Weekend Diversion: Fill-in-the-blanks

“It’s so fine and yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.” –Paul Cezanne

All over the world, hundreds of millions of families are getting together this weekend for a variety of reasons. And a large number of them will have, as part of their nature, a big announcement made. Depending on the announcement and the family, reactions will vary greatly. As you keep this in mind, I’d like you to listen to the French band, Air, and their unheralded electronica masterpiece,


There are many possible answers to the following question, and there is no right or wrong answer. But I’d like you to look at the image below, and I’d like you to fill-in-the-blanks by naming the first three English words that come to your mind. Ready? Go!


Like I said, there are no wrong answers. And it’s very likely that your answer varied depending on a few things, such as how the music made you feel (if you were playing it), how the prompt about family made you feel, and your overall mood. Maybe you chose neutral words, like king, kite, or — perhaps inspired by family — kids.

But maybe if I had given you a different prompt, and had made you think of something different, perhaps your words would have been different. For instance, what if I had shown this image instead?


(Image credit: Dan Belasco Rogers, of A. Baehr and S. New.)

You might be more likely to have thought of different words, such as kiss or kind. But some interesting research has just come out of the University of Rochester; when given a prompt such as the rest of the (uncropped) image, below, the reactions of many people were vastly different.


People were far more likely to fill-in-the-blanks with aggressive words, such as “kick” or “kill” after being prompted to think about gay couples or individuals. But not everyone exhibited this, mind you. It turns out that people who both harbored an unacknowledged attraction to the same sex and who also grew up with authoritarian parents who forbade such desires were far more likely to feel that way. In other words, homophobia and violent feelings towards homosexuality were attributable to a combination of self-phobia and social conditioning.

From the University’s Press Release:

The paper includes four separate experiments, conducted in the United States and Germany, with each study involving an average of 160 college students. The findings provide new empirical evidence to support the psychoanalytic theory that the fear, anxiety, and aversion that some seemingly heterosexual people hold toward gays and lesbians can grow out of their own repressed same-sex desires, Ryan says. The results also support the more modern self-determination theory, developed by Ryan and Edward Deci at the University of Rochester, which links controlling parenting to poorer self-acceptance and difficulty valuing oneself unconditionally.

The whole study (and synopsis) is really interesting, and is the first one (that I know of) providing very compelling evidence that links homophobia and violent reactions to self-phobia. As a couple of compelling reads are making the rounds, I thought it would be nice to throw a little science into the mix.

I’m no one to tell anyone else how to live (and wouldn’t want to be), but I would encourage everyone to be true to themselves and as kind and generous as you can to everyone you encounter. Let everyone you know and care about that they’re great, and worthy of love exactly as they are. And happy holidays (or springtime, if you don’t have a holiday) to one and all!


  1. #1 Daniel Clements
    April 8, 2012

    The music wouldn’t play for me, and there was no other prompting, but the three words I came up with are all mentioned in the post: kick, kill, kind.

    Does it really mean something, or are they just common words?

    Or did that violent video game blasting out of the other room influence me?

  2. #2 Caleb Fennell
    April 8, 2012

    Talisman still makes me weep, but today, and for different reasons… much more so when coupled with your post.

  3. #3 ManYunSoo
    April 9, 2012

    To be fair, the couple in that image have their eyes closed and they kinda look like a pair of corpses.

  4. #4 DJ
    April 9, 2012

    So I thought of “kiss”, then “kill”, then “kilo” (not sure of that last one counts as english, or even as a full word for that matter). I didn’t play the song and I hadn’t scrolled down to the images yet. What the heck does that mean?

  5. #5 Dan
    April 9, 2012

    I thought: The one on the left is farting and the one on the right is smelling.

  6. #6 noel
    April 9, 2012

    We gay folk have been rolling our eyes for years at the obviousness of certain homophobic closet cases. It’s especially funny when they say they know how attractive the idea of gay sex is – just don’t do it!

  7. #7 AngelGabriel
    April 10, 2012

    Solid research.
    Thanks, Ethan.

    Makes sense that homophobia is related to an individual’s repressed self phobia. (e.g. the good Catholic who can’t express his homosexuality, becomes a priest to deny his sexuality. Innocent boys have suffered.)

    I have no problem with openly homosexual priest, ministers and teachers instructing children. But the homophobic denier of his own sexual orientation, is a ticking time bomb who should not be allowed to teach or minister to children.

    Full disclosure: I am straight.

  8. #8 rolak
    April 10, 2012

    Hi Daniel Clements, even in GEMA-ruled Germoney this YT-version is visible and herable. Two days late? 😉

  9. #9 rolak
    April 10, 2012

    I’d like to buy an ‘a’ for ‘hearable’…

  10. #10 Vince Whirlwind
    April 10, 2012

    “So I thought of “kiss”, then “kill”, then “kilo” ……What the heck does that mean?”

    What it means is that this subject is still not a science, just a pseudo-science faculty that harbours people with problems they want to project onto others. In fact this is an experiment probably carefully designed to give the results they needed to support a narrative they pre-invented.

    “kiss” “kick” “king”, for the record, and no, I don’t think it means anything at all.

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