Field theory (psychology)

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Field theory is a psychological theory which examines patterns of interaction between the individual and the total field, or environment. The concept was developed by Kurt Lewin, a Gestalt psychologist, in the 1940s.

Field theory holds that behavior must be derived from a totality of coexisting facts. These coexisting facts make up a "dynamic field", which means that the state of any part of the field depends on every other part of it. Behavior depends on the present field rather than on the past or the future.

In the view of field theory, the understanding of intentional action lends itself to a more idealized view on the person, than say behaviorism. It also lends itself to aspects of systems theory. It is more idealized because the individual is not only conditioned by preconditioning, but also from motives, goals and aspirations stemming from inside, and thirdly, from the subjective perception of the situation. Although systems theory might belong to a later time, the image of psychological-personal fields reminds us of systems, in terms of parts integrated in a bigger whole defined by a higher purpose or goal. The following quote states this eloquently:

Lewin viewed the person as system containing subsystems that are more or less separate and more or less able to interact and combine with each other.

—Victor Daniels[1]

In the same source as above, one can also read the basic tenets of the field theory:

FIELD THEORY. Its basic statements are that:

  • Behavior must be derived from a totality of coexisting facts
  • These coexisting facts make up a "dynamic field," which means that the state of any part of the field depends on every other part of it
  • Behavior depends on the present field rather than on the past or the future. "This is in contrast both to the belief of teleology that the future is the cause of behavior, and that of asociationism that the past is the cause of behavior."
—Victor Daniels, Ibid.

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Litterature[edit]

  • Sundberg, Norman (2001). Clinical Psychology: Evolving Theory, Practice, and Research. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-087119-2.