Kurt Lewin, another of those who left Germany as the Nazis consolidated their power, adapted and applied the Gestalt perspective to personality theory and social dynamics and called it "Field Theory." He Translated gestalt ideas into social experience involving people and made them useful in this context.He was a social reformer as well as a psychological theoriest. Widely recognized as the founder of the subdiscipline of social psychology, he was especially interested in the applications of psychology to psychological problems and founded the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Divsion 9 of the American Psychological Association. He was also responsible for the founding of the National Training Laboratories in Bethel Maine, best known for "sensitivity training" for corporate leaders. His "action research" approach has been applied broadly, and there are some contemporary papers about that approach on the "links" page.
BIOGRAPHICAL. Click on the top few entries on the Kurt Lewin Links page, and review the beginning of the first article on Lewin in the class reader.
SOME CENTRAL IDEAS:
LEWIN'S APPROACH TO PERSONALITY
Lewin emphasized the explanation of human behavior in terms of the forces and tensions that move us to action. Unlike Wertheimer, Kohler, and Koffka, who started with perception and then moved to behavior, Lewin began with behavior and what produces it, and then moved on to the problems of how people perceived their own and others' behavior. When a perceptual set (described below) affected the way learned associations were expressed, Lewin saw it as conflict between competing determining tendencies. In both laboratory and world, he held, a person's behavior is always oriented toward some goal. The person is always trying to do something. That intention or determining tendency is what matters most.
Associations, held Lewin, are not sources of energy,but just links or connections "like the couplings between the cars of railroad train which do nothing except transmit the energy supplied by the locomotive." (Woodworth, 1964) Lewin declared, "Psychology cannot try to explain eerything with a single construct, such as association, instinct, or gestalt. A variety of constructs has to be used. They should be interrelated, however, in a logically precise manner. "
Intentions and intentional actions, he held, do not result from simply a stimulus here or a reinforcer there. They follow "field principles." We have to look for psychological forces and intensions that arise from motives, and at goals, and at how people perceive the situation,.
Lewin did not try to relate psychological forces to physical forces, except in the descriptive names like "vector." He did not address the question of how motives originate, whether in insinct or previous experience, but rather focused on how they operate.
Lewin viewed the person as system containing subsystems that are more or less separate and more or less able to interact and combine with each other. "One subsystem," writes Woodworth, "might be friendship for a certain person; another might be love for a certain sport. When a person is intent on reaching a goal, one of his subsystem is in a state of tension". If he is interrupted, this subsystem remains tense for some time and cause him to resume the activity once the interruption is gone. Or if it can't be resumed, an activity that's somehow similar can substitute for it and drain off the tension. A repetitive task will eventually drain off all the tension in its subsystem, leaving a state of satiation. With continued activity this spreads to related subsystems. ("Cosatiation.")
The structure of a person includes an outer region called the perceptual-motor region that is in contact with the psychological environment, and a central portion called the inner-personal region. Thhe inner-personal region is divided into cells that represent tension systems.
As a child develops, the personality system expands and differentiates. His view of the psychological environment is subject to cognitive restructuring--it becomes better understood and he does a better job of distinguishing between the real world and the "irreal" world of wishes and fears. The child finds new social roles and learns new social norms and codes.
FIELD THEORY. Its basic statements are that:
The field is the life space, which contains the person and his or her psychological (or behavioral) environment. The psychological environment is the environment as the person perceives and understands it, and as related to his needs and quasi-needs. Many objects that do not presently concern him exist only in the background of the psychological environment (the Gestalt "ground.)
THE LIFE-SPACE. What do you include in your field of perception and action? If you're lucky, to some degree your life space is determined by you. For others, it's largely determined by your environment and the people you're in association with.Life space includes:
The person and the psychological environment are divided into regions that undergo differentiation. Regions are connected when a person can perform a locomotion betweeen them. Locomotion includes any kind of approach or withdrawal--even looking at a pretty object or away from an ugly one, or listening to liked music and avoiding disliked or uninteresting music. They are said to be connected when communication can take place between them. The region that lies just jjoutside the life-space is the foreign hull. The person is a differentiated region in the lifespace, set apart from the psychological environment by a boundary. A barrier may block the locomotion called for by vectors. A barrier exerts no force until force is exerted on it. Then it may yield, or resist strongly. How rigid it is you can find out only by exploration. You may have a plan that another person doesn't like, but you don't know how strongly he'll resist your carrying it out until you try. An impassible barrier is likely to acquire a negative valence and may lead to cursing or attacking it.
An awakened need is a state of tension, a readiness for action but without specific direction. When a suitable object is found, it acquires positive valence, and a vector then directs locomotion toward the object. Excessive tension may blur the person's perception of the environment, so that he doesn't find a suitable object to reduce the tension.
(I sometimes do an activity in which people have big sheets of paper and draw their own physical life-spaces, complete with an indication of how they feel in each place. Then each person explains his or her drawing to half-a-dozen or so others. This tends to give group members an understanding of the others that they might never have had otherwise.)
Your perception of yourself and your relationship with yourself shifts as your life-space shifts.
How do you go about changing your life-space when you do so? If you're a member of a group, your life-space as a member of the group is a developmental process of some kind.
A limitation of Lewin's method of diagramming the life space was difficulty representing B's life space as a factor operating in A's life-space.
A need is Lewin's basic motivational concept. It may arise from a physiological condition like hunger or may be a desire or intention to do something. Needs release energy, increase tension, and determine the strength of vectors and valences.
Tension, excitement, and closure. We build tension in order to motivate ourselves to learn and do. And with learning, accomplishment, or completion comes a release of tension. Thbis has to do with closure. You finish a piece of business. There's a sense of relief.So life is a constant interplay between completing old situations and opening up new ones. If we're alive and well, there's always excitement, tension, possibilities. You can get closure and reduce tension, but the tension is never eliminated because we keep our systems open to be able to explore new events, people, and possibilities.
The Zeigarnik Effect. Lewin often met with his students in a cafe across the street from the University of Berlin. The custom there was that orders were not written down; the waiter or waitress kept them in their head and added additional items to them as they were ordered until the customers left. Lewin noted something quite interesting: The servers had an almost perfect memory for items that had been ordered until the bill was paid, and then a couple of minutes later could hardly recall anything about what was ordered. His student Bluma Zeigarnik carried out an experimental study of this phenomenon, finding that it had widespread validity, and it became known as the Zeigarnik effect.
Perls and Gestalt Therapy. Fritz Perls' took Lewin's work on tension systems and made it one of the central concepts of Gestalt Therapy. He called tension systems "unfinished business." A healthy persom will complete most of their life situations while they're involved with them. A less healthy person is likely to move through life dragging this ball and chain of a whole mass of unfinished business. This may relate to unfinished situations from childhood, with a previous partner, etc.--anything the person has left incomplete that at some conscious or unconscious level continues to influence and trouble him or her.
TYPES OF CONFLICTS. If you read anything about Lewin in your introductory psychology text, it was probably his typology of conflicts. He identified the conflicts most of us commonly face as:
approach-approach. We want two different things that we like both of (that have "positive valences," in Lewin's terms.
avoidance-avoidance. We have to pick one or the other alternative, but dislike both. (both have "negative valences."
approach-avoidance. We can either have, or subject ourselves to, one thing that has both positive and negative qualities.
double approach-avoidance. We must choose between two things that each have both positive and negative qualities.
Lewin represented these topologically, drawing a sort of egg with P (for person) in the middle, and either a compartment at either end that was labelled + or - or +/-, or ++/--. Neal Miller & John Dollard used Lewin's approach-avoidance conflict as the basis for an experiment in which hungry rat was in a runway with both food and a shock grid at the end. To get the food it had to endure shock. They found that there was a vacillation point--when it was farther away, it tended to move toward the goal box. When it got closer to it, it tended to withdraw back to that vacilation point. The drew two lines on a graph to represent that tendency that they called an "approach gradient" and an "avoidance gradient."
"EINSTELLUNG" (sounds like something that should be attached to a VW.)
This concept is close to "perceptual set" but implies a larger, more inclusive perceptual disposition. (Here we see the influence of early Gestalt psychology.) Each of us learned from the people who were important in our lives as we grew up how to perceive events. Our mind-set tells us how to look, how to observe. It makes the world intelligible to us within a particular frame of reference.
Problems arise in terms of how a perceptual set can limit us, lock us down. "What am I looking for in this interaction? What do I want?" This may blind me to discovering and enjoying what I didn't think or know I wanted. A dramatic demonstration of Lewin's idea of mind-set was Harold H. Kelley's classic study on "The Warm-Cold Variable in First Impressions of Persons." A class received a written introduction to a guest lecturer they were about to hear. The instructions differed in just one word: Half were told that the lecturer was "a rather warm person who..." and the other half, "a rather cold person who...." They then heard the same lecture. Afterward, the latter group rated the lecturer signiicantly more negatively.
Lewin's conception, and Kelley's study, launched the whole "person perception" area of study.
| LEVEL OF ASPIRATION. Another of Lewin's related concepts,
which later attracted widespread attention as a result of David McClelland's
work on achievement motivation. A basic idea: Using your skills at the level
at which they are, you can succeed. In Lewin's view, level of aspiration
is determined by two factors:
A characteristically successful person, said Lewin, will chose goals that are within his or her capacity to reach, and will raise those goals once having achieved them. In a ring toss game, McClelland found that people who tended to be most effective in their lives placed the pole onto which the tried to toss the rings right at the limit of their ability to toss the rings onto it. Less effective people tended to place it so far away that they seldom succeeded or so near that they always succeeded.
The general idea: Each group, as it starts, has some beginning rules. But each group is an organism. Never the same, like snowflakes.
Group self-esteem needs. The group has self-esteem needs just as the individuals do. For example, in government, who gets hut with budget problems? The agencies that carry out services. And the agencies' self-esteem gets diminished, as they find themselves unable to meet the needs thaty they're supposed to serve.
Groups provide the context for individual thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions. The person customarily depends on his or her group for "reality." Although Lewin did not, so far as I know, use the sociological term "reference groups," the concept played a major role in his thinking. The person is always, to some degree, thinking and acting as a member of a group, be it a family, community, or culture.
Lewin's student Leon Festinger, one of the leading social psychologists of the last half of the 20th Century, developed this line of thinking farther in his Theory of Social Comparison Processes, in which he looked at the variables involved in our comparison of ourselves and our situation with others around us. A still later development along the same line is the idea of relative deprivation. This plays a part in the thinking of Heather Smith in our own department and her research on factors that lead to a perception of social justice or injustice.
DEMOCRATIC, AUTHORITARIAN, AND LAISSEZ-FAIRE GROUPS: THE LEWIN, LIPPITT, & WHITE STUDY. This is probably Lewin's best-known study. Groups of schoolchildren were assigned to democratic, authoritarian, and laissez-fair leadership. As predictd,.In social interaction, change occurred in ways that were less troublesome, and more efficient, when done in a democratic way, and in varied ways the democratic groups were superior. When the field is open, and we can all participate and make our behaviors identifiable as part of the group, we are likely to be able to make the transition more effectively, with less pain and discomfort. The more rigid and authoritarian the structure of a group, the less creative, original, and dysfunctional the decisionmaking is likely to be. Sometimes we see this in the relationship between parent and child. Also the Laissez-Faire style of leadership was not so good in several ways. Clear guidelines to ensure and permit input and participation for all (democratic leadership) were clearly superior to little or no guidance.
Change in autocratic and democratic groups
Groups are sociological wholes and the units of these whole can be defined operationally just as can a unity of any other dynamic whole, through a specification of how its parts are interdependent.
CONDUCT, KNOWLEDGE, AND THE ACCEPTANCE OF NEW VALUES" (1943)
The processes governing acquisition of normal and abnormal behavior are basically similar. Also, individuals customarily depend on their group for "reality."
A re-education process is basically equivalent to a change in culture. Such a process:
A correct sequence of steps, correct timing and correct integration of influence on the person and the group are usually essential. Taking them in turn,
Changing the cognitive structure.
Change and groups.
| ATTITUDE CHANGE. "I can change an attitude with
you relatively easily if you're actively exploring those attitudes, those
needs," remarks my colleague Laurence J. Horowitz. "In the U.S.,
we have a real issue between individualism and cooperative behavior. How
much is my individualism intrusive on yours? How much does it get in the
way of cooperative behavior?"
Change in a business organization. In the Harwood Manufacturing Company, every time they made changes in the production schedule, it took endless time for workers to get back to the normal production level. Lewin took a number of people and said, let's try different ways of dealing with this transition issue.
Number 3 worked best. Everyone being there together. Even people who said nothing preferred it -- just being tere had value.
Again we see the interrelation between personal responses and group behavior, which was a central theme of Lewin's work.
ACTION RESEARCH Lewin was especially interested in investigation of how to get people to act in ways that were of benefit both to them and the larger social body. He was less interested in "pure research" that had no implications for practical application.
The wartime studies, and the "public commitment" variable. During World War II the government wanted to get people to act in a variety of ways that would help the country as a whole and also the war effort. An example was getting people to change from eating white bread to eating brown bread. In such studies, Lewin found that the variable of public commitment had a strong effect on people's behavior. People who heard a lecture on the virtues of eating brown bread changed little. People who also made a public commitment, such as raising their hands or standing up to indicate that they would serve brown bread, were much more likely to actually do so. This group of studies by Lewin spurred many later studies on social influence.
Field studies in the community. Lewin carried out studies on the effects of integrated housing on prejudice, on equalizing employment opportunities, and on the development and prevention of prejudice in children.Such investigation led to his founding of the Society For the Study of Social Issues, which still carries out such word and publishes the journal Social Issues.
Interplay between field studies and laboratory studies. Often Lewin would investigate a phenomenon as it naturally occured in the field, and then use those results as the basis for devising a more carefully controlled laboratory study. In term, he would take the results from his laboratory research and see if they worked in the fie
| THE MARRIAGE GROUP. The problems of a partner in
marriage, held Lewin, arise from the relation between an individual and
his group. We can think of two kinds of groups here. One is the marriage
group itself, consisting of the person and his or her partner and perhaps
their children. The other is other group(s) to which each belongs, such
as the family of orgin or other reference groups.
What a group means to a person.
The adaptation of the person to the group
Special properties of the marriage group.
Combined, these three elements usually create a closely integrated social unit. On one hand this means increased identification with the group and a readiness to stand together; on the other hand, it may mean greater sensitivity to the shortcomings of the other or of oneself in the relationship.
CONFLICT IN MARRIAGE.
Causes for tension.
Further considerations about marital conflict. A central question: How can a person find enough space of free movement to satisfy his or her own personal needs within the group without interfering with the group's interests? Securing an adequate private sphere within the marriage group can be especially difficult, since the very essence of marriage involves sharing their private spheres with the other(s) in the couple or family. The central layers of the person and his or her basic mode of social existence are involved.
Oversatiation can also create tensions. If the amount of consummatory action necessary for reaching a state of satisfaction differs for the partners, satisfying the wants of the "hungrier" member is not always a satisfactory solution.
Conflicts are likely to be most serious when central needs are threatened. There seems to be a tendency for any need to become more central when in a state of hunger or oversatiation, and more peripheral when satisfied. Unsatisfied needs tend to dominate the situation, increasing the chances for conflict.
Security. People tend to be very sensitive to even slight increases in the instability of theirsocial ground. A good marriage is a "social home" where the other person feels accepted, sheltered, and reassured of his or her worth. Amont the most frequent causes of unhappiness in marriage:
Sexuality. Another problem area. (Often it involves poor communication, both in saying what you need and in active interest in the other person's needs and experiences.)
Love and the space of free movement.
Marriage and the larger family
Jealousy. This can be quite vivid even when contrary to all reason. May be based partly on a feeling that one's "property" is being taken away. Such a feeling may be easily arounded if relation between two people is very close. The intimate relation of one partner to a third can make it seem as if some of one's own intimate life is thrown open to a third person. The perceptions that the two partners have of one of them's relationship to a third may be very different.
Solving marital conflicts
CULTURAL RECONSTRUCTION. We can't expect a people without such traditions as a process of group decisionmaking and democratic leadership to understand a term like "democracy" in thos terms. They understand it within the conceptual dimensions in which they are used to thinking.
A cultural change in regard to a specific item will have to be able to stand up against the weight of the thousand and one other items in the culture that tend to turn the conduct back to its old pattern. To be stable, a change must penetrate into all aspects of a nation's life. It must be a change in the cultural atmosphere, not merely a change in single items.
General aspects of cultural change: We need to look at:
TECHNIQUES OF CHANGING CULTURE
"Satisfaction" of needs is not enough. Example: in an aggressive and aristocratic cuture, these traits cannot be considered symptoms of maladjustment and can't be removed just by satisfying people's needs.
In bringing positive change,
PRE-WORLD-WAR II GERMANY: Loyalty was typically linked with obedience. (How does this compare with the present situation in the U.S.?)
The "unfreezing, moving to a new level, and refreezing" formula. Lewin recognized the role of habit in our thoughts and actions. "Unfreezing" involves finding a method of making it possible for people to let go of an old pattern that was counterproductive in some way. "Moving to a new level" involves a process of change--in thoughts, feelings, behavior, or all three, that is in some way more liberating or more productive. "Refreezing" is establishing the change as a new habit, so that it now becomes the "standard operating procedure." Without some process of refreezing, it is easy to backslide into the old ways.
THE NATIONAL TRAINING LABORATORIES in Bethel, Maine. Lewin wanted to train leaders of society in more sensitive, democratical ways of exercising leaderships. Together with several colleagues he founded the National Training Labs. This organization, which still exists, runs workships for executives and anyone else who wants and can afford to participate. They called the approach they developed "sensitivity training," which for a time was vilified by right-wing Americans who viewed it as a threat to the system of authoritarian management and control in both businesses and families to which they were committed. Sensitivity training was ran what Carl Rogers latter called "encounter groups" for quite some time before Rogers picked up the process and popularized it widely. . This process helped people to let down their facades and be genuinely themselves, to perceive the totality of others, and to alter their own and others' mindsets. In some cases it is also a useful phenomenological tool of conflict resolution.Lewin considered it very importan, to relate to the other as a whole person, and not just relate in a fragmentary way to part of the person.
SAUL ALINSKY. Alinsky was one a social psychologistof the significant labor organizers of the 20th century. He used the Lewinian approach in his organizational and conflict managment skills.
Example: The San Francisco International airport custodians --the janitors-- were going out on strike. Neither union nor management wanted a long strike, but they had reached an impasse. Alinsky thought the situation over, and then gave everyone in the union a dime. In those days, bathrooms in airports, train depots and bus stations customarily had a lock requiring a dime on all the bathroom stalls except for one free stall, which tended to be highly used and less clean That was the case at SFO.) All the striking union members took their dime and went into the 10-cent johns. The one free toilet in each restroom was left open, out of humanitarian considerations. Lines for the open toilet grew huge. People were in danger of missing their planes. (Perhaps there were even regrettable accidents.) Management said, "We can't abide this,." settled with the janitors, and the strike was over almost immediately.The message: "If you do what you can do, you can succeed." So the janitors used the toilets.
Clever twists such as that were characteristic of both Lewin and Alinsky.
|LINKS FOR KURT LEWIN AND ACTION RESEARCH AT OTHER SITES||