Cueing Self-Deception thru Cosmetics & Speaking in Tongues

 In my friend Bria Dunham’s piece, “The Role for Signaling Theory and Receiver Psychology in Marketing,” I came across this line:

In women, facial masculinity may serve as a cue of sexual attitudes and behavior due to the underlying association of both with testosterone (Boothroyd et al. 2008; Campbell et al. 2009). This cue did not evolve to serve the purposes of the sender; indeed, it may be contrary to the information that a woman would prefer to convey and is relatively fixed at one point in time; in fact, women may attempt to circumvent the cue by use of cosmetics (Cronk et al. 2003). [Dunham 2011:236]

I’ve seen Lee Cronk reference this cosmetics study a few times but can’t find more than this reference to a 2002 talk at a AAA meeting (maybe it was just a theoretical talk & not a study?). I will have to contact him for a copy.  Anyway, do cosmetics really hide cues of quality? Cues are “any animate or inanimate feature that can be used by an organism to inform and guide future action” (Dunham 2011; Hasson 1994; Maynard Smith and Harper 2003). I’m gonna vote, “yes,” but they only hide them sometimes. I’m going to argue that sometimes they are also employed when someone is self-deceptive or simply unaware of their own quality.

Quality of what? Well, it certainly depends on the intent of the signaling, yes? I’ve recently adopted NBA as my new sport to watch to get me thru till football season, which is the sport I adopted upon moving to Alabama. When I get excited over the team with the “mohawk & beard guy & the other two with the geek glasses,” I’m obviously watching the Oklahoma City Thunder but showing my remedial fandom quality by my interest in personal style over playing substance. I’m kind of a joke when it comes to male bonding over the playoff games. But what about my mate quality? Quality varies, right?  Paraphrasing John Beatty, my undergraduate mentor in anthropology at Brooklyn College, ‘whatever your interests or kinks or issues or whathaveyou, there’s someone out there willing to mate with the human variety that is you.’  In fact, the concept of “soul mate” be damned, there are probably at least a handful of people out there willing to have sex & put up with you, no matter who you are or what you’re like (I guess we could hypothetically figure our mate quality via some mathematical calculation of the number of random people out of, say, 1000 from a global population sample would mate with us–meaning some people, who don’t share anything about our culture whatsoever will only be judging on our appearance & be unlikely to find our quality very high relative to people in their own culture). How do you portray your quality as a mate?  Let’s say you’re shopping for one or for a new one, either on purpose or serptitiously, to replace the one you have. How do you cosmetically portray yourself?

Some people wear cosmetics to enhance their quality, some wear cosmetics to hide themselves, some wear cosmetics to make themselves (unconsciously) look like clowns, & sometimes people manage all of these feats at the same time. And people I think are hot because of their cosmetics, you might think look like clowns.  And when I say “cosmetics,” I am generalizing a lot of different bodily adornments (are hair clasps & false eyelashes fundamentally different things)? For instance, I think punk rock & rockabilly chicks are hot, with the full-on heavy eyelineer & dark clothes & tattoos & all that junk. To a point. And even the most garish punk rock middle-aged woman (i.e., my age) is hotter, just for sporting THAT look, than this woman I just saw at the grocery store  who looked like a 50-year-old Barbie–cake of base on her face, huge false eyelashes, frosted bob of hair with so much hairspray it looked like a helmet, long manicured nails, giant high heels, giant fake pearls.  She looked like she had just gone from being seen at church to being seen at Sam’s Club. In either case, are the punk rock chick or old Barbie deceiving about their true underlying quality with the cosmetics?  Or are they signaling something important about their personality? Certainly, the latter, I think.

So this is supposed to deceptively signal sexual excitement?

On the other hand, flushed cheeks are an indexical sign of arousal. Rouge gives the cheeks a flush, faking that signal, & may make a woman look younger & excited. Or have the signified & signifier become disconnected? How many women put on blush to really look like they’re blushing? To enhance their cheeks?  I’m wondering because I truly don’t know.  To put it another way, I don’t wear deodorant to fake people out about my true odor.  I figure most people know that most people can get ripe without deodorant.  If I don’t wear deodorant, if I show up looking like I just crawled out of bed, I don’t think it is a lack of deception about my true quality–I think instead it would make me look like I didn’t care about hygiene, perhaps even that I’m mentally ill. Here’s another one: when I grease my mustache up into handlebars, do I send some deceptive message about myself? And when I don’t (sometimes I forget), the whiskers bristle out like a cartoon character after a cigar explodes in his face, what messages do I send then?

Does the use of cosmetics & other adornment involve relative enhancement? Deception? Self-deception? What? Furthermore, Camilla Power has made a case that our human consciousness may be selected for symbolic communication in tandem with cosmetic displays. What has been alternatively called the “sex strike” model (Knight 1991), the “sham menstruation” model, and the “Female Cosmetic Coalitions” (FCC) model (Knight et al. 1995; Power & Aiello 1997; Power 2009) proposes that selection may have favored women finding ways to hide signs of sexual receptivity to encourage males to stick around & help with raising offspring. It may have advantaged individual women to support other women (& receive the same support in return) by painting themselves with red ochre to confuse/obscure signals of menstruation.  In other words, instead of hiding it, they deceptively sent signals of menstruation, just like the wearing of rouge & lipstick now. Power indicates Watts (2009) has tested this Darwinian prediction with regard to red ochre but doesn’t say how (I will get to that later & come back to this topic perhaps).

This idea of selection for messing with our projected identity & self-image intrigues me.  Power says, “In constructing a playful shared fiction of identity, an individual experiences herself as others see her. In asking ‘Whom am I?’ and ‘How do I look to others?’, she grows aware of her own thinking through the thoughts of others.” I am fascinated by how people do or don’t get all gussied up at church. It’s a mash up of this possible deception/self-deception in enhancing oneself in a place where, ostensibly, one should be signaling humility & supplication to God.

For a manuscript I’ve sent out for review, I was writing about a case of self-deception in Apostolic Pentecostal church setting & cut a passage that relates to this thread, though I did not frame it as self-deception. The paper, which I will talk more about when it gets thru the review process, focuses on a woman who was called out during a service for not exhibiting legitimate divine glossolalia (speaking in tongues, or the Holy Ghost literally speaking thru a person as a sign s/he has accepted Jesus). During the service, she was speaking in tongues but, according to other church brethren, could not possibly have received the Holy Ghost, so they discerned it as the Devil in disguise.  According to her husband, she practiced her tongue-speaking at home in the bathroom.  The passage I cut follows:

The unconfirmed nature of the report that she practiced glossolalia in the bathroom notwithstanding, the extent to which such behavior is considered negative varies greatly. Pressel (1974) points out that Umbanda practitioners in Brazil sometimes undergo specific training in trance behavior because of the limited space available for tacit socialization in environments where the church community may be more imagined than real. In the privacy of one’s own bathroom, one might think of Amanda’s practicing more a form a “play” (Stromberg 2009), a way to prepare for the rare experience of interacting in her husband’s congregation, rather than farce, and perhaps consider Richie’s reporting of this behavior an invasion of privacy or betrayal of trust. It is Amanda’s age and other dynamics within the family system that render her behavior blasphemous. Children brought up in the church may innocently practice glossolalia behavior long before it is considered blasphemy or demonic. As the Jamaican pastor told me, “I listen to my kids sometime, and they can mimic everyone in here because they hear that repetition all the time, and they just rehearse it when they get a chance.”

The paper I submitted relies on a signaling theory approach but does not touch on a self-deception aspect.  Signaling theory suggests signaler & receiver have a stake in the honesty of a signal. I refer to her behavior as mistaken–she thinks she’s sending an honest signal, but she hasn’t learned how to do it right. At best it’s interpreted as self-deceptive (actually, demonic deception), at worst as “lying.” I am now thinking it might be fruitful to link the signaling approach taken in that paper with the self-deception research I am doing with regard to mating success.

What is the relationship to self-deception in signaling that one has received the Holy Ghost (by speaking in tongues) & using cosmetics?  In both cases, you are–unconsciously we assume–trying to enhance your prestige thru symbolic demonstrations. What happens if we unintentionally cue others that we’re overclaiming?  The woman who was speaking in tongues was dressed inappropriately, which was a cue to me at the time. She was wearing too many cosmetics, a V-neck blouse that revealed cleavage, a dress cut above the knees without hose. Other cues were less obvious. People knew about mistakes she had made in her marriage & doubted the veracity of her tongues as “divine.” Say I am talking up a girl who says, “Don’t you love the Red Stripes?,” & I say, “Yeah, I LOVE the Red Stripes.” Someone nearby overhears & looks skeptically at us both, & says, “Don’t you mean the White Stripes?”  The girl I’m talking to says, “Yeah, Red Stripe is the beer. I must have got them criss-crossed in my mind.”  I say, “Boy, don’t I feel like a dumbass. Next!”…

I’m working through a way to combine these perspectives. I’ve held some data back in both my study of Pentecostal dissociative glossolalia & self-deception that there may be potential to integrate.  I collected socially desirable responding data from a sub-sample of the Pentecostals. using the Balanced Inventory of Desirable Responding.  I used these in a self-deception study I conducted a few years ago too, the results of which are currently in review for publication, but I held back data from the Self-Deceptive Denial sub-scale.  That scale measures the tendency to self-deceptively deny negative characteristics about oneself.  It contains items like, “I have never wanted to rape or be raped by someone,” which I got away with including in the college student sample but raised some eyebrows among the Pentecostals.  Seriously, I was actually stupid enough to include it in my original batch of questionnaires. But it was actually a really useful learning experience.  I couldn’t figure out why no one would participate in the study until the pastor of one of the churches pulled me aside to say that the brethren were a bit miffed by questionnaire. They didn’t see the relevance to such a question if my objective was to study the influence of glossolalia on stress (see Lynn et al 2010 & 2011 for details of this study, which I’ll talk more about in a future post).  They had a point, & I ended up having a fantastic group meeting with the congregation in which I told them the logic behind my research design & made adjustments based on what they were comfortable answering & not answering.  I pulled the SDD scale from that study & they lined up to participate after that (sorta).

At any rate, I am not sure what my predictions will be.  Who will exhibit more self-deceptive enhancement versus impression management (the two factors of the BIDR) in a religious sample? Elite (pastor & others with direct influence on church policy), core (other church officers), supportive (“Sunday” Christians), or marginal members (children, infirm, newcomers, backsliders)? I would guess cosmetics use would be associated with impression management. Would religiosity be associated with self-deceptive enhancement? And how does this relate to self-deceptive denial among college undergrads? I am open to ideas as I think this thru…

References Not Linked:

Cronk, L., Campbell, L., Milroy, A., Simpson, J.A. 2003 “Cosmetics as a signaling system.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, New Orleans.

Pressel, E. 1974 “Umbanda trance and possession in Sao Paulo, Brazil.” In F. Goodman, J. H. Henney and E. Pressel (Eds.), Trance Healing and Hallucination. Pp. 113-225. London: Wiley.


Christopher Lynn

About Christopher Lynn

Christopher Dana Lynn is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alabama, where he founded the Evolutionary Studies program.  Chris teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in biological anthropology, human sexuality, evolution, biocultural medical anthropology, and neuroanthropology.  He received his Ph.D. in Biological Anthropology in 2009 from the University at Albany, SUNY, where his doctoral focus was on the influence of speaking in tongues on stress response among Pentecostals.  Chris runs a human behavioral ecology research group where the objectives include studying fun gimmicky things like trance, religious behavior, tattooing, and sex as a way of introducing students to the rigors of evolutionary science.  In all his “free” time, he breaks up fights among his triplet sons, enjoys marriage to the other Loretta Lynn, strokes his mustache, and has learned to be passionate about Alabama football (Roll Tide!).  Follow Chris on Twitter: @Chris_Ly
This entry was posted in Anthropology, Theory and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Cueing Self-Deception thru Cosmetics & Speaking in Tongues

  1. Pingback: Issues & Questions: Cultural Knowledge (& Self-Deception) & Mating Success | Welcome to the EvoS Consortium!

Comments are closed.