Kurt Lewin: Field Theory and its Application to Music Therapy

Updated December 27, 2021

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Kurt Lewin: Field Theory and its Application to Music Therapy essay

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In the study of Music Therapy and its influence on people we must use many tools and ideas from other areas of research. We most often see this in our strongly psychological approach to client evaluation. However, there is one distinct influence upon the reactions we get from our clients that we must take into consideration in both our evaluation and in our treatment, this is society. Society is an inescapable influence on each one of us living on this planet, and in particularly within the modern world. We are surrounded, not just by people, but by technology making it truly impossible to escape from the influence society has in shaping who we are and will become. One theorist, Kurt Lewin, saw this influence and researched it eventually creating an entire theory around this. Field Theory is the idea that society has an influence on an individual as well as the individual having an influence on society. To better understand this theory and its applications within music therapy we must have an idea of where the theorist comes from.

Theorist Background

Kurt Lewin, a German-American Psychologist, was born on September 9, 1890 in Mogilno, Germany (modern day Poland). Dr. Lewin first encountered Gestalt Psychology, an inspiring factor in his Field Theory, at the University of Berlin where he gained his Doctorate. After some years having served in the military then being subsequently injured Dr. Lewin returned to teaching, where he continued to grow in renown. Dr. Lewin moved his family to the United States in 1933 (due in part to the political climate of Germany). Dr. Lewin worked in a few different locations, spending a good amount of time in Iowa before he stopped his travels and maintained a more permanent position in Newtonville, Massachusetts where he helped to establish the Research Center for Group Dynamics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he worked until his death on February 12, 1947. Doctor Lewin is perhaps best known for his field theory. (Brittanica.com)

Article 1: (Kurt Lewin; Field Theory)

In this paper by Dr. Lewin himself we see him introduce the reader to the current situations in both the field of Sociology as well as Psychology, and their attempts to make sense of societal effects on humanity.

Sociologists views changing to place more emphasis upon sociological views than Psychological. Every person is part of society within minutes/hours of birth, being influenced by it in such a way that they may not be able to survive without it. Every individuals sense of morality and perspective on religion and politics is shaped by their societal experiences and interactions. The way we react to the world is based upon our emotions and behavioral interactions with that which is around us; though, even that is shaped by our societal experiences.

Dr. Lewin had strong opinions on why psychology had failed to be able to categorize societal effectors on human behavior.

“As far as I can see the solution lies in the direction a) that science should be considered a realm of problems rather than a realm of material; b) that the different realms of problems might necessitate different universes of discourse of constructs and laws (such as those of physics, aesthetics, psychology, and sociology); and c) that any one of them refers more or less to the same universe of material. (872)”

Lewin goes on to further express his dissatisfaction with other fields and explains that his field-theoretical approach helps to resolve some of the difficulties that the other fields of research may face.

The population chosen, adolescence, was chosen to describe the theory because of the amount of sociologically based changes happening in a young person’s life at this time. “The period of adolescence can be said to be a period of transition. (873)”

Dr. Lewin covers very specific changes in the adolescent life. The first change being “group-belongingness. The individual has been considered […] a child. Now he does not wish to be treated as such. (874)” This change from childhood to adulthood means more than merely an age, it means the groups that the individual is surrounded by as well as their perception to such an alteration. They have access to new opportunities and certain rules or societal taboos no longer apply to them. The second change is more focused on the environmental changes, “… a shift to a more or less unknown position. (874).”, and the individuals responses to these changes. The third area is that of sexual change.

“One region particularly close and important to the individual is his own body. […] Generally the individual ‘knows’ his body sufficiently. That means he knows what he can expect from it and how it will react under given circumstances. The time of sexual maturity brings with it changes which make the individual sometimes disturbed by his own body. (876)” This aspect of physical change in turn alters how an individual interacts with their environment and those in it, particularly when it comes to factors or romance.

The fourth change is not clearly definable in terms of locations but is rather understood in a person’s views and identity within a group. It is the change from group A to group B, much like moving to a different religion or political party. This change may be in part to the newfound freedom gained by the adolescent as their cognitive development increases. The fifth change is one of time. Dr. Lewin best explains it,

“This change in time perspective is one of the most fundamental facts of development […] Instead of days, weeks, or months, now years ahead are considered in certain goals. Even more important is the way in which these future events influence present behavior. […] ‘ideal goals’ and ‘real goals’ for the distant future are not much distinguished, and this future has more the fluid character of the level of irreality. In other words, one has to ‘plan’: to structure the time perspective (io) in a way which is in line both with one’s own ideal goals or values and with those realities which must be taken into account for a realistic structuring of the plane of expectation (879)”

The above quote from the paper best describes the complexity that is the change in the individual’s perception to time. The sixth and final aspect is the move from identifying as a child to that of an adult. The individual is distinctly in the middle. They are no longer looked at as a child but are not fully acknowledged as an adult. Since the individual does not feel like they fully belong to either group they may feel as if they are marginalized. This same feeling of not belonging, or of being a part of the minority group, may influence the individual to join the majority group as well as influence their emotional state and sensitivity. “According to field theory, actual behavior depends upon every part of the field [of experience]. (884)”

To further understand the methodology used to explore and describe field theory Dr. Lewin brings up how things are grouped. He discussed Gestalt psychology and how it has its own drawbacks when it comes to understanding groupings. Dr. Lewin summarizes his view on grouping and subsequent understanding in this, “Conceiving of a group as a dynamic whole should include a definition of group which is based on interdependence of the members (or better, of the subparts of the group). […] a whole of very high degree of unity may contain very dissimilar parts (886)”

His quote best expresses the general idea of Gestalt in that the whole should be viewed, however his view differs to say that it is of importance to note that the way in which the parts integrate to make the whole is crucial the way we perceive the relationships. Dr. Lewin goes on to further emphasize and explain this phenomenon showing great care to clearly state why similarity and interdependence are different.

Interdependence is the true nature of a group that relies upon each individual member to accomplish the goal or set the standard for similarity. For example, if a group is made up of college students who study together to pass their upcoming test they are a group based upon interdependence not similarity; the reason being that they each rely on the others to help them better prepare for their test.

In summary these are things that should be remembered regarding the field-theoretical approach.

  1. There is a relationship between the individual and social psychology.
  2. Things should be grouped upon interdependence not similarities.
  3. If you classify facts it should be obvious how they are labeled as they are.
  4. Not just a part of the picture or the whole picture is looked at, both are looked at to provide a more rounded understanding.
  5. It may be one or more facts influencing whether something happens; Not just one can be looked at, but both all facts and the one specific must be looked at to fully understand what the cause of the action was.
  6. Every category and its environment should be well understood and documented.
  7. By looking at social constructs in many ways it makes it clearer and widely understood.
  8. The field-theoretical approach can be used in other areas to help understand the societal influences.
  9. Information gathered using this approach should be observable and formulas should be created and used when available.
  10. The old ways of research in both sociology and psychology should not be forgotten but integrated with the field theory.
  11. Validity in reports is important so recorded results should be factual.

This information gives us only an idea of the theory, other articles will need to be reviewed to best understand the application thereof.

Article 2: (Ronald Lippitt; Field Theory Experiment)

Mr. Lippitt, in the research for the field-theoretical approach, was assigned the task of overseeing the research and writing about it. In his text we see that to apply the approach one must observe groups as an entire unit, made up of interdependent parts contributing to the whole, remaining cognizant of the relations between the group and outward influencers. When the group engages in a collective activity it should be viewed as having psychological importance relating to the larger observation of the group.

Specific groups, mask-making clubs, were created to study the behavior of the individuals within the group; One group had a democratic leadership model ((D)) while the author an autocratic model ((A)). Many details were taken into consideration in selecting the various members to be in each of the groups to be studied. To test the groups,

“Group ‘test situations’ may be created, such as the leader’s leaving the room for a few minutes or arriving late, or the entrance into the situation of a stranger who, in the role of a janitor, asks friendly questions about the club life and the leader, who is out of the room, or criticizes the work of some of the members to bring out the style and unity of response of the group. (29)”

By having these specific situations for each of the groups the observers are better able to measure the overall changes and behavioral actions and interactions of the group and its individuals. Eight specific things are looked at and measured in each groups behavior. The author emphasizes the fact that, while it may appear like it, they are not reporting their observations of the groups to discuss the idea of “ ’group mind’ ” [an idea presented by Lebon, a french social-psychologist, looking at the idea that when in a group we are more likely to engage in actions as a group we would not be likely to engage in alone (Psychologydiscussion.net)].

The observers looked at the unity, or lack thereof, within each of the two groups as they worked on the same activity. For the ‘A’ group subgrouping was observed to be encouraged by the leader whereas subgroupings for the ‘D’ group were spontaneous. This is further emphasized in the quote, “…it is noted that in the autocratic atmosphere […] was an unstable type of unity which shifted almost immediately toward a more disintegrated pattern when the leader’s rigidifying influence was withdrawn.

The D-group achieved an autonomous, stable unity of functioning at a much higher level of structure. (33)” as is evident this quote is further emphasizing the influence that the person in leadership truly has over the group. The ‘D’ group had a larger number of members utilizing group-centric terminology such as “we”. A few things were found

  1. The leader of the ‘A’ group encourage more unanimous group activities than ‘D’.
  2. The ‘A’ group leader grew in the amount of leadership provided whereas the ‘D’ group leader decreased in the amount of leadership provided as it was not necessary for the group.
  3. The ‘D’ leader was more submissive than the ‘A’ group leader.
  4. The actions of the ‘D’ leader was more objective in nature.
  5. The ‘A’ leader had more of an influence on the overall subgroups feelings than did the ‘D’ group.
  6. The ‘D’ group leader was more directly involved in the group when leading.
  7. The ‘D’ leader was viewed as more of an equal. Through these observations above we can understand that the leaders of both groups had a distinct impact on the groups themselves as well as subgroups that formed within the overall group.

At the end of twelve weeks both groups were asked to vote both on the continuation of meetings as well as what to do with the masks; the ‘A’ group members chose to take the masks for themselves whereas the ‘D’ group chose to gift the masks to other people. At this point two members from each respective group were switched to the other group, it took two weeks for individual to lose their association with the previous group. It was also observed that the individual underwent a period of behavioral adjustment as they learned the environment of interactions within each group.

The author, at this point, brings up the idea of areas social influence or “‘social powerfield’“ by Wiehe. Some key points were determined to influence an individual; another person’s intentions, the strength of the different competing social influences, how far the influence extends. The effects of these influences if further evident through the analyses of the two experimental groups. The ‘A’ group has a leader with a larger field of influence than the ‘D’ group resulting in group members tended to be more aggressive in their interactions and desire for attention, whereas in the ‘D’ group members would give praise to one another and when they wanted attention from the leader it was generally for the group overall.

The ‘D’ group members had greater opportunities to establish a unique contributing position and did not compete as often for special attention from their leader. The ‘A’ group had a very lopsided power dynamic with the leader taking the control from the members further resulting in the members not being independent in assuming a role of leadership of working to support their peers. Mr. Lippitt summarizes the true role of the leader, “Leadership demands a recognition of, and insight into, the particular individuality of the person being led. (44-45)“

This quote perfectly outlines what should have occurred in the experimental groups to achieve success. We see an example of this being fulfilled in the descriptions of the ‘D’ group and the success that they had in completing their set goals. As the groups progressed towards their goals the members of the ‘A’ group were not just hostile with their leader in their pursuit of recognition but would also fight for a level of authority within the group resulting in individuals being attacked and subsequently leaving the group.

In conclusion the article leads us to an understanding of the greater influence a leader and their type of leadership can have upon the group. It effects whether the goal is reached as well as the interactions between the members of the group itself. Democracy allowed a more peaceful experience for the members of the ‘D’ group and allowed the members to feel a sense of accomplishment upon reaching their goal, where the ‘A’ group proceeded to destrohby their masks.

Field Theory and Music Therapy

A rough understanding of field theory can be gleaned from the article summaries above. It is the overall idea that an individual can influence a group and can in turn be influenced by the group, it is a constant shifting of power dynamics. We can best apply this knowledge in how we structure our own groups when in music therapy sessions taking care to avoid situations such as the ‘A’ group from the Lippitt article. We want to set up our clients for success, not just in the end results but for the duration of the time and process it takes to reach that success.

We see another example of this on our client’s music choices. We choose music that is going to be preferable and therefore more therapeutic to our clients. As we are exposed to this music, often different than what one may listen to in their person lives, one may find that they are more inclined to listen to that music. This influence can even happen in social circles, friends share the music that they listen to between each other and with other individuals and groups removed from the main circle of friends. Granted this can be attributed to the idea that with repeated exposure one learns to appreciate something new, but it is an even better example of how when given an opportunity to experience that kind of exposure or influence we are affected.

Kurt Lewin: Field Theory and its Application to Music Therapy essay

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Kurt Lewin: Field Theory and its Application to Music Therapy. (2021, Dec 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/kurt-lewin-field-theory-and-its-application-to-music-therapy/


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