Lewin, Kurt

Lewin, Kurt

(lo͞o`ĭn), 1890–1947, American psychologist, b. Germany, Ph.D. Univ. of Berlin, 1914. He taught at the Univ. of Berlin before coming to the United States in 1932. He was professor (1935–44) of child psychology at the Univ. of Iowa and director (from 1944) of the research center for group dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Influenced by Gestalt psychology, he was concerned with problems of motivation of individuals and of groups as determined by the context of a given situation. His work opened up a new realm of psychological investigation. His writings include A Dynamic Theory of Personality (tr. 1935), Principles of Topological Psychology (1936), The Conceptual Representation and Measurement of Psychological Forces (1938), and Resolving Social Conflicts (1947).

Lewin, Kurt


Born Sept. 9, 1890, in Poznań; died Feb. 12, 1947, in Newton, Mass. German-American psychologist.

Lewin was a professor at the University of Berlin from 1926 to 1933. From 1932 to 1944 he was a professor at Stanford and Cornell Universities and at the University of Iowa. He was an organizer and director of the Research Center for Group Dynamics of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1945 to 1947.

During the 1920’s, Lewin was a representative of the Berlin school of Gestalt psychology, engaged in the experimental study of will and affect. Subsequently he developed a concept of personality whose basis was the concept of “field.” The term was borrowed from physics and characterizes the psychological unity of personality and surroundings—the totality of interconnected factors (the field of events that are possible for a given individual; the field of forces that predetermine which of the possibilities will be realized in the behavior of the individual). The behavior of the individual is the external expression of events occurring in the psychological field; these events consist either of a shift from one region of the field to another or of a change in the structure of the field itself, described by Lewin by means of the concept of topology.

The concept of field is an example of Lewin’s characteristic interest in restructuring psychology on the model of the exact sciences (primarily physics). Thus, motivation, which, in contrast to the approach of Gestalt psychology, became one of Lewin’s fundamental concepts, was in Lewin’s view abstracted from the object-meaning content (social and historical, in the final analysis) of the situation in which the motivational dynamics is realized. Numerous experimental works performed by Lewin and his students (problems of memorizing and resuming interrupted actions, psychological substitution, frustration, the “aspiration level” of personality) laid the foundations of the present-day experimental study of motivation. Lewin was one of the pioneers of experimental research in group psychology, or group dynamics. He became part of the scientific group led by N. Wiener, which developed the basic principles of cybernetics.


Vorsatz, Wille und Bedürfnis. Berlin, 1926.
Gesetz und Experiment in der Psychologie. Berlin, 1927.
A Dynamic Theory of Personality. New York, 1935.
Principles of Topological Psychology. New York-London, 1936.
Resolving Social Conflicts. New York, 1948.
Field Theory in Social Science. New York, 1951.
In Russian translation:
Sotsializatsiia sistemy Teilora. Leningrad-Moscow, 1925.


Antsyferova, L. I. “O teorii lichnosti v rabotakh K. Levina.” Voprosy psikhologii, 1960, No. 6.
Marrow, A. J. The Practical Theorist. New York, 1969.
Kaufmann, P. K. Lewin. Paris, 1968.
Mailhiot, G. B. Dynamique et genèse des groupes: Actualité des découvertes de K. Lewin. Paris, 1968.

Lewin, Kurt

(1890–1947) psychologist; born in Mogilno, Prussia (now Poland). Part of the German Gestalt psychology movement, his particular interests were group dynamics and memory. He emigrated to the United States in 1932. He taught at Cornell (1933–35), the University of Iowa (1935–44), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1944–47), where he also directed the research center for group dynamics. He attempted to analyze behavior using laboratory techniques. He saw behavior in terms of forces in the psychological "field" and described individual behavior in terms of the interaction of internal and environmental psychological forces. He compared, for instance, the effect of democratic and authoritarian behavior on groups.