September 9, 2007

Today in the History of Psychology

"There is nothing so practical as a good theory."
- Kurt Lewin, 1951

Today in 1890, the "founder of social psychology," Kurt Lewin, was born!

Originally from Prussia, he emigrated to the United States as a result of World War II. He held a position at the University of Iowa, where he developed his interests in social phenomena and even began research, in order to help the war effort, such as examining troop morale. Of course, coming from the German tradition of Gestalt Psychology, he was a true believer in a good theory. One cannot fix a problem from evidence alone. To create a solution to a social problem, one must fully understand the issue. Lewin was really the first to utilize theory-building for the understanding of social "facts," and he rigorously employed experimentation to test his hypotheses.

He moved to MIT around 1944, where he established the Research Center for Group Dynamics. One might say, the field of group dynamics is where his importance lays and where his legacy proliferates. Here he developed and refined his field theory of social behavior, B=ƒ(P,E), (behavior is a function of a person and his/her environment). That basically means, one's behavior is due to the situation the person is in when the behavior occurs, rather than emphasizing past experiences (upbringing). He also looked at concepts such as group performance and leadership styles, and even found that democratic leadership proved to be the most productive type of leadership.

Lewin died in 1947, just three years after the establishment of his research center, yet his legacy lived on through his students. One of these students was Leon Festinger. Festinger studied under Lewin at the University of Iowa where he received his Ph.D in 1942. He later followed Lewin to MIT and headed the Research Center for Group Dynamics after Lewin died.

Happy Birthday Kurt Lewin!

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