Kurt Lewin Field Theory and Gestalt Therapy

Jonah Lester
Kurt Lewin Field Theory and Gestalt Therapy

The theories of the field have borrowed from Gestalt some of the basic principles of their methodological and theoretical approach to psychology. The most important are:

  • The guidelines or patterns of organization are the primary and determining factors of behavior.
  • The analysis of the particular or isolated components cannot provide us with an adequate knowledge of the determining total organization..


  • The vital field according to Lewin
  • What are the main characteristics of field psychology?
  • What is the method of Field Psychology?
  • What is the role of theories and laws in Field Psychology??
  • What are the key concepts of field or topological and vector psychology?
  • What is a living space?
  • What is topology?
  • What do the vectors mean?
  • Key Auxiliary Concepts of Field Psychology
  • What is conduct?
  • What kinds of changes constitute learning?
  • Of vectors and tensions

The vital field according to Lewin

Lewin's great concern was the explanation of individual behavior based on the totality of psychological factors that effectively act on a person at a specific and specific moment (this totality is what he calls living space), on the other hand, take into account that the same person with their motivations, their personality, their learning, frustrations, etc., is also part of this space and, therefore, the forces emanating from those factors must interact with the forces derived from said person.

Lewin thought of an individual as a complex energy field, a dynamic system of needs and tensions that directs perceptions and actions. The behavior (C) in a function (f) of a person (P) interacting with an environment (E). In its formula:

C = f (P, E)

Each person moves in a psychological field that Lewin called the living space. A living space contains certain positive and negative purposes and valences. The valences or changes create vectors that attract or repel. To represent these concepts, Lewin borrowed a non-quantitative representational geometry from topology. His goal was to develop a "topological psychology." To show the separation of a person from the rest of the world, Lewin diagrammed the living space as an enclosure in the curves of Jordan (shapes like egg silhouettes):

P and E form the space of the individual, and the curve separates the living space from the rest of the world. Lewin's works are full of diagrams like this.

Rather, Lewin focused on the behavior of the individual subject. It was much more useful for him to know a single case in depth, many in just a few aspects. The totality, or Gestalt, of the child's living space must be studied, and since each living space is different, it requires intense and concentrated effort..

According to Lewin, the child's living space is small and undifferentiated. A child is able to perceive and feel affection only in a small portion of the environment. As it develops, the living space becomes larger and more differentiated. To illustrate this change, Lewin gave as an example a doll placed a short distance from the child, where it could be removed and even broken without any protest from the child; an action that would provoke a violent reaction from a three-year-old child. Lewin also described a large number of experiments in which children had to solve deviance problems. In one of these, a chocolate was placed on one side of a barrier and the child on the other. The child (C) has to make a detour (D) around the barrier (B) to reach the chocolate of positive valence (CH).

Lewin also presented descriptions and diagrams of constellations or forces in conflict. He diagrammed several types of conflicts, this was the third:

The child is between two negative valences. An example of this would be when a parent uses a threat or punishment (P) to force the child to do something (T) that they do not want to do. Now two avoidance vectors are active simultaneously. The most common result, according to Lewin, is the "resultant lopsided" of the two vectors (R) that allows the child to try to escape from the field..

What are the main characteristics of field psychology?

Lewin was primarily interested in the study of human motivation. Consequently, his theory of the field was not developed as a theory of learning, but of motivation and perception. However, Lewin was concerned with the application of his theory to learning situations and wrote some works in this regard. This researcher thought that the net effect of simultaneous psychological forces operating in a psychological field or in a vital space of an individual, encourages the reorganization of that field and, in this way, provides the basis for psychological behavior. Thus, its basic and complete concept was that of the living space.

Consequently, the living space has become a model for relativistic psychological thinking. It includes everything you need to know about a person, in order to understand their specific behavior in a specific psychological environment and at a given time. It includes both the person being studied and their psychological environment. Its use implies that we cannot understand why an individual behaves the way he does, simply knowing the characteristics of a person or his environment; instead, you need to know both.

Lewin-sponsored psychological studies focused on five different types of problems:

  1. Memory of unfinished tasks;
  2. Development of aspiration levels;
  3. Substitution of acts to release tension;
  4. Development of satiation in regard to the completion of tasks;
  5. Development of anger. All of these studies involved changes in psychological stresses, and Lewin equated the development of stresses with the growth of purpose or intent..

Lewin's primary psychological interest lay both in the motivating conditions of the situations of people and environments, as well as in democratic principles and practices. Consequently, it is no accident that his psychological system provides the basis for a learning psychology akin to the democratic society of the United States. Although field theory is applicable to all areas of psychology, it is particularly useful in social, educational, and personality psychology.

He was convinced that the various theories of stimulus-response conditioning represented an inadequate method for the study of psychology; hence he developed his "field psychology" in such a way that it became fundamentally different from the various behaviorisms. Whereas behaviorists study psychology as a series of events, the word field, in the context of field psychology implies that, according to a psychological interpretation, everything happens at once..

What is the method of Field Psychology?

Lewin's field psychology is precisely known as topological and vector psychology. In developing his psychology, Lewin took ideas and concepts from other disciplines, mainly from geometry and physics. The main concepts that I take were the "topology" of geometry and the "vectors" of physics; However, by using those concepts and related ones, he did not rigidly adhere to the definitions they had in the original sciences, but instead took advantage of them in the most useful way for his system of psychology..

Using the topological and vector concepts, Lewin represented psychological reality according to the field relations of a person with his psychological environment..

What is the role of theories and laws in Field Psychology??

Lewin used many theories and hypotheses. In his view, theories performed two coordinated functions: they explained what is known and thus pointed the way to new knowledge; therefore, the scientific method not only included the processes of observation and data classification, but also the formulation and testing of hypotheses. It was not enough to let the facts speak for themselves.

Lewin's aim was to formulate laws - relationships - that predict the behavior of individual people in their specific individual spaces. He was convinced that in order to understand and predict behavior, it is necessary to consider a person and their common environment as a pattern of interdependent events and functions..

What are the key concepts of field or topological and vector psychology?

In developing field psychology, Lewin used constructs extensively. A construct is an invented idea. It points out the fact that the concept under consideration is not directly perceived, but is a notion that describes or explains the phenomena that we can perceive. In the same way that the concepts of atom and genes are non-psychological constructs, living space, person, and valence are examples of psychological constructs. In a sense, science is a matter of invention, development, refinement, and testing of constructs. Lewinians call observed data phenotypes and representations of unobservable constructs genotypes..

In studying these concepts, readers must bear in mind the essential idea of ​​field psychology, namely, that the meanings of all its constructs are mutually interdependent. Each of them depends for its meaning on that of all the others. Thus, there are no dependent and independent variables, as in stimulus-response conditioning theories; instead, all psychological variables are interdependent.

Likewise, we must be careful to turn psychological constructs into physical things, the purpose of which is to reinforce relationships that are primarily functional in nature; For example, we should not think at any time that a psychological person is synonymous with a biological organism, nor should we consider the psychological and physical environments as the same concept..

What is a living space?

Living space is a scientific formulation of a series of situations that are not repeated, but that are juxtaposed, each of which has its unique propensities and relationships. It was developed in order to:

  1. express what is possible and impossible in a person's life, and
  2. predict what is likely to happen. Represents the total pattern of factors or influences that affect the behavior of an individual at a certain time or for a longer period.

The vital space of a person is his psychological world or his contemporary situation. It includes the person and his psychological environment, the part of his physical and social environment with which he is psychologically involved at a given moment or in a longer period, because it is relevant for his purposes at that time..

A living space does not represent physical objects as such, but functional and symbolic relationships; therefore, it not only includes currently perceived objects, but also memories, language, myths, arts, predictions, and religion..

A living space consists of functional regions that have a positive or negative valence. A living space is surrounded by a strange non-psychological helmet, the aspects of the physical and social environment that, at the time of the study, are not psychological for the given person..

What is topology?

The ideas or topological terms -constructs- when applied to psychology, illustrate the position of a person in relation to their functional goals and the obstacles to achieving them. Thus, the topology shows the various possibilities for locomotion or for psychological behavior.

Topology is a non-metric geometry, encompassing concepts such as interior, exterior, and boundaries, but not dealing with length, width, or thickness.

The vital spaces are topologically equal. Each of them is a completely delimited area, within another larger delimited region.

What do the vectors mean?

In the area of ​​psychology, a vector represents a force that influences the psychological movement towards or away from a goal. Force is a tendency to act one way or another. Vector is a concept equivalent to a psychological force and that describes it. If there is only one vector - force - there will be locomotion in the direction the vector points to; if two or more vectors point in several different directions, the motion occurs in the direction of the resultant force.

While topological concepts are used to structurally illustrate what is possible, vector concepts describe the dynamics of a situation - what is happening or is likely to happen..

Key Auxiliary Concepts of Field Psychology

Person: a being that behaves consciously. Within capabilities and needs. What a child understands by saying "I".

Psychological Environment: everything in which, towards or from which a person can move psychologically, or do something about it. People and the psychological environment are mutually interdependent on each other.

Strange helmet of the living space: Complex of all the non-psychological facts that surround a living space. The part of the physical and social environment of a person that, at a given moment, is not included in their psychological environment.

Regions: psychologically significant conditions, places, objects and activities functionally defined as parts of a living space. They have positive or negative valences.

Valencias: Imperative environmental facts, which can be positive or negative. Properties that the regions of a living space have, if an individual approaches or moves away from them.

Needs: States of a person (centered on him) that, if they exist in relation to a goal, have a part in determining the behavior directed towards that goal.

Abilities: Cognitive (person-centered) -capacities to know the environment. Manipulation -capabilities to affect the environment.

Tension: Closely related to and describes psychological needs.

Goal: A region of valence or of which the forces located within a vital space indicate. Living space region. Region of living space, directed towards or from which a person is psychologically attracted.

Barrier: A dynamic part of an environment that opposes movement through it. The one that is in the way of a person, as an obstacle to the achievement of their goals.

Forces: Immediate determinant of a person's movements. The tendency to act in a certain sense

Cognitive structure: An environment that includes a person, as he knows him. They are synonyms insight or understanding. They have a dimension - clarity.

What is conduct?

Psychological behavior includes finality and intelligence. When speaking of behavior, field psychologists imply psychological locomotion, but not necessarily any kind of physiological movement. Conduct means any change in a living space that is subject to psychological laws.

What kinds of changes constitute learning?

Lewin considered that learning consists of four types of change:

  1. change in cognitive structure;
  2. change in motivation;
  3. change in group loyalty or ideology;
  4. increased voluntary control and muscle dexterity.

Of vectors and tensions

The person is a locomotor organism: he lives by moving; you want to go places or withdraw from them, take things or get rid of them. One can represent desires (which Holt called Freudian desires) as valences. An object that a person wishes for himself has a positive valence, and it is possible to represent it by means of a vector that indicates a force that pushes the organism towards the desired object. An object with a negative valence pushes the person away from it. If one has the person in a field with a number of objects, and if one knows how many valence-vectors there are and in what direction they are, could one calculate the resultant of forces in order to see what the person will do??

The difficulty is this: man does not act in a physical world but in a psychological environment in which reality is what he perceives or believes. The longest (physical) path is often the shortest (psychological) within the living space. One can place a barrier between a child and a desired object. It can be a fence or a parental ban. The distance to the object is increased by the barrier or may decrease again.

All three, Holt, Tolman, and Lewin, believed that if one can describe motive and purpose in deterministic terms, one can also explain them, and they would have obtained the predictive psychology of human nature that so many have sought. Holt spoke of cause and effect, but Lewin, who liked that analysis, spoke of force fields. Field theory, Lewin thought, is the newest conceptual scientific system. He called it a Galilean. According to him, the above views depend on an Aristotelian class theory. In class theory, one "explains" an object or event by referring to the class to which it belongs, ignoring all the particular ways in which the object or event differs from the representative purpose of the class. In field theory, on the other hand, one takes into account all particulars in their interrelationships. Ideally, one has no variability to rule out, because the individual case is what one wishes to understand. In this regard, Lewin's views are in accordance with the basic values ​​of North American psychology, which, seeking to be functional, have always been interested in individual differences..

There is much more to Lewin's psychology. He used the concept of tension for motivation or need, and argued that tension is released when the goal is reached or when there is some other means of releasing energy, such as when a surrogate goal is achieved. Perhaps the use of this concept is the true mark of dynamic psychology. It is not inconsistent with the other claim that all dynamic psychologies use field theory, which is another way of saying that, when forces in a field are out of balance, action continues until equilibrium is reached. This is success; failure and frustration create tension.

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