Change Theory - Kurt Lewin

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Change Theory

Kurt Lewin


  • Kurt Lewin (1890-1947) is considered as the father of social psychology

  • He was born in Germany, later emigrated to the US.

  • He is well known for his writings on group dynamics, group therapy and social psychology.

  • Kurt Lewin introduced his field theory concepts, emphasizing that the group differs from the simple sum of its parts.

  • Lewin coined the term group dynamics in 1939.

  • His field theory states that "one’s behavior is related both to one’s personal characteristics and to the social situation in which one finds oneself."


  • His most influencial theory was his model of the change process in human systems.

  • Kurt Lewin theorized a three-stage model of change that is known as the unfreezing-change-refreeze model that requires prior learning to be rejected and replaced.

  • Lewin's theory states behavior as "a dynamic balance of forces working in opposing directions. "


Driving forces
  • Driving forces are forces that push in a direction that causes change to occur.

  • Driving forces facilitate change because they push the person in the desired direction.

  • They cause a shift in the equilibrium towards change.
Restraining forces
  • Restraining forces are forces that counter driving forces.

  • Restraining forces hinder change because they push the person in the opposite direction.

  • Restraining forces cause a shift in the equilibrium which opposes change

  • Equilibrium is a state of being where driving forces equal restraining forces and no change occurs

  • Equilibrium can be raised or lowered by changes that occur between the driving and restraining forces.


Consists of  three distinct and vital stages:

1. “Unfreezing”
  • Unfreezing is the process which involves finding a method of making it possible for people to let go of an old pattern that was counterproductive in some way.

  • Unfreezing is necessary to overcome the strains of individual resistance and group conformity.

  • Unfreezing can be achieved by the use of three methods.

    • First, increase the driving forces that direct behavior away from the existing situation or status quo.

    • Second, decrease the restraining forces that negatively affect the movement from the existing equilibrium.

    • Third, find a combination of the two methods listed above.

2. “Moving to a new level or Changing” or Movement
  • This stage involves a process of change in thoughts, feeling, behavior, or all three, that is in some way more liberating or more productive.

3. “Refreezing”
  • Refreezing is establishing the change as a new habit, so that it now becomes the “standard operating procedure.”

  • Without this stage of refreezing, it is easy to go back to the old ways.


  • It is pertinant that the driving and restraining forces must be analyzed before implimenting a planned change.


  1. Kritsonis A. Comparison of Change Theories. International Journal of Scholarly Academic Intellectual Diversity; 8:1, 2004-2005.
This page was last updated on: 29/11/2020