Gregory Bateson’s double bond theory it is framed in the systemic model, a conceptual framework focuses on the interrelationship and interdependence between members of a system, such as a family, rather than on the characteristics of the components themselves.
This theory was developed with the aim of explain the psychological causes of schizophrenia, What Bateson associated with inappropriate family communication patterns.
While the double bond hypothesis has become obsolete in this regard, it was determining for the evolution of systemic therapy.
Biography of Gregory Bateson
Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) was an English anthropologist who have made important contributions to fields as diverse as linguistics, epistemology and cybersciences. This was due to its emphasis on systems theory, a multidisciplinary scientific framework.
His first wife was Margaret Mead, The famous anthropologist who contributed to the sexual revolution of the 1960s by studying gender roles in the indigenous tribes of the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
Bateson belonged to the Palo Alto School during its initial phase. He and his associates, mainly Donald Jackson, Jay Haley and John Weakland, were pioneers in the development of family and systemic therapies.
In addition to the theory of double bonds, Bateson studied the evolution of organisms, the concept of homeostasis applied to psychology and anthropology, and scientific methodology, among other topics.
The theory of the double bond
Double bonds are communication dilemmas due to the contradiction between two or more messages. This leads to the fact that no matter how the receiver responds, it will always make a mistake; in short, we tell him that he must do something but also that he cannot do it.
In the double bond, messages are generally encoded at different levels of abstraction; so we happen inconsistency between digital level or content level and analog or relational. The typical example is a mother who says “I love you” to her daughter or son, but the body language reflects rejection.
This means that two requests or commands are executed simultaneously, but it is impossible to respond to one of them without disobeying the other. According to Bateson, many people in positions of authority use double bonds as a tool to control others.
If they occur continuously, as happens in some families, these paradoxes lead the person in a position of subordination to feel relationship anxiety and insecurity on his own perspective of reality.
Bateson described five main characteristics that define the double bond. For this to happen, these conditions must be met in a given communication context.
1. Interaction between two people
Double bonds occur in verbal exchanges between two people. An individual should feel respect for the other, who is often defined as an authority figure.
Although normally we are talking about the double bond with respect to parents or the primary caregivers of a child, can also occur in teachers, for example.
2. Recurring experience
The double bond should not be understood as a one-off situation but rather as a recurring experience for the individual. For this to happen, most of the time it is enough for one of the parents to regularly use the double bonds.
3. Main negative mandate
At the digital or message content level, a primary negative mandate takes place; That means the issuer refers to a sanction what will happen if the subject performs (or does not perform) a certain behavior. In the family context, this punishment usually involves the deprivation of affection or the expression of hatred and contempt.
4. Secondary negative mandate
Secondary negative mandate occurs at the level of analog or relational communication. This is an abstract, perhaps non-verbal, order that contradicts the primary negative mandate.
5. Negative tertiary mandate
Sometimes a third request also appears that prevents the receiver from escaping the dilemma. The negative tertiary mandate implies that the subject cannot metacommunicate himself, that is to say speak of the incongruity between the primary and secondary mandates or the levels of content and relation.
The causes of schizophrenia
Bateson developed the theory of double bonds to explain psychological causes of schizophrenia. He believed that in his day the diagnosis of this disorder was made with excessive frequency and sought to delineate the specific patterns by which it developed.
According to this author, the alterations in thought and language that characterize schizophrenia are due to the person’s adaptation to a family context in which incongruous interactions occur. In such cases the contradictory logic of the double bond is internalized, Leading the individual to escape reality through delirium.
Although Bateson’s theory was very influential, the truth is that it has never been confirmed by surveys. It is currently believed that the double bond can be considered as one type of stress among many that can cause the onset of psychotic symptoms in biologically predisposed people.
Its contribution to mental health
Current theories on the etiology of schizophrenia offer one combination of genetic and environmental factors. Psychotic symptoms have high heritability, but an environmental component (such as drug addiction or family stress) is also necessary for schizophrenia to appear.
Despite its lack of soundness as a hypothesis on the development of schizophrenia, Bateson’s double bond theory puts on the table the relevance of communication and family models in mental health. It was also one of the first psychopathological explanations to be based on general systems theory.