Kurt Lewin (1890-1947), unlike Pavlov, Skinner and Gestltian psychologists, conducted experiments on the study of behaviour of children. He utilised an elaborate experimental set-up with a view to control the child’s total environment during the course of the investigation for getting detailed information.
Lewin emphasised the study of behaviour as a function of the total physical and social situation. Lewin holds that psychological laws need not be formulated solely on the basis of statistical averages. Rather the individual case is equally important.
Even if all general psychological laws were known, we would still need to understand the specific individual and ‘total situation’ in which he exists before we could make any prediction about his behaviour.
Thus Lewin favours an idiographic psychology in which the focus is on the individual, as opposed to nomothetic psychology, where the emphasis is on Statistical average.
Lewin describes his viewpoint in the following formula:
B represents behaviour
f is a function
P is the person
E is the total environment situation.
Lewin explains the individual behaviour on the basis of life-space. An individual’s life-space depends on his psychological force. It includes the person; his drives, tensions, thoughts and his environment, which consists of perceived objects and events.
Lewin represents his theory through a diagram in which an individual is in the centre. He moves through his life-space which consists of the totality of facts that determine his behaviour at a given time.
A life-space contains the individual himself, the goals he is seeking (positive valence) or avoiding (negative valence), the barriers that restrict the individual’s movements and the path he must follow to reach his goal.
Desire creates tensions in the individual and tensions come to a balancing state and the person acts. After the goal has been achieved, the organism (individual) returns to a state of repose until a new desire activates him.
In Lewin’s theory, threat, goal and barrier are the main factors. An individual who has to achieve some goal has to cross a barrier. The barrier may be psychological or physical. Because of the changes in the barrier in the life- space of an individual, continuous reconstruction takes place.
Lewin’s theory is called field theory as to a psychologist field means the total psychological world in which a person lives at a certain time. It includes matters and events of past, present and future, concrete and abstract, actual and imaginary – all interpreted as simultaneous aspects of a situation. Lewin states that each person exists within a field of forces. The field of forces to which the individual is responding or reacting is called his life-space.
Lewin’s theory regards learning as a relativistic process by which a learner develops new insight or changes old ones. According to the theory, learning is not a mechanistic process of connecting stimuli and responses within a biological organism. Field psychology explains development of insight as a change in cognitive structure of life-space.
Lewin’s theory regards learning as a relativistic process by which a learnt develops new insight or changes old ones. According to the theory, learning is not a mechanistic process of connecting stimuli and response within a biological organism. Field psychology explains development of insight as a change in cognitive structure of life-space.
Lewin’s theory may be explained as under:
Suppose a person P is moving towards a goal of getting social recognition. But to achieve the goal, he has to apologies. New asking for apology is the barrier coming in his way. The barrier may be physical or psychological forces preventing him from reaching the goal. These forces organise themselves into a pattern which determines his future behaviour.
Lewin has classified learning into the following categories:
(i) Learning is a change in cognitive structure.
(ii) Learning is a change in motivation, i.e., in valences and values.
(iii) Learning is acquisition of skills.
(iv) Learning is a change in group belonging.
Learning of all types involves change in perception.
Changes in cognitive structure are caused by the forces in the psychological field – needs, aspirations and valences.
Lewin thinks that level of aspiration depends upon the potentialities of an individual and on the influences of the group to which he belongs. Too higher or too level of aspiration discourages learning.
Main Concepts of Lewin’s Field Theory:
Lewin’s system leans heavily on concepts derived from topology, a branch of higher mathematics that deals with transformation in space, from vector analysis, or the mathematics of directed lines and from the sciences of chemistry and physics concepts as Valence, equilibrium and field force. Lewin’s most important publication is Principles of Topological Psychology (1936).
The main concepts used in Lewin’s field theory are as follows:
It is also called topological. Two basic concepts which topological space denotes are:
(i) Connectedness, and
(ii) Part-whole relationships.
Topological concepts are used to represent the structure of life- space in such a way as to define the range of possible perceptions and actions. This is accomplished by showing the arrangements of the functional parts of life-space. The parts are shown as various regions and their boundaries. When an individual structures his life-space, he divides it into regions.
The term vector represents a force which is influencing movement towards a goal or away from it. If there is only one vector (force), there is movement in the direction of the vector. However, if there are two or more vectors acting simultaneously in different directions, the movement is in the direction of the resultant force.
It is also called the psychological field. The psychological field is the space in which the person moves psychologically. It contains the whole of one’s psychological reality – one’s self and what one thinks of or what one gains from one’s physical and social environment.
4. The Person in Life-Space:
The person is often represented as a point moving about in his life-space, affected by pulls and pushes upon him, circumventing barriers in his locomotion in his own life-space.
When a person is attracted by an object, that object is said to have a positive valence. When a person is repelled by an object that is said to have a negative valence. The person tends to move towards a region in life- space that has positive valence and he tends to move away from a region in life-space that has negative valence. Because life-space may contain regions with several valences active at a time, these give rise to conflict, especially when the opposing forces are approximately in balance.
Lewin specifies three chief kinds of conflict:
(1) Two Positive Valence:
Such as when a child has to choose between going to picnic and playing with his friends.
(2) A Simultaneous Positive and Negative Valence:
Such as when a child is offered for a reward for the school task he does not wish to perform.
(3) Two Negative Valence:
Such as when a child is threat-end with punishment if he does not do a task which he does not wish to perform.
6. Distance and Direction:
When there is a close correspondence between life-space and physical space, physical distances and directions may be used for experimental purposes as approximations of distances and directions in life space.
Lewin regards behaviour as a function of present life space. He insists that behaviour depends upon the present and not upon the past or future.
It is a dynamic part of an environment which resists motion through it. It stands in the way of a person’s reaching his goal.
Goal is a region of valence-region of life-space to which a person is psychologically attracted.
It is very closely to and is descriptive of psychological needs. Release of tension may be achieved either through reaching a goal or through reconstructing a life-space.
11. Cognitive Structure:
It is an environment including a person as known by the person. It is synonymous with insight or understanding.
Classroom Implications of Field Theory:
Taking into consideration, the field theory as a whole, the classroom teaching-learning implications include the significance of seeing the total situation at the beginning of the lesson or an activity. The teacher should preview the activities involved and the problem to be encountered. Moreover, from the point of view of a field theorist, the teacher should keep in mind that the student, the teacher himself, other teachers, the school and the peer group- are all parts of the total situation.
The need for seeing the whole and details of the situation is very necessary. The teacher must assist the students to perceive the goal and the barrier. The goal must be presented in an easier and simplified way. Sometimes partial insight of a situation may provide partial relief from tension.
Following are the major educational implications of this theory:
1. Reward and Punishment:
According to Lewin, the learner because of attraction to rewards may resort to shortest methods. For example, to get distinction in the examination (record) the student may like to cheat (shortcut method). It is, therefore, necessary to put some barriers over the reward situation, to avoid access to such short methods.
In the case of punishment, however, there is a tendency to leave the field because of the unpleasantness of the task, unless some strong barriers are there to keep one in the field. Reward activities often become interesting and are liked so that motivation is no longer extrinsic while the activities controlled by the threat of punishment tend to become extremely hated.
2. Success and Failure:
Psychological analysis of success from the point of view of the learner shows the following possibilities:
(1) To reach a goal constitutes success.
(2) To get within the region of the goal may be a success experience.
(3) To make some progress in the direction of the goal also constitutes a success experience.
(4) To select a socially approved goal is also a success experience.
Psychological success or failure depends upon ego involvement and the level of aspiration. Success in easy task is not a success experience, since it does not involve the ego of the person. Similarly, failure in a very difficult task is no failure experience.
The repetition of an activity brings change both in the cognitive structure and in the need-tension systems. As a result of this goal, attractiveness changes. Lewin calls goal attractiveness valence and valence change.
The valence may change in any of the following ways:
(1) Attractive goals may lose attention if the activity related to them is repeated to the points of satiation.
(2) Choice of goals is influenced by previous experiences of success and failure.
The field theory states the following regarding memory:
(1) Tasks which have no sense in completion are not remembered.
(2) Unfinished tasks are remembered better than finished tasks because of psychological tension.
(3) Tasks which lead to the satisfaction of many needs are remembered better than tasks which lead to the satisfaction of one need.