Kurt Lewin was one of the most influential psychologists in history. He is considered the father of social psychology and organizational psychology. His approaches and his theory apply to many areas today, mainly in the organizational world.
Kurt Lewin was born in a small town in Prussia, called Mogilno, in 1890. From an early age his family moved to Berlin (Germany). There Lewin studied medicine and later biology in Munich. From a young age he also became interested in philosophy and psychology, areas that he began to study formally in 1911.
” If you really want to understand something, try to change it .”
He was also an ardent political activist for socialism. In fact, he thought that psychology could be very useful to achieve greater justice and equity in the world. He received his doctorate as a philosopher, but during the First World War he was sent to the front lines as a gunner. He was soon injured and then returned to his normal life.
When Kurt Lewin returned home, he began studying at the Berlin Psychological Institute. There he came into contact with various representatives of Gestalt psychology and became very interested in this current, which was in vogue.
A new stage for Kurt Lewin
Kurt Lewin was of Jewish descent. So with the rise of Nazism in 1933, he knew that he had no choice but to leave Germany. He first tried to take refuge in Jerusalem, but failed. With the help of some colleagues, he was able to go to the United States.
Thanks to one of his German friends, he got a job teaching at Cornell University. Later he was a professor at the University of Iowa. A few years later he became the director of the Group Dynamics Research Center at MIT in Massachusetts.
At that time, Kurt Lewin focused his research on social phenomena. He studied social interaction in detail, as well as the effects of social pressure on behavior and work dynamics in organizations. Thanks to all this, he laid the foundations of what would be social psychology.
A new vision of psychology
When Kurt Lewin arrived in the United States, the prevailing psychological current was behaviorism. This posited that man was like a black box. It was born as a blank page. The influence of others was what shaped the personality and made each person what they were. For Lewin, however, each individual is not passive, but establishes an interaction with their environment.
Kurt Lewin designed new postulates to understand human behavior. He borrowed the concept of “field” from physics. In this discipline, this term refers to an area of space that has certain properties or factors that give it a specific configuration.
In the same way, for Kurt Lewin human behavior is the result of a field. This comprises a set of coexisting events, in which the change in one part affects the change in the whole as a whole. In turn, the subject perceives these events and their dynamics, in a particular way. All of this makes up what Kurt Lewin called “living space. “
The variables that are operating in this dynamic field, or vital space, are fundamentally three: tension, force and need. Thanks to the latter, the behavior establishes a specific purpose.
Great contributions to social psychology
Kurt Lewin’s main contribution was to postulate that the individual and the environment should never be seen as two separate realities. In practice, they are two instances that are always interacting with each other and that change each other, in real time. It happens at all times. Lewin’s field theory calls for studying the individual in terms of these dynamics.
Likewise, it points out that when you want to understand human behavior, all the variables that may be affecting your living space must be taken into account. This includes from the degree of illumination of a room, to the socialization patterns in your group.
Based on all this, Kurt Lewin argues that it is perfectly valid to introduce changes in that environment to study the reactions of the subjects who interact in it and with it. This was a new perspective on research that spawned hundreds of such studies around the world. To this day, this method, called action research, is still applied.