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The Basic Assumption Group


Explanations > Groups > The Basic Assumption Group

Description | Discussion | See also



When Work Groups are faced with uncontrollable anxiety, they may fall into one or more of three different emotional states in which basic assumption groups exist.


In this state, the group seeks a leader who will relieve them of all anxiety. This leader is thus invested with omnipotence and is expected to be able to solve all problems.

If this magical leader does not perform up to scratch, then the leader will be attacked and a replacement sought. Thus a cycle of leader-seeking, idealization and denigration occurs.


The development of the group is frozen by a hope of being rescued by two members who will pair off and somehow create an unborn leader.


The group acts as if its main task is to fight or flee from some common enemy who may be found either within or outside the group.

Switching between states

The group may switch between these states, sometimes very quickly, or may become stuck in one mode.


Wilfred Bion contrasted the Basic Assumption Group against the parallel and more 'normal' Work Group. When acting as a Basic Assumption group, the group acts as a closed system whereby external realities are ignored and collective dynamics rule.

This grouping operates at the unconscious level and hence group members do not realize what is actually happening. As such, they are victims of the operational forces and the unconscious collective.

Bion also described the 'specialized work group' which is split off from the main group to deal with the basic assumptions whilst the rest of the group continues with the primary task.

Bion related pairing to the Oedipal stage and the importance of the family group. Early group setting are familial or kinship and these are used as later templates for group activity, and early anxieties may reappear.

Groups can be based around different basic assumptions. For example the church is based around dependency whilst the army makes significant use of fight/flight.

Turquet (1974) added a fourth basic assumption of 'oneness', echoing neonatal unity, where:

'...members seek to join in a powerful union with an omnipotent force, unobtainably high, to surrender themselves for passive participation and thereby to feel existence, well-being and wholeness.'

Other writers have identified further assumptions, such as Gordon Lawrence's 'me-ness', where withdrawal from the group is associated with a bad object that is not to be joined.

See also

Work Group, Oedipus Complex, Fight-or-Flight reaction

Bion, W. R. (1961). Experiences in Groups, London: Tavistock.


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