Kurt Lewin

28.04.2015 |

Episode #10 of the course “Influential Psychologists Throughout History”

Kurt Lewin was an American psychologist who was born in Germany. His major theories centered around human behavior. He believed that behavior was a function of the individual’s psychological environment. He founded and directed the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. He is often considered the “Father of Social Psychology.”

In his theories, Lewin’s underlying assumption was that all of our experiences and environments will affect our behavior at any given time. He called this whole psychological field the “lifespace.” In his last years devoted to research, he specialized in group dynamics. He believed that working and participating in groups could alter the behavior of the individuals within that group. He studied various forms of government in small groups of children, testing democratic, autocratic, and laissez-faire leadership methods. In his tests, he found that the small groups that used a democratic form of leadership functioned the most successfully.

He also proposed a change management model that attempts to explain how people experience change. The Kurt Lewin Change Management Model involves a three-stage theory: Unfreeze, Change, and Freeze. In the unfreezing stage, the individual gets ready for a change. It basically involves the individual realizing that a change is needed and preparing to remove themselves from their comfort zone so they can make the needed change. Stage 2 is the actual change. This stage is not an event, but a transitioning process. Stage 3 is freezing (sometimes referred to as refreezing), where the individual must stabilize after the change has occurred. The model has probably gotten the most criticism for this stage, because changes are so common that this freezing or refreezing process does not really occur at all.

Lewin’s contributions to social psychology are probably more influential than his change model, but the idea that someone must realize that a change is necessary before they can make that change is still an idea that is in use today for many types of therapy.


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