this recipe work and the other says that God designed it that way.

Perhaps the real question is whether these two explanations are even at odds with each other. I suspect not. Yet one approach says we need to embrace our inner animal to be happy and the other approach preaches that “the natural man is an enemy of God”. So clearly there is some severe disagreement between the philosophies. Strange bedfellows indeed.

What say ye?

45 Comments »

  1. I like how you lined up the articles. One can argue all day what makes one happy but over time the majority of the people are going to gravitate towards true happiness. Or at least become aware of what they should do to become happy.

    Comment by Rick — December 13, 2008 @ 11:09 am

  2. Geoff as a sideways look into this, If I am genetically predetermined to be more happy making the money and my wife is genetically predetermined to be more happy having the relationships, then what does this mean in terms of libertarian free will? If some of my behaviour is genetically determined, is that behavior excluded from discussion of free will?

    Further, what about random mutation. What if I am the one who wants to make money and hang out with my kids?

    Comment by Matt W. — December 13, 2008 @ 11:49 am

  3. Those are the kinds of difficult questions I hoped we could discuss in this thread Matt. Kanasawa and his evolutionary psychology colleagues make what I think are some fairly compelling arguments. (I’ll likely post more on other arguments later). But whenever we start to look at these genetic factors to explain human behavior the issues of libertarian free will vs determinism and spirits vs. bodies inevitably come up.

    It was this sort of thing that contributed the Jeff G deciding to leave the church and embrace atheism after all. That’s partially why I call the perspectives strange bedfellows.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 13, 2008 @ 11:57 am

  4. Other “happiness” research shows that when parents interact with children, it makes them less happy than doing other activities, like watching TV.

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1202940,00.html

    My interpretation is that raising kids is hard. There are very few moments while raising kids that make us truly happy. The more enduring happiness comes after children have grown, and are able to make effective decisions on their own.

    Comment by Darin W — December 13, 2008 @ 12:13 pm

  5. If I am genetically predetermined [predisposed?] to be more happy making the money and my wife is genetically predetermined to be more happy having the relationships, then what does this mean in terms of libertarian free will?

    Umm, nothing? Is there an LFWer out there that who never considered that there are genetic influences on our desires and behaviors? The assumption underlying the question seems to be that LFW requires a will to be working in complete isolation from influences, genetic or otherwise. I don’t find that assumption to be reasonable. Is that not the assumption?

    Comment by Jacob J — December 13, 2008 @ 12:57 pm

  6. On the topic of the post, I don’t think that study is going to be very good support for the theory that men and women are genetically programmed to be happy in different ways. The opposing viewpoint is that the differences are explained by the differing roles played by men and women and that these roles are a product of social conditioning rather than genetics. Since the study does nothing to control for this, it doesn’t really speak to the issue you are raising.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 13, 2008 @ 1:05 pm

  7. I agree with the man that women are not made happier by entering into the “marketplace.” However, I disagree with him when he says that men are made happier by entering into the marketplace. The marketplace is a necessary evil, but not the source of happiness for either men or women.

    Comment by Craig Atkinson — December 13, 2008 @ 1:10 pm

  8. I’m not sure I get the logic here. Apparently, as long as studies show that genes influence behavior that is congruent with LDS doctrine, I’m supposed to believe that those studies vindicate LDS doctrine. On the other hand, if studies show that genes influence behavior that is inconsistent with LDS doctrine, I’m supposed to believe that genetic studies are falsified and/or erroneous.

    My, how confusing! ;-)

    Comment by Nick Literski — December 13, 2008 @ 1:46 pm

  9. Who is proposing that logic Nick? (Certainly not me.)

    Comment by Geoff J — December 13, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

  10. And I thought that the religious right made for bad bedfellows.

    Comment by Chris H. — December 13, 2008 @ 1:54 pm

  11. Jacob, Craig,

    I’m not sure how to respond to your comments. The first question is whether we should believe Kanasawa’s assertions and logic. I find them persuasive enough to be given the benefit of the doubt at least. But even if he arrives at the same conclusions as Mormon leaders they come to those conclusions from very different directions. For instance, here is another quote from that post:

    One of the things that evolution has done is to make men and women very different. In some ways (though not in others), males of one species are often more similar to males of other species than to females of their own species, and vice versa. In some ways, in many ways, men are more similar to male chimpanzees or gorillas than to women.

    Basically the theory is that men are genetically programmed (because of evolutionary influence) to compete for reproductive partners and women are genetically predisposed to find the best reproductive partner and raise offspring.

    So obviously this guy is heavy on the “nature” argument and light on “nurture”.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 13, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

  12. Geoff,

    Why should I give his assertions and logic the benefit of the doubt if he fails to address the competing theory which can spin up explanations of the same behavior just as easily? If you find them persuasive, perhaps you can explain where the persuasive power lies. For the person who doesn’t already agree with him, what evidence does he provide that tends to discredits their opposing view or demonstrate that his view explains the behavior better? As far as I can tell, he gives none.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 13, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  13. Jacob I guess it is a question of degrees. Where is the line between genetics influencing my behaviour and genetics determining my bahaviour?

    I mean, either we are not determined or we are determined. (I’d say I don’t think we are really geneticly determined.)

    Also, how are we defining happiness here?

    One thing that is interesting about these studies is that since women are naturally more interested in investing in relationships, and relationships are what God is all about, and not acquiring money, then we could say that

    A) the Mormon folk idea that Women are better than men and closer to God than men, and thus the priesthood is to help men, etc,

    or even

    B) God has a female brain

    Of Couse, according to this study My Brain is more female, so whatever.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 13, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  14. I mean, either we are not determined or we are determined.

    Sure, I agree. But, if we are not fully determined, that doesn’t mean we are not influenced by all the kinds of things that supposedly determine our behavior. Right?

    since women are naturally more interested in investing in relationships, and relationships are what God is all about

    I don’t agree with either premise, but a response on those points would be pretty far off-topic.

    Comment by Jacob J — December 13, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

  15. Jacob,

    Well if you only looked at the one post there isn’t any evidence provided there — only conclusions.

    I suppose the question is whether you find arguments from the field of evolutionary psychology persuasive or not. I don’t know how much credence to give it but since I find the arguments for human evolution persuasive I think that ideas arising from the field of evolutionary psychology are worth considering.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 13, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

  16. I don’t agree with either premise, but a response on those points would be pretty far off-topic.

    Jacob, post it up as a seperate post if it isn’t a fit here. I’m interested.

    Sure, I agree. But, if we are not fully determined, that doesn’t mean we are not influenced by all the kinds of things that supposedly determine our behavior. Right?

    I don’t think we make our decissions completely by random, but I’ve been argued down on this blog because if our decisions are limited by our options and our behaviour is influenced by our genetics, our experience, our environment, etc, then our bahaviours are determined. Doesn’t that push for compatabalism of some sort? I thought you rejected compatabilism in an older thread. I am totally fine with the idea that we are 90% determined and 10% LFW, or whatever, but I’m not sure existentially what that even means.

    Geoff: I’ve read a bit about this in the past, but I’ve always wondered why men are predisposed to “compete for reproductive partners” and women are predisposed “to find the best reproductive partner and raise offspring”? If you go back, through some sort of evolution chain to look for reasons for this, at some point are we going to find there was a scarcity of women that women needed to compete over them? Or were they competing over the best repoductive partner? If so, did they not have to find the best reporudctive partner just like the woman? And on the Woman’s side of things, when she found the best partner (based on her internal genetically predetermined criteria, I assume) what if he was the best for some other woman as well. Did she have to compete?

    If I were going to lay out an evolutionary map, I guess it would be more that women and their children were more likely to survive at one point in time if they had a man who stuck around and protected them while they were too small to defend themselves and could only live by breastfeeding. Thus men who had better instincts and physical characteristics for survival were more likely to have children that survived, so those traits would pass on. On the flip side, Women who had better instincts and physical characteristics for nurturing those children had a better chance of passing on those characteristics becuase those children survived. Thus men are provided, women are nurturers.

    However, Baby Formula, that great leveler, now exists, and survival patterns will never be the same, so evolutionary patterns along these lines should slowly disolve over millions of years.

    Or something like that.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 13, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

  17. Matt: Jacob, post it up as a seperate post if it isn’t a fit here. I’m interested.

    Since you are the one asserting that “women are naturally more interested in investing in relationships” it seems that you should be the one posting on that claim and defending it, right? I don’t think it is safe to make that sweeping claim based on the information I provided in this post.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 13, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

  18. Matt: Doesn’t that push for compatabalism of some sort?

    No. Compatibilism is determinism so if a person can make any non-causally determined (and non-random) choice then compatibilism is false and LFW in one form or another is correct. However I have postulated that we rarely make decisions that buck or veto the the stimulus/conditioning that have helped form us in this life. See here and here and here.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 13, 2008 @ 4:27 pm

  19. Matt,

    Regarding your questions about male and female motivations, I am probably the wrong guy to ask since it is not my specialty. As I mentioned Jeff Giliam was really into this stuff and as I recall the basic idea is that related to the “meme” concept where entire species protect themselves via evolutionary pre-programming of the individual animals in the species. So basically the competition for breeding is instinctual in the animal kingdom in order to protect the ongoing existence of the species. Guys like Kanazawa simply use that idea and apply it to the human animal.

    I think part of the theory is that men instinctually compete for the best females genetically (thus men like “hot” girls) and that women instinctually compete for the men that can best provide protection and safety to raise offspring (thus women like rich guys). So yeah, you are getting into the swing of things with your penultimate paragraph on comment #16.

    Again, there is apparently a lot written on this subject and I am no expert.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 13, 2008 @ 4:38 pm

  20. it is strikingly similar to the advice we Mormons have received on how to be happy from our spiritual leaders.

    Fortunately, the Proclamation left out the part about killing all the liberals.

    Comment by Last Lemming — December 13, 2008 @ 4:38 pm

  21. LL,

    Yeah — I tried to pull out the similarities in the post. But of course my overall point is that the two schools of thought are truly strange bedfellows.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 13, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

  22. Geoff(17)

    In the Post, you quoted:

    LONDON (Reuters) – Men are happier with money, while women find greater joy in friendships and relationships with their children, co-workers and bosses

    So I said:

    women are naturally more interested in investing in relationships

    so I thought I was just repeating the premise, rather than making a new assertion.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 13, 2008 @ 5:03 pm

  23. Matt,

    Even if we assume women do indeed “find greater joy in” relationships than men do, it is a new assertion to claim that women “are naturally more interested in investing in relationships” than men. For one thing, it could be argued that for men, being a better provider/protector is the way man naturally invest in relationships to begin with.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 13, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

  24. Strange bedfellows, indeed. That whole article is premised upon a horrid naturalism; a scientific fundamentalism. But then again, one can find similarities between communism and consecration.

    I really do hope there was humor intended when he talked about killing all the liberals–not so sure.

    Comment by Jack — December 13, 2008 @ 5:19 pm

  25. Yeah Jack — having read quite a few posts by this guy it seemed pretty clear to me that he likes to rattle cages with facetious and over the top comments like that.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 13, 2008 @ 5:27 pm

  26. Provided that one accepts the premise that this is the way things are (which I generally do), the pertinent theological questions are:

    1) To what degree did God cause this situation to come about (divine (aka “intelligent”) design)?

    2) If he did not, to what degree does God approve?

    3) If God does not approve, to what degree does he want us to fight this instinct?

    4) If he does want us to fight it, will any good that results only be at the margins, or is there a real possibility of changing nature by force of will? Overcoming the natural man as it were.

    Comment by Mark D. — December 13, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

  27. Overcoming the natural man as it were.

    Kanazawa is claiming that following the same counsel given in the Proclamation — for men to primarily provide and protect and for women to be the primary caregivers for the children — brings people into harmony with their inner animal and thus leads to happiness. Ironically, our “inner animal” sounds suspiciously similar to “the natural man” to me.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 13, 2008 @ 7:55 pm

  28. Ok, so to state my assumptions

    A. Your Post says Women find greater Joy in relationships

    B. I assume we are more interested in investing time and energy into things that bring us Joy (this idea is really from the “positive psychology” strenghthsfinder program developed by Gallup, If you are interested, I’ll do a post on it)

    therefore
    C. I assert women are genetically predisposed to be more interested in investing in relationships than men

    Anything I am missing?

    For one thing, it could be argued that for men, being a better provider/protector is the way man naturally invest in relationships to begin with
    If this is true, then the statement in the post is false, in that Reuters is saying women get more happiness from relationships and and men from financial success.

    of course, It is hard to say what is going on in the Reuters article, as the Poll by Nielsen, in order to really make the claim that the recession is making men less and happy and women are staying more happy, would have to have the same base of men and women and interview them over time, meaning they would have to have been interviewed before the recession started and now, and if the women’s happiness was constant and the men’s went down, the assertion could be made. But from the article it sounds more like the study was all done in April 2008.

    Comment by Matt W. — December 13, 2008 @ 8:06 pm

  29. (Note: I haven’t read all the comments yet)

    It seems to me that a common error folks make is in focusing in on happiness as if that were the be all and end all. Interestingly my wife and I were discussing this today.

    Clearly having children makes one “less happy.” Because you have far less money and time and typically are sleep deprived. Yet most people would say it was worth it. That is they are less happy but more content at being less happy.

    As I understand it this has been replicated in study after study.

    While we may eventually be happy because of our choices I think we err (both psychologically and theologically) if we assume short term happiness is indicative of much.

    Comment by clark — December 14, 2008 @ 12:10 am

  30. To add, I think drawing gender comments from this is probably erroneous. I think there are better explanations. (i.e. the biology of child birth and nursing and the benifits to the children – and the Church clearly desires large families which mean women will be out of commission for years) Add in the fact that in our society it’s plain harder for women to get ahead due to sexism and chances are the man will make more money. So if you are going to have only only person earning money it makes sense for it to be the guy. But i don’t think it covers every case and we should be careful.

    But appealing to evolutionary psychology of happiness seems dubious to me.

    Comment by clark — December 14, 2008 @ 12:12 am

  31. I think drawing gender comments from this is probably erroneous.

    Clearly, guys like Kanazawa disagree with you on this opinion.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 14, 2008 @ 9:30 am

  32. in our society it’s plain harder for women to get ahead due to sexism and chances are the man will make more money

    I think this is a good point. It would be interesting to see what controls are in place in the Nielson study for whether Women are more happy in relationships and less happy in Money issues because of sexism, etc. After all, it makes sense for women’s happiness to be low on this regard in general, as they have always been paid less for the same amount of work.

    Without knowing much about the Nielson findings, it’s hard to say how strong the correlations are, and without knowing the method of obtaining those correlations, it’s hard to determine if they are causative. Correlations are not Causations, after all…

    Comment by Matt W. — December 14, 2008 @ 9:40 am

  33. It is illegal in the United States to pay men and women unequal wages for jobs that require the same level of skill, effort, responsibility, etc.

    Of course there are actual instances of discrimination, but any suggestion that this sort of discrimination is both prevalent and serious makes one wonder why the EEOC is not having a field day enforcing the rules against every company in the country.

    Comment by Mark D. — December 14, 2008 @ 10:21 am

  34. Geoff there’s no doubt there’s a lot of people who buy this kind of reasoning. To me far too much of Evolutionary Psychology is “just so” explanations with nearly no empirical data to back them up. It’s one reason why EP has a bad reputation among many.

    Comment by clark — December 14, 2008 @ 7:59 pm

  35. I’m completely in agreement with Clark on this one. Evolutionary Psychology is speculation squared based on tenuous evidence and most often the relationship between the supposed evidence and the conclusions is simply non-existent.

    That said, no one believes that we act in an environment that doesn’t include genetic make-up to form our bodies and influences from past decisions and experiences. LFW isn’t incompatible in the least with genetic predispositions and tendencies. It is actually pretty difficult to frame genetics and their relation to behavior in a way that entails Laplacian determinism — the kind of causal relationships that are inimical to LFW.

    Further, what makes the “natural man” “happy” may differ markedly from the soul-satisfying joy of our eternal nature. I’d like to see some actual data that women with children are happier than those without. I’s like to see some scientifically sound way of defining and assessing human happiness — which I doubt is even possible.

    Comment by Blake — December 14, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

  36. Clark: To me far too much of Evolutionary Psychology is “just so” explanations with nearly no empirical data to back them up.

    Nice summation of the problem here. I too get the impression that is largely what is going on. It seems to me that Kanazawa and pals might be in the habit of coming up with explanations for human tendencies that on their face seem to make pretty good sense and then declare these theories to be “just so”.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 14, 2008 @ 9:14 pm

  37. I’d say there’s nothing wrong with this kind of speculation. (Indeed I’d say most metaphysical arguments end up being on par — and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with metaphysics) The danger is when it’s presented as more than it is. That is, presented as science.

    It’s important to form hypothesis and it’s also important to recognize the hidden premises out of which we reason. But part of the point is to then test and investigate those hypotheses not treat them as answers.

    Comment by Clark — December 15, 2008 @ 12:58 pm

  38. 金沢-kun is so stuck in the 21st century that his conclusions should be tossed out the window even before we see how he obtained the data, or how he interprets it.

    What percentage of the earth’s population today is engaged in the market economy? Probably a greater percentage than at any previous time in history. But how many years do we need to go back before the answer to that question becomes “less than half” or “less than 10%”? And for how many do terms like “promotions” “corner office” and titles actually mean anything?

    金沢-kun is asking the wrong questions.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 15, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

  39. Mark B.,

    Kanazawa’s argument in that post has nothing to do with the market economy. His point is rather that the males of the human species have evolved as providers/protectors and the females have evolved to be nurturing parents of little ones. “The corner office” reference is simply a symbol he is using of competitive success for men in the 21st century.

    PS — What’s up with the “金沢-kun”?

    Comment by Geoff J — December 15, 2008 @ 1:25 pm

  40. Which part? the 金沢 or the kun? The first is his name, the second is an honorific, sort of.

    And, the competitive, beat-the-others-to-the-top mindset: how does that fit the subsistence farmer or the hunter-gatherer?

    Comment by Mark B. — December 15, 2008 @ 1:33 pm

  41. Thanks for the explanation of the name Mark.

    how does that fit the subsistence farmer or the hunter-gatherer?

    Well from what I can gather in a brief reading of his positions, Kanazawa would say that even in hunter-gatherer and subsistence farming societies there is social status and power as well as relative wealth. Those are the types of things that attract more (or better) breeding mates for men.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 15, 2008 @ 1:55 pm

  42. Evolutionary biology as a whole is riddled with “just so” explanations. I don’t see why evolutionary psychology is any worse.

    Comment by Mark D. — December 15, 2008 @ 11:14 pm

  43. True dat Mark D.

    Comment by Geoff J — December 15, 2008 @ 11:20 pm

  44. Kanazawa knows what he is talking about. Free will is irrelevant. Everything is always nature AND nurture together – it’s like asking what’s a better way to measure a rectangle, the length or the width?

    This all goes make to mating strategies and parental investment. It takes men a few seconds of investment (i.e. ejaculation) to succesfully reproduce, so it was to the man’s advantage ancestrally to favor quantity of offspring over quality. Also, men have an unlimited amount of sperm, and can reproduce well into their seventies. If evolution is about sending your genes into the future and producing viable offspring, then it is to a man’s advantage to access as many mates as he can. And what do those mates want? Status and resources. What do the men want? Young, fertile women.

    Women, on the other hand, have a limited number of gametes, and it took an ancestral women AT LEAST 3 years to succesfully reproduce (9 months gestation, plus lactation), versus a man’s few seconds of ejaculation. So the women is investing more, that’s why women are the sex that “chooses,” with such high investment in reproducion, it’s to her advantage to find a mate who will stick around and provide.

    Comment by Kelly — February 16, 2009 @ 2:02 pm

  45. Genetics can be determinative – some people’s genetics cause their body to grow to shorter adult height than others, some people have blue eyes or brown. Genetics can also can predispose to illness, bad behavior, bad judgement, low IQ. But behavior can be managed by people with genes that predispose to weakness. This is manifested by the kinds of things that tempt different people. Example: Money does not tempt me. I can be completely broke, even desperate financially and yet work with other peoples’ money unsupervised – I would never steal. Others have an overwhelming need to steal whenever the chance offers. Some are tempted to view pornography and once started find it impossible to quit without others’ help, while other people are completely repulsed by pornography and when they see it are not tempted to return to it. How does a klepto keep from stealing when he doesn’t want to steal? By intentionally modifying his behavior. How does one who is addicted to pornography overcome the addiction? By seeking appropriate help, then by modifying his behavior so that he does not encounter it when alone. So, we are susceptible to some temptations, not to others, yet we all can exercise our agency and defend ourselves against them.

    RE men and women being different, I refer you to a fascinating book called “Brain Sex”. It summarizes peer-reviewed articles from scientific journals. The articles are research reports of studies of human brain function that investigate the differences between men’s and women’s brains. They outline the functional differences and the physical differences and found that the differences develop in utero as a response to the fetus’s own sex hormones. While reading the book, I often thought “everyone knows this, why spend money on a study?” but other times I learned a lot. Fascinating reading for non-scientists.

    Comment by Craig Davis — July 6, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

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