In the 1930s, Kurt Lewin immigrated from Germany to the United States
and laid the foundations for research in human relations. Lewin was one
of the founding fathers not only of social psychology but also of
work and organisational psychology. He was one of the first to conduct a
systematic analysis of an issue fundamental to social and personality psychology,
namely the relative contributions of personality and social environment
to human behaviour.
Additionally, Lewin strongly emphasised the complementarity of basic and
Famous for the saying:
"There is Nothing So Practical as a Good Theory"
"If you want truly to understand something, try to change it."
The power of Lewin's theorizing lay not in a formal propositional kind
of theory but in his ability to build "models" of processes that drew attention
to the right kinds of variables that needed to be conceptualized
The concept of "genidentity", which Kurt Lewin introduced in his 1922
Habilitationsschrift, "Der Begriff der Genese in Physik, Biologie und
Entwicklungsgeschichte" ("The concept of genesis in physics, biology,
and the evolutionary history") is today perhaps the only surviving evidence
of Lewin's influence on the philosophy of science.and observed.
For Lewin, "genidentity" is an "existential relationship" underlying
the genesis of an object from one moment to the next. According to this
interpretation, what we usually consider an object really consists of
a multitude of entities, as it were, the phases of the object at various
times. Two objects are not genidentical because they have the same properties
and characteristics, but because one has developed from the other.
The principal characteristics of Lewin's field theory may be summarised
1.behavior is a function of the field that exists at the time the behavior
2.analysis begins with the situation as a whole from which are differentiated
the component parts, and
3.the concrete person in a concrete situation can represented mathematically.
Lewin also emphasizes underlying forces (needs) as determiners ofbehavior
and expresses a preference for psychological as opposed to physical or physiological
descriptions of the field. A field is defined as "the totality of coexisting
facts which are conceived of as mutually interdependent" (Lewin, 1951, p.
As you might guess from the paragraph quoted above, Lewin uses the language
of physics, geometry and mathematics in analyzing human behavior.
Lewin, K. A dynamic theory of personality. New York: McGraw-Hill,
Lewin, K. Principles of topological psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill,
Lewin, K. The conceptual representation and measurement of psychological
Lewin, I. Resolving social conflicts; selected papers on group dynamics.
Lewin (Ed.). New York: Harper & Row, 1948.
Lewin, K. Field theory in social science; selected theoretical papers.
D. Cartwright (Ed.). New York: Harper & Row, 1951
Group Dynamics is founded on Lewin's concept of action research. Lewin
felt that social problems, including conflict, leadership, and adjustment,
should be solved scientifically for there "is no hope of creating a better
world without a deeper scientific insight into the function of leadership
and culture" and other essentials of group life (Lewin, 1948, p. 113). Lewin's
action research argues against the traditional distinction between basic
and applied science by suggesting that scientific understanding will occur
most rapidly if researchers and practitioners's efforts are unified. Extending
Lewin's unificationist view, we seek to strengthen the unity of group psychology
in terms of educational training experiences, professional identity, shared
methodological standards, the evolution of discipline-spanning conceptual
models of groups, and shared metatheoretical and epistemological assumptions
about how our knowledge of groups should be expanded (see Forsyth &
Leary, 1991). This unified approach to the study of groups defines the standards,
topics, and bent of the journal.
Kurt Lewin is considered to be by many, the most charismatic psychologist
of his generation. He was born in Germany in 1890. His formal training in
psychology began in 1910 in Berlin and led to a Ph.D. in the experimental
study of associative learning.
During World War I Lewin served as a private and eventually became a lieutenant
in the German army. He was wounded in action and received an Iron Cross. After
the war he returned to the Psychological Institute in Berlin where he became
Privatedozent in 1921. In 1927, at the age of 37, he advanced to Ausserordentlicher
Lewin came to the United States in 1932 as a visiting professor to Stanford
University. His influence in America was immediate. Lewin’s published many
books before his arrival to the United States and after. With Fritz Heider,
a fellow refugee friend from Berlin, and his American wife Grace, he wrote
Lewin’s Principles of Topical Psychology. Lewin left Stanford for Cornell
and eventually settled down at the University of Iowa from 1935 to 1944. After
Lewin moved from Iowa he established and directed the Research Center for
Group Dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Lewin is most renown for his development of the field theory. The field theory
is the "proposition that human behavior is the function of both the person
and the environment: expressed in symbolic terms, B = f (P, E)."(Deaux 9)
This means that one’s behavior is related both to one’s personal characteristics
and to the social situation in which one finds oneself.
The field theory may seem obvious to us now, but most early psychologist
did not believe in behaviorism. Many psychologists at the time believed in
the psychoanalytic theory that held human motives to be blind pushes from
within. Lewin thought of motives as goal- directed forces. He believed "that
our behavior is purposeful; we live in a psychological reality or life space
that includes not only those parts of our physical and social environment
that are important to us but also imagined states that do not currently exist"
Lewin’s field theory lead to the development of actual field research on
human behavior. With boldness, Lewin manipulated complex situational variables
in natural settings. His approach has guided experiments in the field of social
cognition, social motivation, and group processes. Most importantly Lewin
helped develop action research. Action research uses empirical social research,
social action, and controlled evaluation.
Clearly, Kurt Lewin’s field theory and action field research has one of the
most outstanding impacts on modern social psychology. His field theory explained
that our actions are a result of both environmental and psychological traits.
We are not just beings who act from internal impulses. Instead we are greatly
influenced by our surroundings.
Lastly Lewin’s belief that social-psychological phenomena can be studied
experimentally was a huge impetus for scientific research. He was the first
to test human behavior in a controlled setting. His research also showed events
must be studied in
relation to one another, and that both the individual and the group are important.
His research helped to better explain leadership atmospheres and group dynamics.
Kurt Lewin’s influence on scientific research is his legacy. He was a ground-breaking
psychologist who greatly impacted his field. Kurt Lewin will continue to influence
both theory and research all the way to and beyond the twenty-first century.