Quotes From Psychologist Kurt Lewin

Some of Psychologist Kurt Lewin's Best Sayings

Kurt Lewin - Biography. Credit: www.famouspsychologists.org / Google Images

Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) is considered the father of modern social psychology. His work was influenced by Gestalt psychology and stressed the importance of both personal characteristics and the environment in causing behavior. Lewin was also a prolific writer, publishing more than 80 articles and eight books on psychology topics. Below are just a few selected Kurt Lewin quotations.

Selected Kurt Lewin Quotes

  • "There is nothing so practical as a good theory."
  • "If you want truly to understand something, try to change it."
    • — From "Problems of Theoretical Psychology"
  • "Experience alone does not create knowledge."
  • "The chief methodological approach would be that of developing actual group experiments of change, to be carried on in the laboratory or in the field."
    • — From The Practical Theorist: The Life and Work of Kurt Lewin
  • "Social action, just like physical action, is steered by perception."
    • — From Resolving Social Conflicts, 1948
  • "The American cultural ideal of the self-made man, of everyone standing on his own feet, is as tragic a picture as the initiative-destroying dependence on a benevolent despot. We all need each other. This type of interdependence is the greatest challenge to the maturity of individual and group functioning."
    • — From The Practical Theorist: The Life and Work of Kurt Lewin
  • "Our behavior is purposeful; we live in a psychological reality or living space that includes not only those parts of our physical and social environment that are important to us but also imagined states that do not currently exist."
    • — From Resolving Social Conflicts, 1948
  • "A successful individual typically sets his next goal somewhat but not too much above his last achievement. In this way, he steadily raises his level of aspiration."
    • — From Resolving Social Conflicts, 1948
  • "Learning is more effective when it is an active rather than a passive process."
    • — From Field Theory in Social Science, 1951
  • "General validity of the law and concreteness of the individual case are not antitheses...reference to the totality of the concrete whole situation must take the place of reference to the largest possible historical collection of frequent repetitions."
    • — From A Dynamic Theory of Personality, 1935
  • "This means methodologically that the importance of a case, and its validity as proof, cannot be evaluated by the frequency of its occurrence. Finally, it means for psychology, as it did for physics, a transition from an abstract classificatory procedure to an essentially concrete constructive method."
    • — From A Dynamic Theory of Personality, 1935
  • "Intentional action is not the prototype of will-action. It occurs in all forms of transition, from controlled action to uncontrolled, drive-like, field-action. ...Accordingly, the majority of controlled (will) actions are not preceded by an act of intending. Intentional actions are relatively rare. They are prepared actions, where the act of intending, which is as a rule controlled, prepares an uncontrolled field-action."
    • — From The Complete Social Scientist: A Kurt Lewin Reader
  • "Fortunately I experienced Max Wertheimer's teaching in Berlin and collaborated for over a decade with Wolfgang Köhler. I need not emphasize my debts to these outstanding personalities. The fundamental ideas of Gestalt theory are the foundation of all our investigations in the field of the will, of affection, and of the personality."
    • — From A Dynamic Theory of Personality, 1935
  • "It has been frequently misunderstood and interpreted to mean that field theorists are not interested in historical problems or in the effect of previous experience. Nothing can be more mistaken. In fact, field theorists are most interested in development and historical problems and have certainly done their share to enlarge the temporal scope of the psychological experiment from that of the classic reaction time experiment, which lasts only a few seconds, to experimental situations, which contain a systematically created history throughout hours or weeks."
    • — From Field Theory in Social Science, 1951
2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. McCain KW. “Nothing as practical as a good theory” Does Lewin's Maxim still have salience in the applied social sciences? Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology. 2015;52(1):1-4. doi:10.1002/pra2.2015.145052010077

  2. Jennex ME. Effective Knowledge Management Systems in Modern Society. IGI Global; 2018.

Additional Reading
  • Lewin K. A Dynamic Theory of Personality. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1935.

  • Lewin K. Field Theory in Social Science: Selected Theoretical Papers. Cartwright D, ed. New York: Harper & Row; 1951.

  • Lewin K. Resolving Social Conflicts. New York: Harper & Row; 1948.

  • Lewin K. The Complete Social Scientist: A Kurt Lewin Reader. Gold M, ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association; 1999.

  • Lewin K. The Practical Theorist: The Life and Work of Kurt Lewin. Marrow AJ (ed). New York: Basic Books, Inc.; 1969.

  • The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Kurt LewinEncyclopaedia Brittanica. Updated February 8, 2020.

  • Tolman CW, Cherry F, van Hezewijk R, Lubek I (eds.). Problems of theoretical psychology. In: Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Conference of The International Society for Theoretical Psychology. North York: Captus Press, Inc.; 1996.

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.