Seminar 5 Blog

Kurt Lewin

Kurt Lewin (1890-1947)

A German born psychologist, Lewin worked with some of the best in the field: Stumpf, Wertheimer, Koffka, and Kohler. He was a decorated with military honors before teaching at the University of Berlin. He was an early disciple of the Gestalt school of psychology. In his work you can see an extension of Gestalt principles (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). Lewin saw a lot of psychology was still focused on Aristoelian ways- seeking inner determinants of behavior, and attempts to place people in distinct categories ( Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). Lewin preferred to focus on dynamic forces to explain behavior.
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Life Span

Lewin defined Life Span as consisting of all influences acting on an individual at a given time (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). An example would be if a person was hungry their stomach would growl. Everyone has had that moment in a quiet room when their stomach growls. Their direct behavior, getting something to eat, would be because of the indication from their stomach. Lewin used psychological facts- the awareness of internal events, external events or recollections of prior events (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). The recollection of prior events made me think of my drive home Monday evening. Monday was an exceptionally warm Fall evening in West Michigan. I took the back roads home so I could drive with the windows down. The smell of burning leaves, the sunset and a crispness in the air took me back to my childhood. I instantly was aware of jumping in the leaves, trips to the cider mill and hayrides.

Principle of Contemporaneity is what Lewin used to explained what psychological facts were. Contemporaneity refers to concentrating on elements of the current situation that motivate people and influence their environment thus shaping change (Neumann,na).


Lewin believed that people sought to have balance in their lives. Following Kohler, Lewin explained motivation as the need to reduce tension. Tension was caused by both biological and psychological needs, the only way to reduce tension is to satisfy those needs (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014).

Bluma Zeigarnek studied under Lewin, and researched motivation. One of her experiments led to the Zeigarnik Effect. It describes how individuals find it easier to recall a task when it has been started but not completed (Madigan, 2013). The brain is focusing on all the tasks that need to be finished. I have an ever growing To Do list. Once a task is complete, I cross it off the list, move on to the next and forget about what is done. I call it multitasking- being able to focus on and complete more than one thing at a time. I tend to not focus on those items that are complete, because there is always something more that needs my attention.

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Conflict is when we face two or more incompatible demands, opportunities, needs or goals (Morris & Maisto, 2013). In most situations, someone is going to be disappointed. We have all had times when we needs to be in two places at the same time. My daughters are 18 months apart in age, but has one grade between them in school. At one point in elementary school they were in separate buildings. Being the mom that always wanted to make their holiday school parties, this situation purposed a deilemma. I ended up going to one Halloween party and the other's Christmas party that year. We were able to reach a compromise. Of course being a single working mom, I have missed more parties than I have been able to attend which is also a conflict.

Lewin had three different types of conflicts:

  • Approach/ approach conflict: attraction to two appealing goals
  • Avoidance/ avoidance conflict: confronting two undesirable possibilities, neither have any positive attributes
  • Approach/avoidance conflict: attraction and repulsion of the same goal (Morris & Maisto, 2013).

Group Dynamics

Using his information learned from Gestalt applied some of the principles to group behavior. He believed that the group as a whole could function like the brain. The nature of a small group will influence the behavior of its members (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). Individuals will behave in a certain way on their own, but put them in a group and their behavior could be completely different. A shy quiet person might be better in a confrontation with the help of others in a group.

Lewin was also part of a study on leadership. Lewin, Lippitt and White conducted an experiment with males in different group settings.

  • Democratic group- with one encouraging leader. They showed productivity
  • Authoritarian group- dictating leader. this group showed high levels of aggression
  • Liassez-faire group- no leader or group decisions, they could do as they pleased. This group showed no productivity ( Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014).


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

Madigan, J. Ph.D. (2013). Mind Games: The Zeigarnik Effect and Quest Logs. Psychology Today.

Morris, C.G. & Maisto, A.A. (2013). Understanding Psychology (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

Neumann, J. (na). Kurt Lewin- Contemporaneity Rule.