The Work of Kurt Lewin


Kurt Lewin's Field Theory

Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) was a German psychologist/sociologist/Gestaltist who theorized that psychological facts (also known as “Life Space”) are the key to understanding and predicting human behavior.

Psychological facts consist of the person’s awareness at the present moment. Past experiences, are not considered relevant unless they exist in the person’s current state of awareness. A person’s life space includes all essences that are personal, social, physical, and even imaginary, and are what direct behavior. If a person is thirsty, the psychological facts related to acquiring and utilizing a beverage will dominate a person’s life space. Several needs can occur simultaneously which exemplifies the complexities that inhabit one’s life space.

The Cognitive Balance With Regard To Motivation

Quasi-needs are the psychological needs, such as wanting a car, wanting to mow the lawn, or wanting to spend time with friends. Lewin theorized that biological and psychological needs cause tension in the life space. Tensions are reduced when the needs are satisfied. According to Lewin, 3 factors determine motivation: Tension, the degree of need, and the distance from the goal. The closer that an individual is to a goal, the greater the “motivational force”

Lewin’s Conflict Theory

Lewin was the first to examine conflict experimentally and found 3 types of conflict: An approach-approach conflict, avoidance-avoidance conflict, and approach-avoidance conflict. The approach-approach conflict occurs when an individual is attracted to two needs at the same time, and must choose between the two. The avoidance-avoidance conflict occurs when both goals appear unattractive. The approach-avoidance conflict occurs when there is one goal, but the individual is ambivalent, due to mixed feelings. For example, one may want to go on an a cruise, but it may be too expensive for them.

Group Dynamics

According to Lewin, a group can be viewed as a physical system, much like a brain can. The dynamic interdependence exists due to the individual influence of each member which determines the behavior of the group. The nature of the group determines its responses to certain forces and how these forces may be manipulated to result in desired changed group behaviors. A leader of a group, for example, may change their leadership style, which will have an effect on the group, and result in changed behaviors. When a sports team is underperforming, the coach will be blamed for failed leadership, resulting in the dismissal of the coach and the replacement of a new coach. The goal of the team and its sponsors is to have a team that outperforms, and it is the job of the coach to reach that goal.


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