"If you want truly to understand something, try to change it."
Kurt Lewin is universally recognized as the founder of modern social psychology. He pioneered the use of theory, using experimentation to test hypotheses. He exposed the world to the significance of an entire discipline--group dynamics and action research.
Unlike other philosophers, Lewin conducted many "action field research" studies to understand social problems. His concept of "field theory" developed from this approach with its assertion that human interactions are driven by both the people involved and their environment. Lewin focused particularly on the interactions among races and the influences that affect inter-group and intra-group relations. Ultimately, he wanted to identify the factors that could make diverse communities function without prejudice and discrimination. Another area of his research was in pursuit of finding out why groups are so unproductive.
Lewin and his associates conducted notable research on the effect of democratic, autocratic, and laissez-faire methods of leadership upon the other members of groups. Largely on the basis of controlled experiments with groups of children, Lewin maintained that contrary to popular belief the democratic leader has no less power than the autocratic leader and that the characters and personalities of those who are led are rapidly and profoundly affected by a change in social atmosphere. In effecting such changes on human behavior patterns, Lewin argued, the democratic group that has long-range planning surpasses both the autocratic and laissez-faire groups in creative initiative and sociality. As a general rule, he contended, the more democratic the procedures are, the less resistance there is to change.
Lewin was a Gestalt psychologist, and that approach materially influenced him when he originated field theory. His work in this area has been judged as the single most influential element in modern social psychology, leading to large amounts of research and opening new fields of inquiry.