Kurt Lewin
Researched and written by:  Donald F. Kneessi
I attest that the following biography is a product of my own original work..



            Kurt Lewin was born in Mogilno Germany and studied at various universities in Freiburg, Munich, and Berlin.  He received his Ph.D. in psychology from Carl Stumpf at Berlin in 1914, where he also learned Mathematics and physics.  In 1913, he went off to war to help defend Germany, but was wounded in combat, and later received Germanys Iron Cross award.  After that he returned to the University of Berlin and continued Gestalt research in association and motivation.  He was so involved in that research that he is considered a colleague of the three Gestalt founders.  In 1933, he due to Nazi influence and fearing for his life he decides to leave Germany and came to America (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).

            While in America he taught at Cornell University for two years and then went to teach at the University of Iowa.  His research on the social psychology of children got him the chance to develop the new research center for group dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Even after his death, his program was so effective that is still remains open to this day (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).

            Lewin’s field theory was using the concept of fields of force to explain behavior in terms of one’s field of social influences.  Lewin got the chance to present his field theory to American psychologist at the 1929 International congress of psychology at Yale (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).

            Throughout his thirty year he was areas of interest was human motivation, which was describing human behavior in its total physical and social context.  He focused mainly on social problems that affect how a person lives and works.  He fought to make the factories more personal instead of industrial to make work more personal satisfying instead of just going to work and earning paycheck to paycheck (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).

His knowledge of field theory in physics led him to the discovery of the life space. Lewin stated that a persons psychological activities occur within a kind of psychological field, called the life space.  The life space consists of all events in our past, present and future that help shape and affect us.  Each of the events helps determine our behavior in any given situation we are in.  The life space also consists of a person’s needs in interaction with the psychological environment (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).

            Lewin was interested in people individually instead of in a group.  To demonstrate this more thoroughly, Lewin decided to use topology to diagram the life space, showing that at any time the possible goals and paths a person may have leading towards them.  He used arrows to show the direction of the movement an individual has towards their goals.  He showed positive and negative choices people pick to either satisfy human needs (positive) or have negative affects on the individual (negative) (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).

            Lewis also proposed a basic state of equilibrium between the person and the environment.  He further stated that any interruptions in this equilibrium will lead to tension, which then will result any some behavior to decrease the level of tension in the individual. To explain human motivation Lewin stated that behavior involves a cycle of tension-states or need states that are then followed by activity and relief (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).

            Lewin’s interest in social psychology started in the 1930s. One great contribution to social psychology is Lewin’s group dynamics.  Group dynamics is applying psychological concepts to individual and group behavior. One of Lewin’s most famous experiments on group behavior had to do with authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire leadership styles with a group of boys.  The results from that study showed that the boys in the authoritarian group were aggressive, the boys in the democratic group were friendly, and completed more task than the boys in the other two groups (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).

            He also emphasized social action research, the study of relevant social problems with a view of introducing change. He also promoted sensitivity training for educators and business leaders to reduce inter group conflict and develop individual potential (Schultz & Schultz, 2004).



Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2004). A History of Modern Psychology.

p. 382-387. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.



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