January 7, 2009

A deceptive signaling theory of The Eternal Ingenue

Alias Clio made up a list of female heartbreaker types, one of whom is The Eternal Ingenue. Almost everyone who's read that description, including me, was confusing this type with a girly girl -- one who just happened to be a heartbreaker. But I've come to realize that she is really a wolf in sheep's clothing, and there are key points in Clio's description that support this.

All animals signal information to other animals. Biologists debate whether a signal is honest or deceptive -- does a deep, resonant voice mean he's big, and therefore could probably kick our ass, or has a non-threatening creature found a way to fake us out? (See Maynard Smith & Harper's book Animal Signals or Oren Hasson's articles on signaling.)

When we use appearances to divine the hidden essence of someone's personality, we rely heavily on the face. Sure, there are other parts that tell us about their behavior, but the face is always visible and doesn't move inconveniently when we're talking.

There's one known example of deceptive signaling involving the face -- namely, that babyfaced men tend to have more dominant personalities than maturefaced men, and tend to excel more at whatever they do. For example, high-IQ babyfaced men achieve more in school than their maturefaced counterparts, while low-IQ babyfaced men commit more crime compared to their gangmates. (See Leslie Zebrowitz's book Reading Faces, or her articles.) People expect these guys to be innocent, harmless, and docile, but they've been fooled. *

Most men don't have babyfaces because, otherwise, it would be very clear to people that an innocent-looking face didn't mean innocent behavior, and the jig would be up. But there clearly is an open niche to be filled. So, there will be a small but persistent fraction of men who fool others this way. The cost to others isn't so great because they will rarely encounter such a man, and there would be huge costs to ignoring the face when it was accurate -- that is, in most cases. So, there's no selection pressure to ignore what the face claims lies inside.

I think the same is true of the Eternal Ingenue type. Whether this is true of the exact type Clio had in mind isn't important -- that's just a matter of terminology and classification. Here is what she looks like, according to Clio:

She has a superficial physical resemblance to the Waif, in that she tends to have big eyes, small features, and a rather boyish body, thin and not voluptuous. (This is not invariable: there are curvy ingenue heartbreakers.)

How can it be that a girl with such a super-feminine face can have so masculine of a body shape, assuming she's past puberty? Based only on personal experience, I also contend that these women have masculine digit ratios (ring finger of right hand noticeably longer than the index finger). ** It shouldn't be hard to check this for the women Clio mentions, though.

To me, this suggests that she has a higher-than-average level of testosterone, which is reflected in her body overall, but which is disguised by her facial features. Why just the face? Because that's primarily where people -- the suckers -- are going to look when predicting personality from appearance, not her waist-to-hip ratio, digit ratio, boob size, or whatever else.

This high-T view also explains why these women tend to be heartbreakers, going from one man to another without feeling very bad about it -- that's a guy's way. I'm sure they rationalize it in a girly way, like they're just in love with the ideal of being in love (as Clio says). But regardless of how they spin their roving eye and wandering ways, in the end they do show fairly masculine dating behavior. It's also no accident that these women do well in highly competitive jobs like acting or dancing -- you don't climb to the top of anything without a fair amount of balls.

If this is correct, then the genes of an Eternal Ingenue have found some way to allow testosterone to affect most of her body -- including parts of her brain -- but to cut it off before it reaches the skull proper, where it would masculinize her face and let everyone know what her personality is really like. It also seems to preserve the girliness of the parts of the brain responsible for giggliness and extraversion.

I know almost nothing about molecular biology, but there could be some gene or team of genes that get testosterone where it needs to go, or that are local receptors for androgens. These genes would be expressed everywhere where testosterone typically has an effect -- but they're switched off when they're in the skull.

If altering her biology incurs some cost, in the same way that it takes more resources to partially dam a river rather than let it run totally free, then only females with lots of bodily resources to invest could afford the cost and still get by. If her genes were so great that she had to deal far less with infection, stress, random insults, and so on, that would free up resources to block a high flow of testosterone from reaching her face. So, if the deception is costly, a further prediction is that Eternal Ingenue types will be better looking than the average female. Maybe not Louise Brooks, but still.

This type of woman gets the best of both worlds: she gets to fall deeply in love with person A, who because she seems so innocent will actually slow the courtship down, so much so that she moves on to person B before having to give it up, though she may be physical with him. And so on, always having a steady supply of new flavors of her love-drug, which she hardly has to pay anything for. And of course, when she wants kids, she gets her pick, and all the while many men will continue investing resources in her. This is the female version of Genghiz Khan or Wilt Chamberlain, who get to plow through thousands of nubile women with nary a rejection to slow them down, and without having to stick around either.

When a guy sees an Eternal Ingenue, he's going to get completely suckered, just like those who interact with babyfaced men. But as with the latter, being fooled by her won't cost you so much because you so rarely run into them -- unless you go where they tend to congregate, such as among ballet dancers or actresses. Just make sure not to go with your gut the next time you see a girl with a mega-cute face and bubbly mien -- check her for boyish hips and a masculine digit ratio, as well as other tells such as a lowish voice, and doing anything competitive (including performing, since she had to beat out many others to get that spot).

It's not that there really aren't girly girls out there -- but the most captivating, inside and out, will tend to be these wolves in sheep's clothing. If you're after one for the long-term, you'd do better to look for one who has a wallflower's job and who blushes or turns shy easily, although not one who's depressive like the Waif / Neurotic. She'll be less of a rush to be around -- girls are more boring than boys -- but then she won't quickly skip away in search of another fairy tale boyfriend.

* Needless to say, this means that if a guy is babyfaced, then he's more likely than not to have that personality -- not that if a guy has that personality, then he's more likely than not to have a babyface.

** I base this on the ones I've known, including this enchantress from the teen dance club. My 19 y.o. close friend, who I initially thought was an Amazonian Alpha (in Clio's terms), I know recognize as someone whose delightfully girly face only fools men into thinking she's a non-threatening girly girl. Her masculine digit ratio and waist-to-hip ratio say otherwise. And she is most definitely a heartbreaker. (Fortunately I never fell for her, since as such a close friend I saw early how competitive and dominant her personality is -- which I don't mind in friends, but is a turn-off in girlfriends.)

For an example to check yourselves, see this video. Everyone is falling for this girl on YouTube because of her bursting-open brown eyes, delicate features, and uber-girly demeanor. (Just as in the lonelygirl15 hoax.) But she has a masculine digit ratio (pause that video at 6:10), a low voice, and (in some other video) very boyish hips. Plus she performs in front of a global audience without cracking, something a true girly girl would be too shy and nervous to get through -- let alone time after time.


  1. You really need to see this blog. These guys need your help so bad.

  2. Good god, how many times does it have to be said: DON'T MARRY AN ACTRESS!

  3. Someone wanted to leave this comment anonymously, but I don't know how to change names.


    Based only on personal experience, I also contend that these women have masculine digit ratios (ring finger of right hand noticeably longer than the index finger).

    I know two girls who both match the tendencies you are talking about. They are both incredibly charming, lively, and burn through men for hookups, though they avoid sex except when in a relationship (this is a combination of male-typical and female-typical mating strategies; they have enough masculinization for male-typical arousability and libido, but not enough to cancel out female-typical pickiness).

    They are both bisexual, though they prefer men. That's another sign of prenatal testosterone. One of them is a skilled artist, and spatial skills probably means even more prenatal T (and she is also more into women, has a more masculine voice, despises wearing dresses, and is not in a relationship while the other one is).

    They are both curvy, though this might just be from voluptuous women in the genetic background.

  4. Yeah, that was me. Blogger was being annoying.

  5. Agnostic,

    Charles Manson had big eyes.

    We *think* big eyes are innocent because they remind us of children's eyes, which are disproportionately large.

    Really, there is no such thing as an "innocent" face. Im sure there was a pretty nordic-looking-big-blue-eyed guard or two at the Lubyanka prison administering torture to political prisoners during the gulag who enjoyed it as much as the next sadist did.

    Nobody would suggest big ears equalled innocence. Its a facial feature.

    The little gal in the video is assuredly by now acutely aware of how her big eyes and cutesy face affect men around her. She probably gets tired to the nth degree of nice guys who gently approach her with a "lets snuggle" vibe wanting to softly kiss her baby face.

    To find a truly *innocent* girl in today's America, a man might literally have to go to where the quakers, mormons, strictest homeschooling babtists or church of God households in some boondock-far-from-the-interstate home that has no cable television. The greater culture at large (We have commericals for viagra in prime time) is going to rid post-adolescent youth of innocence very quickly.

    The big eyed girl in the video has thought about whether anal sex feels good/hurts, what cum tastes like, what it would be like to eat out a girl, what it would be like to fellate a guy with a huge penis, whether she will someday participate in group sex, how disgusting it is that her parents have sex, and how funny some fart jokes are. She probably misses being pre-adolescent and innocent but hormones have led her mind in the gutter like they do everyone elses and by "playing" at being innocent she probably fools a lot of people, but not herself.

  6. Some androgens are known to affect androgen receptors differently in different parts of the body. Bodybuilders continue to search for the perfect steroid that only affects the androgen receptors in muscle but remains unbound in the brain and testes. The mechanism for these different affinities is not well known.

  7. I think I may have some of the basis for the dichotomy of feminine features and masculine body aspects. First let me throw out the term for "baby-faced" used in evolutionary biology as it applies to all humans in the sense that due to giant craniums, we all have to be born at a less developed stage than our simian ancestors. It's called:
    "neoteny" =
    a slowing of the rate of development with the consequent retention in adulthood of a feature or features that appeared in an earlier phase in the life cycle of ancestral individuals.

    This retention of juvenile appearance is most prevalent in children and women, but exists to a lesser degree in men as well. It's purpose is to inspire nurturing behavior in parents and or mates. I'm sure you will agree it's used to good effect by youthful looking women.

    As for the mix sexual morphology in the eternal ingenue, we can surmise a few things. First: if her testosterone exposure occurred too early in the womb, she would have developed morphologically as a male, with female DNA, or some hybrid like a hermaphrodite. While we have evolved to be born at more and more juvenile stages of development to allow our noggins to pass through the birth canal, the head is arguably the most developed aspect of a newborn. Therefore it's bone structure and development is more advanced than the remainder of the body at birth, and indeed for the first couple of years of life.

    We also know that for both genders the amount of testosterone in circulation is determined by the level of social dominance. Those women raised as alpha girls will have a higher testosterone level while the remainder of her body is developing morphologically to catch up with her head.

    Combine these facts and you would presume an ingenue is probably the product of a confident dominant girlhood while the bone structure in the head was largely formed before such external stimuli were present.

    The end product is a woman who is used to getting her way with a feminine body but a more masculine physique, like a Paris Hilton.


  8. I have met several of those. Always teasing, always laughing, a refreshment to men's usual seriousness.
    The actress on The L-Word (second left to right, top) is a perfect example of the type.


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