Double bind: An inescapable dilemma involving conflicting demands that allow no right or satisfactory response. An influential theory of the etiology of schizophrenia was put forward by the English-born US anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) and several co-authors in an article in the journal Behavioral Science in 1956, according to which schizophrenia is caused by parenting styles that create double binds for children, as when a mother complains to her son for not giving her a kiss but recoils physically whenever the child does kiss her. This theory was enthusiastically adopted by the Scottish psychiatrist Ronald D(avid) Laing (1927-89) and others during the 1970s and 1980s, but empirical evidence has not been forthcoming in support of the theory, despite its attractiveness.
Excerpted from: Colman, Andrew M., ed. Oxford Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.