Bion proposed and described three basic unconscious assumptions that appeared to interfere with task performance. . . 1. Dependence: the unconscious and shared assumption in goups that members come together to gratify their dependency needs rather than to work . . . 2. Fight/flight: the shared unconscious assumption, often carried out through action, that members are gathered to fight with or flee from leadership rather than to join in effective work. . . . 3. Pairing: the shared unconscious assumption that the group is organized to produce an ideal pair that will develop a miraculous solution to problems as opposed to facing and overcoming difficulties through collaborative effort. . . .

The basic assumptions of the group (ala Bion) may be very fluid. In a "dependency group" there is a clear leader, who assumes a "parental" role - the group likes it this way and preserves the status quo. In a "fight or flight" group authority is questioned more often - rivalry is a theme - attachment is ambivalent - probably alot of flaming goes on. The "pairing" group (where two members are designated as the divine couple destined to give birth to the "saving truth") - well, that's something altogether different...but look for those twosomes!
My understanding of "group consciousness" is that it contains whatever "is in the face" of all members. Private asides are one region of the group unconscious. (Semiconscious?) What gets said on the list can be taken as in the group consciousness. (Unless people refuse to --or 'just don't'-- notice it.) Alternatively, what gets said on the list and is acknowledged by someone (or more than one?) is, ipso facto again, 'group-conscious.' Whatever is shared by the members, but doesn't get said, is group-unconscious. Whatever doesn't get said because somebody put energy into stopping it from being said is repressed.
The apparent difference between group psychology and individual psychology is an illusion produced by the fact that the group brings into prominence phenomena that appear alien to an observer unaccustomed to using the group.
Freud says individual and group psychology cannot absolutely be differentiated because the psychology of the individual is itself a function of the relation between one person and another
Bion defines a group as a collection that has come together to perform a task - That's what he calls the "work assumption" I think.
As I confessed to Harriet, I have always wondered about Bion's "pairing" group, because I thought I had never encounter it before. But that may be because all the groups I have led, I have had a co-leader, and (the forest for the trees) I think I missed it that WE were the pair.
(..."when the group is ready"... Group members tend to share almost-archetypal feelings. Members of the BasicAssumption groups are in unconscious confluence. -->They identify with each other on that Kleinian "primitive" level. While members of the Work group come to conscious agreement on Work group issues.)
As you know, emotions are always with us, even if we're not noticing them. This is near the center of the Bion/Freud approach to group communication. To overcome the illusion of a difference between group psychology and individual psychology by coming to notice shared emotions and their connection with thoughts and and other symbolization. The hypothesis here is that the content of discourse (and of behavior) is sometimes a result of unavowed (shared) feelings --that our presumably rational and goal-directed discourse and behavior is more expressive and less rational than we think it is. (Some of us live in that place more than do others. The others may revere those who do, or call them crazy.)
"Work-group activity is obstructed, diverted, and on occasion assisted, by certain other mental activities that have in common the attribute of powerful emotional drives. These activities, at first sight chaotic, are given a certain cohesion if it is assumed that they spring from basic assumptions common to all the group." [Bion]
The Basic Assumption groups are Dependency ("the group is met in order to be sustained by a leader on whom it depends for nourishment, material and spiritual, and protection."); Pairing ("an air of hopeful expectation [that] usually finds expression in ideas that marriage would put an end to neurotic disabilities; that group therapy would revolutionize society ...; that the coming season ... will be more agreeable; that some new kind of community --an improved group-- should be developed;" that a Messiah, or a Utopia, or a New World Order is just around the corner); the Fight/Flight group ("The group has met to fight something or to run away from it. It is prepared to do either indifferently.).
Bion found the most common response to his on-the-spot interpretations was the blank stare. (Unh. Grunt. Mmpf. --turning over and yawning: "Lemme sleep!")
I wonder, given license by my own superficial comprehension of Bion's catagories, if there isn't and in-built bias to pathologize all groups.
The first time Bion tried his method, he got flung out on his ear. Fired from his job.
The listserver will handle 500 messages a day. I near as I can tell we have only 3 worshipers at the alter of Great God Bion (other than the Professor in New Zealand, whom I suppose I scared off).
baF in the sacred language means basic assumption Fight or Flight-- baD means basic assumption dependency--W means work or sophisticated efforts toward task accomplishment.
Chapter, Group Dynamics, Paragraph 6, Page 144, of the holy book, Experiences in Groups, 1992 reprint
Even the Work group is able to function because there is a substrate (cf. Thom) of shared feeling and common fantasy that the members share. And --here is the payoff for those of you with the *practical* interest in how to maximize the effective functioning of virtual teams (and all teams)-- might I suggest that Workgroup effectiveness can be radically enhanced if such a group can tolerate consciousness of that substrate, of the feelings and fantasies the members share?
I think the operative substrate of an effective Work group is a mix of all the Ba groups, with a slight dominance of the Ba-p group. A merging toward production.
The concept expressed here suggests/promises that much of what individual group members may consider private, unshareable, irrelevant, off the mark, etc., are workings of the organism - the group - which some individuals have greater or lesser access too, consciously. All are aware unconsciously - for example, all become aware unconsciously that there is a community at some point (perhaps this is the first-fruits of the transition from overt task to basic assumption, if such a separation exists) - Whether they think they need that community (dependency) or love/hate it (fight/flight) or even have messianic and visionary hope for themselves and all (pairing), nevertheless the community IS, has come into being, and requires some kind of gradual conscious acknowledgement to thrive.
This shared content - which is the unconscious made conscious and shared as a common consciousness - is vital to the survival of the group.
I think the secret Bionic code is really neat, and will drive all who encounter it simply nuts.
Bion refers to us as group animals, as the way we are in essence, by our very nature equiped for a life of continual interaction. The basic assumptions seem the well-worn groves in which our wheels are destined to run.
The basic assumptions keep work from getting done. . . and there is also generally quite a lot of pressure to keep the basic assumptions in place. . . If the group can gain some understanding of the assumptions they are making and begin to use this understanding they will be more able to take personal(and group) responsibility toward the task.
Obviously, and as Bion noted too, the Basic Assumptions are a moving target. Similarly in motion is the 'rational' Task.
My own nonBionic theory is that the Work Group is, always, itself driven by the FANTASY of rationality and that this fantasy may be dependent on the 'driving' basic assumptions 'cycling', as they appear to do so here.
Bion was fascinated by religious ideas without ever becoming wooly.
Oddly, Bion seemed to have largely lost interest in groups by the late forties.
The point is of course that the Basic Assumptions are interpretive, and I'd suggest also, that we, as Shannah has implied, not make them into any kind of guilded cage.
Bion is dead. Further extensions of his work by mortals will not be taken lightly.
I think of baD as, say, yellow; baP as, oh, red; and baFF, then, as blue. The more intense the color (the less admixture of white), the further from the Workgroup. I think rationality may be green, and a very common (culture-dependent, though) road toward the white.
"Work Group" is a group-psychological state,
Bion seems to take this dualist idea of the individual mind and apply it to the "group mind" making it difficult to envision explainable relationships between the group and and the world around it.
A little Bion and a little complexity theory -- even a little Tavistock theory -- go a long way toward diverting a group from here-and-now experience.
On Bion, I must say until his book, Experiences in Groups, came through inter-library loan, I could not make head nor tail of the lingo about "pairing" and "fight-flight" that was being flung around.
At one end of the continuum primitive anxiety about survival prevails, in which only one small aspect of information or of a relationship can be seen. . . at the expense of all others. This kind of anxiety is usually associated with an intense identification with a single viewpoint, a loss of the capacity to reflect, and a loss of concern, empathy or understanding of others. Such primitive anxiety is also associated with particular forms of mental organisation, which exaggerate, distort and over-simplify rather as if one were looking through a particular kind of lens that changes the relationship between things dramatically. . . . At the other end of the continuum, more everyday is associated with "whole person" relationships in which dependence on others, and even more importantly, interdependence can be recognised and mainly tolerated. A less omnipotent atmosphere prevails, so identifications are firm without being brittle or rigid. In this state of mind, creative intercourse of all kinds becomes possible since there is a genuine interest in individual differences and the potential for complementarity and new connections arising from them. Mental organisation at this end of the continuum is also rather different. The tendency toward divisiveness, fragmentation and identification with a single intense viewpoint is diminished, so the integrity and continuity of self and other is more enduring. Thus an atmosphere is created in which it is possible to bear, and even be interested in significant diferences between people or points of view and to reflect and even to learn from these differences. Bion and Meltzer go on to propose that the capacity for containing anxiety, and hence for sustaining states of mind in which constructive and creative relationships predominate, can be fostered by the quality of containment provided (by someone else) for the bits and pieces of the self cast out under duress. . .
The point is not what is better or worse, but what basic assumptions are present at any given time. If we can become more aware of the underlying dynamics of our behavior, then we are in a better position to work efficiently because we aren't so controlled by unconscious processes. We aren't necessarily trying to get rid of the basic assumptions, but do need to gain some understanding of what may be operating
Whether one agrees with Bion or not--he didn't even seem to agree with _himself_ later in his life!--he is an interesting read.
Noticing in myself a feeling of increased closeness with some of you, and thinking about the thread of f2f meetings with e-mail pals, and thinking about the thread of "let's meet somewhere like irc or a MUD so we can be closer (er, more real-time)," and noticing a gender thread, I get the idea that we've been in the baP (pairing) mood for a while. (Pairing mood delegates "getting together" and looks toward a savior or toward a product of the interaction.) I look for an intensification of work-group behavior to follow baP.
Considering the collusive character of the basic assumption groups, the unconscious confluence in feeling by the group members, we may infer that supposedly personal emotions --which the individual identifies as his own-- are really group emotions that (on the basis of his self-definition) he is willing to admit into his limited conscious awareness. (Cf. Bion)
you may be forcing a bionic dependency position if you're making the assumption that people have to bring their personal baggage to this list for inspection in great (and probably excruciating) detail.
Return to Index