A modern-day Eve     

Female Strategies and End-Games

Simon Sheppard

Procedural Analysis (PA) is a system for explaining human behaviour which builds upon evolutionary psychology, sex differences and game theory. Its development was documented in my book The Tyranny of Ambiguity.1 PA views human behaviour as a game, and a ‘procedure’ is a move or sequence of moves in the game.

Many human games are simple, which should not be surprising, because simplicity is a common feature of natural processes. For example, a bird’s impulse to feed the gaping gullet of a chick has such high priority that mistakes can occur. A parent bird might be overcome by this impulse to stop and feed a completely foreign chick in a passing nest, or nurture a cuckoo. The principle of economy applies. Simple systems are more reliable, and reliability is of paramount importance especially over evolutionary time-scales.

Complexity tends to appear only when necessary. An example is the immune system, which has evolved to great complexity because a simple system would be vulnerable to co-evolving pathogens. However this complexity has a cost: humans can suffer a large number of auto-immune disorders, arthritis and psoriasis being just two of the more familiar. So natural systems are simple, unless there is good reason for them not to be. That is, unless the advantages of complexity outweigh the costs.

Paring down the complexities of human behaviour to its basic components is a major objective of PA. Here the focus is on two important aspects of game-play, the manner in which a player can defect and what may happen when he does. Though at first sight this theme might seem arcane, it can be applied to many human situations.

When strategies are simple, it can be advantageous to obfuscate, to confuse the opponent and mask the elementary nature of the strategy. This accounts for females’ illogical behaviour: it is irrational, but it is not without purpose. Once the ability is acquired to see past that surface irrationality, females become easier to understand than males.

PA is presented as a theoretical model and being internally consistent it stands firmly on that ground alone. In the writer’s view it accurately models human behaviour, with the important caveat that the system involves antipodal male and female strategies while in practice there is considerable admixture. However, the extent to which PA can be applied to the real world is for others to determine.

Game basics

The players in a game can be individuals or populations, i.e. groups sharing a common feature. Actually the hardest task is to set up the model, and matters are considerably simplified if the game is limited to two players, for example setting an individual against his whole environment. In a two-player game the players are called Protagonist and Opponent. The Protagonist is the main player, who starts the game, while ‘the opponent’ (uncapitalised) is simply ‘the other player.’ Players have only two choices: cooperate or defect.

A paramount factor, even before a game begins, is the choice of opponent. Consider, in illustration, the game of ‘Suicide Bomber’ as played by Kamikaze pilots and Moslem fundamentalists. In the suicide bomber’s action against his adversary he is playing Loser (war is a game of Loser, with the winner being the player with the least losses). In relation to his compatriots however he is playing a game of Charity (maximizing his opponent’s benefit and minimizing his own). The same actions are performed but the game is entirely different, according to who is defined as the Opponent.

The essential model in PA sets behaviour as a male-female (M-F) game, and in such a game the female is often the Protagonist. This sexual model is readily generalised, with games being played between M-strategists and F-strategists. Many, if not all, F-strategies have evolved to compensate for the male’s superior physical strength. In the context of our long evolutionary past, welfare systems, scientific healthcare and constraints on males’ use of force have existed for just a fleeting instant. The Protagonist is physically weaker than the Opponent and cannot win a head-on contest; hence manipulation and subterfuge must be employed.

Every few years the public imagination is captured by this theme. Stephen Potter pioneered ‘gamesmanship’ in 1947 when he instructed sportsmen in ‘the art of winning without actually cheating.’ In 1964 Eric Berne described some personal and household games in Games People Play, but however entertaining his cases were, Berne was a Freudian and his basic model was faulty. Robert Axelrod’s The Evolution of Cooperation caused a scientific stir in 1984. Less amusing than the early ‘popular’ books but more useful is Poundstone’s The Prisoner’s Dilemma, published in 1992.

Most relevant here is Axelrod’s Evolution of Cooperation, which details the Tit For Tat strategy, TFT.2 Axelrod hosted a world-wide competition, inviting academics around the world to submit game algorithms which he set against each other. Many clever and complex strategies were submitted during two contests, and the surprising outcome was that the overall winner was TFT, the simplest strategy of all.

Formally, TFT is completely described by ‘Cooperate on the first move, thereafter do as the opponent last did.’ Axelrod found that it was practically impossible to beat TFT, certainly in the long term.

Notwithstanding, reflection on TFT reveals an obvious problem. Once a defection takes place, whether it is intentional, accidental or incorrectly perceived as such, the game reverts to a continuous sequence of defections thereafter (ALLD). There is no mechanism for recovery; a player can only ‘do as the other player last did.’ This feature has led to examination of ‘Generous’ TFT strategies, GTFT. Forgiveness is a GTFT strategy. A GTFT strategy can avoid ALLD by forgiving a defection.

According to this theoretical framework the female policy is to play TFT while males employ GTFT. Originally this derives from the abundance of sperm and the limited resource of eggs, plus the high investment required by the female to bring one to term. The male can afford to make a mistake while the female cannot. Nowadays a man might buy many women drinks; he only needs success with one for his genes to persist. Similarly, consider an entrepreneur who starts ten businesses: perhaps seven will fail, two will be borderline, but one will provide an income for years to come. He can tolerate losses providing he meets with occasional success. Only when every one of his attempts fail will he consider reverting to TFT.

GTFT strategies are complex, because they may not be fixed. Suppose GTFT was defined as ‘Overlook defection providing it occurs no more frequently than every sixth play.’ The other player could establish this rule by trial and error and then maximize her payoff by defecting every sixth play, collecting a bonus (the highest payoff of all, the Temptation payoff) each time. Providing she does not defect more often than every sixth play the game will continue without interruption. She could periodically take advantage of the opponent without disrupting the game. Thus, formalising a GTFT strategy is likely to result in exploitation. This is one reason why it is actually harder to analyse male behaviour than female.

Having covered the basics, we can now progress to exploring situations when defection takes place, but the defection is disguised as cooperation. Two policies will be detailed: Disguised Defection and Marginal Defection. Considering the high payoffs these policies are capable of delivering, we should expect to see expressions of them in real life.

Disguised Defection

When a game of Disguised Defection starts, the Protagonist defects but the Opponent is made to believe that cooperation is taking place. Normally, if defection occurs the Temptation payoff can be collected only once. Disguised Defection enables a player to obtain the high Temptation payoff repeatedly.

A cornerstone of PA is that the sexual, reproductive realm is the primary source of behaviour. It is safe to say that for as long as women have had undergarments, men have been trying to get into them. Certainly in one sphere women have been willing partners, that which we now call ‘extra-marital affairs.’

A primordial form of Disguised Defection takes place when a husband unwittingly raises another male’s offspring. Data provided by the Child Support Agency in Britain revealed that between 1998 and 2011, one in six DNA tests were negative for paternity. The sample size was 39,453 over 13 financial years, making this probably the most extensive survey ever undertaken in the UK.3 These results concerned couples involved in separation or divorce, but less extensive surveys – such as random tests by doctors – suggest that this ratio is not atypical.

Another form of Disguised Defection is when females imitate males, performing formerly male roles. The female is both physically and psychologically adapted to procreation and the management of relationships, and her traditional role is as a homemaker in support of a wealth-creating male. This arrangement has historically conferred great social and economic benefits, by providing a stable environment for both husband and children. In the now commonplace form of Disguised Defection the female imitates the male, adopting roles and exploiting technologies which males have defined and developed once they become sufficiently facile, in order to disguise her defection from her natural functions. Some consequences of contemporary female defection are described by Devlin.4

The payoffs in a TFT game indicate that Disguised Defection is a highly advantageous policy for the female, but she is unlikely to get away with it forever. Evident from the model is that many M-F games are cyclic; the doyen of game theory has said so.5 Games can swing one way then reverse direction, like a pendulum.

A procedure allied to Disguised Defection is Diversionary Purpose, which is pursuing one action while the real purpose is another. There was a report some years ago of newly arrived women students at a prestigious American college using a copy of Who’s Who to determine the eligibility of their male counterparts. Their ostensible objective, of studying, was to mask their true objective of securing a suitable husband.

Marginal Defection

Being subtle, indirect and non-physical, Marginal Defection is an F-strategy. Amongst other things it exploits males’ tendency to give females the benefit of the doubt. The male generally overlooks minor infractions, preferring to avoid conflict over trivialities, because his physical power means that escalation could have serious consequences. Males tend to defer to females: traditionally, gentlemen open doors for them. The ultimate example of male deference is the Birkenhead Drill (‘Women and children first’), after a shipwreck in 1852 which established the pattern.

When employing Marginal Defection the female executes a measured, minor defection which the male ignores or dismisses as inconsequential. Time passes, sufficient to establish a new threshold dividing cooperation from defection. Once that new level is consolidated, further Marginal Defection takes place, and so on. This is the so-called ratchet effect whereby a large shift is achieved by subtle, almost imperceptible steps.

The female optimally proceeds just below the threshold at which the male is provoked. She advances in her power play with finely calculated gambits which she believes, weighing her opponent, will not trigger a response and disrupt the game. If she miscalculates during one of the iterations in this process the consequences can be severe. They may include violence, family break-up, court appearances and imprisonment for one of the players, usually the male.

It was said that the basic games were simple and I hope this has been conveyed. Going further, of greater interest perhaps is the manner in which these games resolve. The player who cooperates while the other defects collects the Sucker’s payoff, the lowest payoff of all, and few are happy to collect that payoff indefinitely.


One mechanism which is involved in the unravelling of these games is supra-maximization of advantage: the inordinate maximization of benefit. All organisms seek to minimize cost and maximize benefit, but this is often with less than perfect efficiency. It is intolerance of even slight losses that characterises supra-maximization. Manifestations are repeated efficiency drives, being unable to throw anything away and obsessively recycling everything.

This has to be feminine. It is akin to TFT, but exaggerated, with the strictest of exchanges. In contrast, displaying a masculine attitude is the businessman who dismisses incidental costs (such as the cost of workers’ refreshments) so long as a healthy profit is being made. His tolerance of losses is comparable to GTFT. The dichotomy goes all the way back to the sperm and the egg.

Supra-maximization plays a central role in the denouement of extended games of both Marginal Defection and Disguised Defection. Both policies apply supra-maximization in a similar way. In either game, if a certain limit is exceeded then the opponent is provoked and the game is disrupted. Both games involve approaching, but not usually crossing, a threshold. In Disguised Defection the limit is the maximum possible payoff, which is approached but rarely deliberately obtained (see below); in Marginal Defection the Protagonist approaches the threshold nearer and nearer so as to proceed more quickly. Attempts are made to accelerate progress by leaving less margin with each successive iteration until one day the threshold is inadvertently crossed and the opponent is provoked.


Even a player employing Disguised Defection still does not collect the maximum possible payoff at each iteration of the game. The accumulation of Temptation payoffs is exceedingly high, but for the policy to succeed during multiple exchanges, that is, for any extended duration, the Opponent must remain unaware that defection is taking place. The Opponent must be maintained in a state of illusion that the Protagonist is cooperating while in reality she is defecting.

Here an interesting Biblical analogy exists with Eve’s inability to resist temptation. Religious texts can be regarded as ‘true myths’ containing cultural truths in the form of allegory, encouraging advantageous strategies. For example, the Christian doctrine of forgiveness promotes the adoption of GTFT.

The Disguised Defection player achieves perhaps 99% of the already high Temptation payoff, but our Biblical Eve cannot resist collecting some of the last 1%. This last portion might be in the form of enhancement of self – feeling good about oneself. Numerous human traits may impel it. There may be insecurity or paranoia to assuage, or thrill-seeking could be involved. Or the remaining payoff could be a feeling of superiority, the pleasure of gloating, the satisfaction of seeing that the Opponent is not only being cheated, but that he knows he is being cheated. Perhaps only by hints or subtle cues, the Protagonist can give the game away, alerting the Opponent. In another scenario the Protagonist may underneath be unhappy with the situation and subconsciously perform actions which demand that the game be curtailed.

Theoretically at least, F-strategists tend to supra-maximize. All are feminine policies compensating for the greater physical strength and aggression of her strategic competitor the male. In practice this means that the Disguised or Marginal Defection player will inevitably, sooner or later, go too far, provoking a response.


1. Sheppard, S. G. (2002). The Tyranny of Ambiguity. Hull, UK: Heretical Press.

2. Axelrod, R. M. (1984). The Evolution of Cooperation. New York, NY: Basic Books.

3. Child Support Agency, letter dated 25 January 2012 from the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, Freedom of Information Act Focal Point, London SW1P 9NT. Shown at csaletp1.jpg and csaletp2.jpg.

4. Devlin, F. R. (2006). Sexual Utopia in Power. The Occidental Quarterly 6 (2): 9-37.

5. Smith, J. M. (1982). Evolution and the Theory of Games. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 130-131, 199-202.

Acknowledgements to F. Roger Devlin for suggestions which made this essay more readable.

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