Kurt Lewin

Seminar Five Blog Entry by Jami Welker

Kurt Lewin


Lewin’s many contributions to psychology continue to be significant. He has influenced organizational psychology as well as applied psychology and is considered the architect of social psychology (Cherry, 2016). Lewin has been quoted as saying, “nothing is as practical as a good theory” (James, 2008, para. 6). While there are several versions of this quote the sentiment is the same; a theory is only as good as its applicability to real life. This is the first key element that runs through the work of Kurt Lewin. He is also known for developing research with the intent of enhancing society by seeing his subjects as clients who should benefit from the intervention of science (Coghlan & Brannick, 2003).

Life Space

Lewin proposed that human behavior had to be considered in the context of the social environment in which the individual is operating (James, 2008). With this in mind he developed the concept of life space, the entirety of “all influences acting on [a person] at a given time” (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014, p. 457). Lewin also recognized that the psychological interpretation of the environment was the reality that people operate in, regardless of whether or not it corresponds to the physical reality (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). In the workplace this is significant because the behavior of the employee cannot be understood without taking into account the totality of the workplace environment that they function in. More importantly, the employee’s interpretation of that workplace must be accounted for.


Lewin described motivation as coming from a basic need for balance (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). While body and mind are experiencing needs, tensions are created and endure until they are appeased (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). In the workplace, understanding motivation is particularly important for eliciting change. Knowing what the needs of the workers are and how that creates tension in them offers insight into the best way to introduce change. When designing the process for change implementation, management should recognize that employees will work to minimize tensions, so the tensions should be removed to make room for the change.


When Lewin took on conflict research he described three kinds of conflicts: approach-approach conflict, avoidance-avoidance conflict, and approach-avoidance conflict (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). Approach-approach conflict is having to choose between two desirable options (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). Avoidance-avoidance conflict is having to choose between two unwanted options (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). Approach-avoidance conflict is having one desired option but feeling conflicted about choosing it (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). Understanding the tensions that create conflicts in a workplace setting can contribute to management of conflicts as they occur or even avoid many of them altogether.


Life space, motivation, and conflict are some of the foundational concepts of Lewin’s field theory. These concepts were originally based on the research of the experience of individuals. Lewin later found applications for these concepts to group dynamics (Levinger, 1956). He was then able to develop action research and make significant contributions to organizational psychology with his work on group dynamics (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014).


Cherry, K. (2016). Kurt Lewin biography (1890-1947). About Health. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/profilesofmajorthinkers/p/bio_lewin.htm

Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. (2003). Kurt Lewin: The "Practical Theorist" for the 21st Century. Irish Journal Of Management, 24(2), 31-37.

Hergenhahn, B.R., & Henley, T.B. (2014). An introduction to the history of psychology (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

James, A. B. (2008). Roots: The life space pioneers. Reclaiming Children & Youth, 17(2), 4-10.

Levinger, G. (1957). Kurt Lewin's approach to conflict and its resolution: A review with some extensions. The Journal of Conflict Resolution (Pre-1986), 1(4), 329. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.bakerezproxy.palnet.info/docview/235709806?accountid=8473