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Bernadette Kun Institute of Psychology, ELTE Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary

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This commentary addresses a recent article by Griffiths et al. (2018) about myths in work addiction. In response to the narrative review, I reflect on all the myths that the authors highlighted and the argument on how they tried to counter them. In comparison to an earlier overview by Robinson (1998), it is clear which myths about work addiction are persistent and represent the most important issues about this problem. Most of the myths were countered by the authors, but some of them need more evidence to be unequivocally defeated. The commentary focuses on the most important future research directions based on the myths discussed in this paper.

Abstract

This commentary addresses a recent article by Griffiths et al. (2018) about myths in work addiction. In response to the narrative review, I reflect on all the myths that the authors highlighted and the argument on how they tried to counter them. In comparison to an earlier overview by Robinson (1998), it is clear which myths about work addiction are persistent and represent the most important issues about this problem. Most of the myths were countered by the authors, but some of them need more evidence to be unequivocally defeated. The commentary focuses on the most important future research directions based on the myths discussed in this paper.

Introduction

The article Ten myths about work addiction by Griffiths, Demetrovics, and Atroszko (2018) is a narrative review on work addiction (WA). Today, gambling disorder is the only behavioral addiction in fifth edition of Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013), but there is a significant effort to have more scientific evidence about other behavioral addictions, which may be also part of DSM in the future. Simultaneously, there are questions regarding which problems are scientifically justified as behavioral addictions and which are not. In a recent paper (Kardefelt-Winther et al., 2017), several disorders were listed as examples of overpathologizing common behaviors. This article has generated arguments between researchers, and Griffiths et al. (2018) wanted to take part in this conversation. Griffiths et al. (2018) review the current knowledge of WA in the context of 10 myths. This approach is very relevant and useful, because WA is a problem that every person has an idea about – but unfortunately, these beliefs are frequently not in line with research findings. The authors’ aim is to counter those myths that frame this field.

It was exactly 20 years ago when Robinson (1998) first collected myths about WA. He also specified 10 myths and some of them were similar or exactly the same as in Griffiths et al.’s study (Table 1). In 1998, however, we have only very poor knowledge of WA and therefore Robinson (1998) did not use any scientific evidence to counter those myths. But the review of Griffiths et al. (2018) is based on research findings, which underline its validity. Table 1 illustrates which myths are articulated by both Robinson (1998) and Griffiths et al. (2018). We can say that these are the key questions about WA and it seems that there are still no perfect answers to all of these questions.

Table 1.

Myths about work addiction by Robinson (1998) and Griffiths et al. (2018)

Robinson (1998) Griffiths et al. (2018) Common myths
Workaholics are motivated out of loyalty to their companies to provide a decent living for their families or to make contributions to society Work addiction is a new behavioral addiction
Workaholism occurs because of high-pressure jobs that demand more than a nine-to-five commitment Work addiction is similar to other behavioral addictions
Workaholism is a secondary addiction to the more serious, primary addictions There are only psychosocial consequences of work addiction
Recovery from workaholism will impair work quality and productivity Work addiction and workaholism are the same thing
Recovery from workaholism simply requires cutting back on work hours Work addiction occurs as a consequence of individual personality factors
If one is not gainfully employed, he or she cannot be a workaholic Work addiction only occurs in adulthood
Workaholism is a positive addiction Some types of work addiction are positive Work addiction is a positive addiction
Workaholics must enjoy their jobs to be workaholics Work addiction is a transient behavioral pattern related to situational factors
The solution to workaholism is to cut back on work hours Work addiction is a function of the time spent engaging in work Work addiction is equal to overwork
Workaholism is not a legitimate addiction, because it does not have a physiological base, as do the chemical and food addictions Work addiction is an example of overpathologizing everyday behavior and it will never be classed as a mental disorder in the DSM Work addiction is not a legitimate addiction

Note. DSM: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Myth 1: Work Addiction is a New Behavioral Addiction

Although the more intensive interest in WA has been started after the millennium, several principles were already articulated from 70s to 90s (Oates, 1971; Spence & Robbins, 1992). Therefore, it is absolutely a correct thought by the authors to not lump WA together with those problems that have still not possess enough evidence to define them as behavioral addictions, for example, “dance addiction” or “fortune risk addiction” (Kardefelt-Winther et al., 2017). Interest in behavioral addictions is generally increased nowadays, so it is true for WA too. However, it does not mean that WA has just emerged currently (see review by Sussman, 2012).

Myth 2: Work Addiction is Similar to Other Behavioral Addictions

The authors have argued that WA is fundamentally different from other behavioral addictions, whose statement is quite surprising. Griffiths’s (2005) created his “component model,” and this theoretical framework has been used for several behavioral addictions, for example, Internet addiction, exercise addiction, and WA as well. The emphasized special characteristics of WA (engage in the behavior for 8 hr a day; benefits, rewards, and respects) are definitely important and help the risk population to deny and hide their problems. This nature of WA has to be considered during interventions, but if the problem is defined as other behavioral addictions, then it is not exactly clear why the authors emphasized the uniqueness of WA.

Myth 3: There are Only Psychosocial Consequences of Work Addiction

A lot of evidence was presented by the authors to counter this myth. For instance, WA is related to CVD, depression, or physical illnesses (e.g., Andreassen, 2014; Sussman, 2012). They also did not mention other physical problems, which are connected to WA such as sleeping disturbances (Salanova et al., 2016), back pain (Matsudaira et al., 2013), sickness absence (Falco et al., 2013), or more frequent alcohol use (Salanova et al., 2016). These empirical results draw attention to several negative consequences of WA, which highlight the relevance of this problem. However, most of the studies were cross-sectional studies that are not suitable for exploring the causality between the variables. More longitudinal research is required to clarify if these negative aspects are real consequences of WA (as studied by Shimazu, Schaufeli, Kamiyama, & Kawakami, 2015 and Wojdylo, Karlsson, & Baumann, 2016 who found in follow-up studies that WA was related to increases in ill-health and psychological distress).

Myth 4: Work Addiction and Workaholism are the Same Things

The authors argued that it is problematic to use “workaholism” and “work addiction” interchangeably and only “work addiction” should be applied. The approach to differentiate between these terms is important, but it is clear that the scientific literature of WA was stemmed from “workaholism.” The first authors of the field (e.g., Oates, 1971; Spence & Robbins, 1992) used “workaholism,” and the later models and studies were built on this term. If there is a need to differentiate between these two terms, then it is crucial to creating exact definitions for both. The authors’ suggestion is “‘work addiction’ is a psychological construct, whereas ‘workaholism’ is arguably a more generic term.” That is, a quite basic division of the terms and more sophisticated differentiation would be needed.

Myth 5: Work Addiction Occurs as a Consequence of Individual Personality Factors

While 20 years ago (Robinson, 1998), the question was if there is enough evidence of psychological base of WA or not. At present, Griffiths et al. (2018) argued that exploring individual personality factors was not enough to understand WA. A huge number of studies were conducted to explore the relationship between personality and WA, and the results were well mixed. The authors emphasized that structural and situational factors of work have been understudied and much more attention is needed to assess both these factors and their interactions in the future.

Myth 6: Work Addiction Only Occurs in Adulthood

The authors argued that the term “study addiction” – which also was defined by them (Atroszko, Andreassen, Griffiths, & Pallesen, 2015) – is basically the antecedent of WA, so this problem exists before adulthood and before the person has a full-time job. They could verify their hypothesis in a longitudinal study where a significant relationship was confirmed between study addiction and the later WA (Atroszko, Andreassen, Griffiths, & Pallesen, 2016). Although this study has supported the authors’ theory, there is still a question: if “study addiction has been defined within work addiction framework and hypothesized to be a precursor or an early form of work addiction” as they said, why are different terms needed for study addiction and WA? If the problem is the same, maybe it would be clearer to use only “WA.”

Myth 7: Some Types of Work Addiction are Positive

We have to accept the authors’ argument that if WA is a real addiction, then it cannot be treated as a positive thing. There is a similarity between exercise addiction and WA (see also Myth 3), because exercise addiction was originally named as “positive addiction” by Glasser (1976), which was a false definition. If we have a look at the addictive disorders in DSM-5, it is absolutely clear that negative consequences of all the disorders are crucial criteria of the problems. The authors listed several examples for theories about positive forms of WAs (e.g., Killinger, 1992), but there are no evidence about negative consequences of “happy” or “motivated” or other positive forms of WA. If there are no negative consequences of these “positive forms” of WA, then we cannot accept them as addictions.

Myth 8: Work Addiction is a Transient Behavioral Pattern Related to Situational Factors

Comparing to Myth 5, it seems like this statement is exactly contrary to that one. The authors argued that WA is a stable pattern, and several longitudinal studies supported its persistence in time (e.g., Andreassen et al., 2016). These results underline that not only the job, the workplace, and other situational factors predict WA, but also individual factors (e.g., motivations, personality, and mental health) have at least the same importance behind WA. Therefore, Myths 5 and 8 are about the same: in future research, individual and situational factors and their interactions have to be assessed together.

Finally, the following are the permanent and important myths, which were discussed by both Robinson (1998) and Griffiths et al. (2018).

Myth 9: Work Addiction is a Function of Time Spent Engaging in Work

There is still a question if WA is equal to overwork or not. The authors drew attention to other behavioral addictions, for example, online gaming where time spent with the behavior is not a core component of the disorder (Király, Tóth, Urbán, Demetrovics, & Maráz, 2017). Simultaneously, they also cited evidence for lack of correlation between WA and time spent with work (Buelens & Poelmans, 2004) and presented two case studies, which also support this hypothesis. However, to provide a satisfactory answer to this key question, we need a much higher number of studies where comparison of two populations is undertaken: those people who are work-addicted and those who are not but they spent too much time with work. It would be significant to clarify what are the core differences between these groups. Then, this myth can be more obviously validated or countered.

Myth 10: Work Addiction is an Example of Overpathologizing Everyday Behavior and it Will Never be Classed as a Mental Disorder in DSM

This is maybe the most fundamental question of the study: if WA is a legitimate addiction or not. This question leads us to another important question: how we can define the criteria of WA? Obviously, the authors highlighted their (Griffiths’) components model to determine the criteria of WA. However, this model and especially its empirical testing do not have a long history in the field of WA (Andreassen, Griffiths, Hetland, & Pallesen, 2012; Griffiths, 2005), so there is no consensus about its applicability. At the same time, WA is a hidden problem, so at risk population does not frequently ask for help in psychiatry or addiction treatment centers. This fact can easily encourage the doubt in WA. Work-addicted people can be found in workplaces and it is very important to help them be aware of their problems. As it was already mentioned, WA has a relationship with several negative physical and mental states. These adverse consequences encourage the legitimacy of WA, but more research is needed.

To sum up, this article is very remarkable not only because it summarized the most important question of this field, but also it emphasized the most relevant future research directions on WA: (a) more longitudinal studies, (b) more studies about family members of work-addicted people, (c) more studies on cognitive and neurobiological functions, and (d) more studies on interactions between personality and structural and situational factors are required. In addition, more qualitative studies are definitely required to have a deeper knowledge of the patterns of WA.

Author’s contribution

BK contributed in conceptualization, methodology, writing, and editing of the manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

References

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    • Search Google Scholar
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  • Andreassen, C. S. (2014). Workaholism: An overview and current status of the research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3(1), 111. doi:10.1556/JBA.2.2013.017

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  • Falco, A. , Girardi, D. , Kravina, L. , Trifiletti, E. , Bartolucci, G. B. , Capozza, D. , & De Carlo, N. (2013). A The mediating role of psychophysic strain in the relationship between workaholism, job performance, and sickness absence. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 55(11), 12551261. doi:10.1097/JOM.0000000000000007

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  • Griffiths, M. D. , Demetrovics, Z. , & Atroszko, P. A. (2018). Ten myths about work addiction. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7, 113. doi:10.1556/2006.7.2018.05

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  • Kardefelt-Winther, D. , Heeren, A. , Schimmenti, A. , Rooij, A. , Maurage, P. , Carras, M. , & Billieux, J. (2017). How can we conceptualize behavioural addiction without pathologizing common behaviours? Addiction, 112(10), 17091715. doi:10.1111/add.13763

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Matsudaira, K. , Shimazu, A. , Fujii, T. , Kubota, K. , Sawada, T. , Kikuchi, N. , & Takahashi, M. (2013). Workaholism as a risk factor for depressive mood, disabling back pain, and sickness absence. PLoS One, 8(9), e75140. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075140

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Salanova, M. , Lopez-Gonzalez, A. A. , Llorens, S. , del Libano, M. , Vicente-Herrero, M. T. , & Tomas-Salva, M. (2016). Your work may be killing you! Workaholism, sleep problems and cardiovascular risk. Work & Stress, 30(3), 228242. doi:10.1080/02678373.2016.1203373

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Spence, J. T. , & Robbins, A. S. (1992). Workaholism: Definition, measurement, and preliminary results. Journal of Personality Assessment, 58(1), 160178. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa5801_15

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sussman, S. (2012). Workaholism: A review. Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy, 6, 4120. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.S6-001.1

  • Shimazu, A. , Schaufeli, W. B. , Kamiyama, K. , & Kawakami, N. (2015). Workaholism vs. work engagement: The two different predictors of future well-being and performance. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 22(1), 1823. doi:10.1007/s12529-014-9410-x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wojdylo, K. , Karlsson, W. , & Baumann, N. (2016). Do I feel ill because I crave for work or do I crave for work because I feel ill? A longitudinal analysis of work craving, self-regulation, and health. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(1), 9099. doi:10.1556/2006.5.2016.005

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Andreassen, C. S. (2014). Workaholism: An overview and current status of the research. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 3(1), 111. doi:10.1556/JBA.2.2013.017

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Andreassen, C. S. , Bjorvatn, B. , Moen, B. E. , Waage, S. , Magerøy, N. , & Pallesen, S. (2016). A longitudinal study of the relationship between the five-factor model of personality and workaholism. Testing, Psychometrics, Methodology in Applied Psychology, 23, 285298. doi:10.4473/TPM23.3.2

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Andreassen, C. S. , Griffiths, M. D. , Hetland, J. , & Pallesen, S. (2012). Development of a Work Addiction Scale. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 53(3), 265272. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9450.2012.00947.x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Atroszko, P. A. , Andreassen, C. S. , Griffiths, M. D. , & Pallesen, S. (2015). Study addiction – A new area of psychological study: Conceptualization, assessment, and preliminary empirical findings. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 4(2), 7584. doi:10.1556/2006.4.2015.007

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Atroszko, P. A. , Andreassen, C. S. , Griffiths, M. D. , & Pallesen, S. (2016). The relationship between study addiction and work addiction: A cross-cultural longitudinal study. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(4), 708714. doi:10.1556/2006.5.2016.076

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Buelens, M. , & Poelmans, S. A. (2004). Enriching the Spence and Robbins’ typology of workaholism: Demographic, motivational and organizational correlates. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 17(5), 440458. doi:10.1108/09534810410554470

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Falco, A. , Girardi, D. , Kravina, L. , Trifiletti, E. , Bartolucci, G. B. , Capozza, D. , & De Carlo, N. (2013). A The mediating role of psychophysic strain in the relationship between workaholism, job performance, and sickness absence. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 55(11), 12551261. doi:10.1097/JOM.0000000000000007

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Glasser, W. (1976). Positive addiction. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

  • Griffiths, M. D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10(4), 191197. doi:10.1080/14659890500114359

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Griffiths, M. D. , Demetrovics, Z. , & Atroszko, P. A. (2018). Ten myths about work addiction. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 7, 113. doi:10.1556/2006.7.2018.05

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kardefelt-Winther, D. , Heeren, A. , Schimmenti, A. , Rooij, A. , Maurage, P. , Carras, M. , & Billieux, J. (2017). How can we conceptualize behavioural addiction without pathologizing common behaviours? Addiction, 112(10), 17091715. doi:10.1111/add.13763

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Killinger, B. (1992). Workaholics, the respectable addicts. East Roseville, CA: Simon and Schuster.

  • Király, O. , Tóth, D. , Urbán, R. , Demetrovics, Z. , & Maráz, A. (2017). Intense video gaming is not essentially problematic. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 31(7), 807817. doi:10.1037/adb0000316

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Matsudaira, K. , Shimazu, A. , Fujii, T. , Kubota, K. , Sawada, T. , Kikuchi, N. , & Takahashi, M. (2013). Workaholism as a risk factor for depressive mood, disabling back pain, and sickness absence. PLoS One, 8(9), e75140. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075140

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Oates, W. (1971). Confessions of a workaholic: The facts about work addiction. New York, NY: World Publishing Co.

  • Robinson, B. E. (1998). Chained to the desk: A guidebook for workaholics, their partners and children, and the clinicians who treat them. New York, NY: New York University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Salanova, M. , Lopez-Gonzalez, A. A. , Llorens, S. , del Libano, M. , Vicente-Herrero, M. T. , & Tomas-Salva, M. (2016). Your work may be killing you! Workaholism, sleep problems and cardiovascular risk. Work & Stress, 30(3), 228242. doi:10.1080/02678373.2016.1203373

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Spence, J. T. , & Robbins, A. S. (1992). Workaholism: Definition, measurement, and preliminary results. Journal of Personality Assessment, 58(1), 160178. doi:10.1207/s15327752jpa5801_15

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sussman, S. (2012). Workaholism: A review. Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy, 6, 4120. doi:10.4172/2155-6105.S6-001.1

  • Shimazu, A. , Schaufeli, W. B. , Kamiyama, K. , & Kawakami, N. (2015). Workaholism vs. work engagement: The two different predictors of future well-being and performance. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 22(1), 1823. doi:10.1007/s12529-014-9410-x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wojdylo, K. , Karlsson, W. , & Baumann, N. (2016). Do I feel ill because I crave for work or do I crave for work because I feel ill? A longitudinal analysis of work craving, self-regulation, and health. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(1), 9099. doi:10.1556/2006.5.2016.005

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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  • Jeffrey L. DEREVENSKY (McGill University, Canada)
  • Geert DOM (University of Antwerp, Belgium)
  • Nicki DOWLING (Deakin University, Geelong, Australia)
  • Hamed EKHTIARI (University of Minnesota, United States)
  • Jon ELHAI (University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio, USA)
  • Ana ESTEVEZ (University of Deusto, Spain)
  • Fernando FERNANDEZ-ARANDA (Bellvitge University Hospital, Barcelona, Spain)
  • Naomi FINEBERG (University of Hertfordshire, United Kingdom)
  • Sally GAINSBURY (The University of Sydney, Camperdown, NSW, Australia)
  • Belle GAVRIEL-FRIED (The Bob Shapell School of Social Work, Tel Aviv University, Israel)
  • Biljana GJONESKA (Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Republic of North Macedonia)
  • Marie GRALL-BRONNEC (University Hospital of Nantes, France)
  • Jon E. GRANT (University of Minnesota, USA)
  • Mark GRIFFITHS (Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom)
  • Joshua GRUBBS (University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, USA)
  • Anneke GOUDRIAAN (University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
  • Susumu HIGUCHI (National Hospital Organization Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center, Japan)
  • David HODGINS (University of Calgary, Canada)
  • Eric HOLLANDER (Albert Einstein College of Medicine, USA)
  • Zsolt HORVÁTH (Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary)
  • Susana JIMÉNEZ-MURCIA (Clinical Psychology Unit, Bellvitge University Hospital, Barcelona, Spain)
  • Yasser KHAZAAL (Geneva University Hospital, Switzerland)
  • Orsolya KIRÁLY (Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary)
  • Chih-Hung KO (Faculty of Medicine, College of Medicine, Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan)
  • Shane KRAUS (University of Nevada, Las Vegas, NV, USA)
  • Hae Kook LEE (The Catholic University of Korea, Republic of Korea)
  • Bernadette KUN (Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary)
  • Katerina LUKAVSKA (Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic)
  • Giovanni MARTINOTTI (‘Gabriele d’Annunzio’ University of Chieti-Pescara, Italy)
  • Gemma MESTRE-BACH (Universidad Internacional de la Rioja, La Rioja, Spain)
  • Astrid MÜLLER (Hannover Medical School, Germany)
  • Daniel Thor OLASON (University of Iceland, Iceland)
  • Ståle PALLESEN (University of Bergen, Norway)
  • Afarin RAHIMI-MOVAGHAR (Teheran University of Medical Sciences, Iran)
  • József RÁCZ (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Hungary)
  • Michael SCHAUB (University of Zurich, Switzerland)
  • Marcantanio M. SPADA (London South Bank University, United Kingdom)
  • Daniel SPRITZER (Study Group on Technological Addictions, Brazil)
  • Dan J. STEIN (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
  • Sherry H. STEWART (Dalhousie University, Canada)
  • Attila SZABÓ (Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary)
  • Hermano TAVARES (Instituto de Psiquiatria do Hospital das Clínicas da Faculdade de Medicina, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil)
  • Alexander E. VOISKOUNSKY (Moscow State University, Russia)
  • Aviv M. WEINSTEIN (Ariel University, Israel)
  • Anise WU (University of Macau, Macao, China)

 

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