Kurt Koffka (Berlin, March 18, 1886 - November 22, 1941 Northampton (Massachusetts)) was a german Gestalt psychologist. He was born and educated in Berlin and earned his PhD there in 1909 as a student of Carl Stumpf with a study of rhythm theory.
He then took up a series of assistant posts , firstly with J von Fries in Frieburg during 1908-09. He then moved to Wurzburg to work with O Kulpe and K Marbe during 1909-10. Later that year he was working at the University of Frankfurt for F Schumann when Max Wertheimer arrived in 1910 and invited him to participate as a subject in his research on the phi phenomenon. He also met Wolfgang Köhler there and the three of them developed the Berlin school of Gestalt psychology
In addition to his studies in Berlin, Koffka also spent one year at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland where he developed his strong fluency in English, a skill that later served him well in his efforts to spread Gestalt psychology beyond German borders.
Koffka left Frankfurt in 1912 to take a position at the [University of Giessen], forty miles from Frankfurt, where he remained until 1924. There he wrote Growth of the Mind: An Introduction to Child Psychology (1921). In 1922 he introduced the gestalt programme with an article in the Psychological Bulletin to readers in the USA.
Putting his English fluency to the test, Koffka then traveled to the United States, where he was a visiting professor at the Cornell University from 1924 to 1925, and two years later at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Eventually, in 1927, he accepted a position at the Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where he remained until his death in 1941. There he published Principles of Gestalt Psychology (1935).
In 1909, Koffka married Mira Klein, who was an experimental subject in Koffka's research. They remained married until 1923 when he divorced Klein and married Elisabeth Ahlgrimm who had recently finished her Ph.D at Giessen. However, they were divorced in the same year, and Koffka remarried Klein.
Theories on learning
Koffka believed that most of early learning is what he referred to as, "sensorimotor learning," which is a type of learning which occurs after a consequence. For example, a child who touches a hot stove will learn not to touch it again. Koffka also believed that a lot of learning occurs by imitation, though he argued that it is not important to understand how imitation works, but rather to acknowledge that it is a natural occurrence. According to Koffka, the highest type of learning is ideational learning, which makes use of language. Koffka notes that an important time in children's development is when they understand that objects have names.
- (1922) Perception: An Introduction to the Gestalt Theorie.
- (1924) Growth of the Mind
- (1935) Principles of Gestalt Psychology
- Koffka, Kurt, Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology, 2nd ed. Gale Group, 2001.
- A History of Psychology: Ideas and Context. King, Viney, and Woody, 2009.
- Gestalt psychology website of the international Society for Gestalt Theory and its Applications - GTA
- Website on gestalt psychology with biographies of Wertheimer et al.
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