Kurt Lewin: The Theorist Essay

Length: 9 pages Sources: 9 Subject: Psychology Type: Essay Paper: #81553193 Related Topics: Complacency, Consumer Psychology, Physics, Journalism
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¶ … Kurt Lewin. The influence of his theories on the field of psychology and obstacles faced by social psychologists are also dealt with. Lastly, a personal evaluation of how Lewin's theories may be applicable to daily life is included. The paper discusses and reviews all theories founded and furthered by Lewin in his career as psychologist and researcher. It allows scope for assessment and criticism, followed by response.

Theorist Kurt Lewin (1890 -- 1947) can be counted among the most prominent psychologists of his time. His works laid the groundwork for organizational development and are even now regarded as pivotal to the field. It has been aptly stated that almost no questions can be raised with regards to Kurt Lewin being the intellectual founder of modern applied behavioral science theories, as well as planned change and action research. Lewin's groundbreaking planned-change research works on different styles of leadership. Many of his studies were conducted during WWII to modify consumer behavior. This set the ball rolling for an entire generation of studies and investigations into group dynamics, as well as change - program implementation (Schein 1988, p. 239). Lewin was the mastermind behind the development of "topological psychology" or field theory, which theoretically reinforced all his applied behavioral science works. A noteworthy example from the management context was Lewin's research on styles of leadership. This proved the effectiveness of laissez-faire and democratic leadership styles over autocratic leadership, and is a fine example of the Lewinian classic field theory. The theory was developed in a time-span of 25 years, starting from the 1920s. Making use of the field theory of physics, Lewin contended that organization of facts, which coexist in a psychological or social scenario, can be considered as space or life.


Born in the year 1890 in Poland, Kurt Lewin contributed significantly to the psychology field. Lewin grew up in Berlin, where he began developing an apparatus conceptual to the study of human behavior and motives, with particular procedural thoroughness. He formulated proper social science practices for precisely developing society. He changed universities and his field, in 1910, when he joined the University of Berlin. He began studying psychology, guided by Carl Stumpf. On completing his PhD in 1914, he enrolled in Germany's Army. Unfortunately, because of the outbreak of WWI, he wasn't awarded his doctorate degree until after two years. During service, Lewin rose from private to army officer rank, and was awarded the Iron Cross for his services to the Army and an injury he received during WWI. It is believed that his service contributed significantly to Lewin's studies and development of theories. In 1917, Lewin married Maria Landsberg, with whom he had two children- Fritz and Agnes. Following 10 years of being married, Lewin and Landsberg divorced.

Kurt Lewin completed his doctorate in philosophy and psychology from the University of Berlin, where he served as professor from 1926-1932. During those days, Lewin conducted experimental research on learning, needs, motivation and tension states. After Hitler rose to power, Lewin along with his family moved to America in 1933. Here, he began his career in Cornell University. He carried out revolutionary works in the field of applied psychology in America. Kurt faced many challenges, especially in his research work, as a result of the move from Berlin. He, however, welcomed the challenges, which paved the way for his social influence theories. These works mistakenly made him the father of social psychology, in many people's view. Continuing his research, Lewin formed the 'Dynamics' group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (Coghlan & Brannick, 2001). He negotiated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on setting up a research unit. Lewin published A Dynamic Theory of Personality...


He worked at Harvard for a year, before shifting to the University of Iowa. Lewin wrote several unpublished articles until his death at 56 years of age, by heart attack (Ash, 1992).

Lewin's Theories

Lewin is credited with the formulation of numerous theories, which shed light on the operation of various psychological issues and the behavior of humans in different situations. The theories account for some of our behavioral traits. Field theory, change theory, and the theory of gate keeping are some of Lewin's famous theories.

Theory of Change

Kurt brought up the topic of social change in his article "Frontiers in Group Dynamics," wherein he compares social change to a force field. He suggests that change agents (individuals), akin to force field changes, think along the lines of how the current state can be transformed into a desired state. A planned change implies that new, desired force field equilibrium replaces the one at the present state. According to the previously-mentioned meta-theoretical rule, total social forces should be taken into consideration (Glassman et al., 2013).

Field theory

The quintessence of Kurt Lewin's works is the field theory. Following his death, this theory didn't draw much attention till the 1990s, when researchers began extensively employing force field analyses. The paper looks into the origins, aims, and continuing relevance of field theory, in particular, the influence of Gestalt psychology, and the science philosophy of Ernst Cassire, and typology on its development. It is claimed that Lewin's attempt at replacing traditional topology with Lewinian math-based topology in his pursuit for scientific rigor, caused relevance undermining.

This theory extensively enabled Lewin and his associates to comprehend the forces behind undesirable sustained behaviors and recognize those forces required to weaken or strengthen, to cause desired behavior. This forms one of four elements in the planned change approach, the other three elements being- group dynamics, 3-stage change model, and action research (Burnes, 2004a). The function of group dynamics and the theory was to comprehend motivation, formation and maintenance of organizations, while that of the last two elements was changing behavior of social groups. By treating these as distinct aspects in Lewin's works, all of his concepts utilize and comprise a single, well-integrated structure system (Glassman et al., 2013).

The base of formation of planned change, however, is Lewin's field theory, without which comprehending the forces that shape present behavior and identifying those which must be altered for propelling change is difficult. Unfortunately, while the other three elements acquired a lot of support after Lewin's death, social scientists' general understanding and views on field theory have become increasingly undefined (Coghlan & Brannick, 2003).

Modifying people's attitudes and behaviors is equivalent to severing an age-old habit or social custom. Social habits, which are a key factor in preventing change, are termed by Lewin as 'inner resistances to change'. To overcome these, applying a force sufficient to repeal the custom or break the habit is imperative. According to Lewin, the process of change has 3 stages, of which the first is to unfreeze the current level or habit. This is vital to make sure that self-righteousness and complacency are broken. A person should be emotionally inspired to change attitudes or behaviors (Glassman, Erdem & Bartholomew, 2013).

Gate keeping theory This denotes control of information via a particular gate guarded by gatekeepers, who determine what information is to be allowed passage and what isn't (Shoemaker & Vos, 2009). Gatekeepers, in making decisions, exercise great power compared to those on the opposite side, or inside. The source of this gate keeping is associated with Kurt Lewin- he viewed it as another of the many correlated social phenomena. For understanding this, an understanding of the whole social field was vital. Gate keeping theory arose organically from conceptualization; Lewin conceptualized individuals and groups (Shoemaker & Vos, 2009).


The social psychologist, Kurt Lewin, is credited to be the force at the helm of action research. Nevertheless, it is more precise that several researchers, social activists, governmental and non-governmental organizations have directly and indirectly impacted it. The Commission on community interrelations (CCI), not Lewin, may have coined the term 'action research'; however, this does not depreciate Lewin's significant contributions to psychology, with his field theory and gate keeping notions (Michael, 2013).

Field theory claims the behavior results from a sum total of coexisting and mutually dependent forces that affect a group/individual and constitute the space wherein behavior transpires. While formulating the theory, Gestalt psychology encouraged and influenced him. Gestalt, to psychologists, denotes a perceptual arrangement or form that arises out of individual construct, and is complete, clear and possesses certain properties not stemming from individual elements or regarded as the aggregate (DeIuliis, 2011).

Field theory indicates the bases of Lewin's theoretic principle in physics and psychology. As per this theory, behavior should be assessed in the right context, by considering relevant forces affecting it. The gestalt approach, in which all individuals, groups or organizations arise from circumstances of occurrence, forms the origin of this viewpoint. To Lewin, the field or space where mutually dependent forces work represents the situation. This signifies the sum total of fact that decides an individual's behavior at some specific moment or time (Glassman et al., 2013).

Six meta-theory principles are proposed by Lewin under field theory. Of…

Sources Used in Documents:


Ash, M.G. (1992). Cultural contexts and scientific change in psychology: Kurt Lewin in Iowa. American Psychologist, 47(2), 198-207. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.47.2.198

Written by Ash, this article follows Kurt Lewin's partial biography after his move to America from Germany in 1933. While working for Iowa Child Welfare Research Station, Lewin had to encounter several challenges. Lewin attempted to reproduce his scientific group, like the one he had established in Germany. Unable to accomplish this, Lewin's tactic changed, and he adapted himself to the new world. He transferred his life stories to his cultural- change adaptation theories, formulated successful research systems and transformed the bases of psychology in the U.S.

Burnes, B., & Cooke, B. (2013). Kurt Lewin's Field Theory: A Review and Re-evaluation. International journal of management reviews, 15(4), 408-425.

This work describes field theory, with sufficient examples. A pedestal to evaluate all arguments regarding it is granted to the author. This theory is reviewed, along with other facts. Finally, re-evaluation is carried out in the end.
Schwartz, E.K. (1971). Review of the practical theorist: The life and work of Kurt Lewin. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 41(1), 184-185. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1492507764?accountid=8289

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