Kurt Koffka: Biography, Theory and Other Contributions

Kurt Koffka He was one of the founding psychologists of the Gestalt school. This school was one of the first antecedents of cognitive psychology as we know it today; In addition, it was one of the most influential schools in the history of this discipline.

Together with Max Wertheimer and Wolfgang Köhler, Kurt Koffka helped to clarify the way in which humans perceive the world, focusing more on the sets than on each of the parts that form them. His studies contradicted the ideas of mechanicism, the school founded by Wundt that predominated in the academic psychology of the moment.

Kurt Koffka

After moving to the United States, Koffka helped bring Gestalt ideas to the academic field of that country. Nowadays, thanks to the development of his studies, Gestalt theory is still used in research as well as in psychological therapy.


  • 1 Biography
    • 1.1 First years
    • 1.2 I work as an assistant
    • 1.3 I work as a researcher and teacher
    • 1.4 Life in the United States
  • 2 Theory and other contributions
    • 2.1 Human psychological development
    • 2.2 Foundation of the theory of Gestalt
  • 3 References


First years

Kurt Koffka was born in Berlin (Germany) in 1886. His father was a lawyer and his brother Friedrich became a judge, but Kurt, instead of following family steps in the legal field, decided to study philosophy and science encouraged by his uncle.

After graduating from the institute at the Wilhelms Gymnasium, he entered the university to continue his studies. Koffka began studying at the University of Berlin, but in 1904 he moved to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where he became familiar with British philosophy.

After a period of two years studying in this country, he returned again to the University of Berlin, where he changed his studies of philosophy to those of psychology.

Because he suffered from a vision disorder (color blindness), Koffka was especially interested in human perception.

In fact, one of his first published scientific works was based on the study of his own visual problem, knowing during the course of it to Mira Klein, who later became his first wife.

I work as an assistant

In the year 1909 Kurt Koffka moved to the University of Freiburg to practice physiology under the tutelage of Johannes von Kries. However, he was only in this position for a few months, later going to the University of Wuzburgo, one of the largest psychological research centers of the time.

The following year, in 1910, Koffka decided to leave Wuzburgo and to continue with his investigations in the Psychological Institute in Frankfurt like assistant of Professor Friedrich Schumann. It was at this university that he met Wolfgang Köhler, along with the one who became Max Wertheimer's assistant.

Together with the other two founders of the Gestalt school, Koffka began to study the phenomenon of movement perception. During these investigations the relationship between the three was consolidated, and together they laid the foundations for what later became this current of psychology.

I work as a researcher and teacher

In 1911 Koffka left the city of Frankfurt to start working as a professor at the University of Giessen. However, his relationship with the other two founders of the Gestalt school continued to be very close.

While in his new job, this researcher became interested in two other basic processes of the human mind: thought and memory. After the First World War, Koffka got a full-time position as professor of experimental psychology at the University of Giessen.

During the following years he continued with his career in this institution, until in 1921 he became director of the Institute of Psychology of the university. There, and after establishing his own research laboratory, he published a large number of articles related to Gestalt psychology, in collaboration with Köhler and Wertheimer.

In 1922, just before moving to the United States, Koffka published his ideas on perception and its application to human psychological development. His theories became very popular and later formed the basis for much research in the field of developmental psychology.

However, despite his international success, Koffka was not very popular in Germany, so he decided to emigrate to America.

Life in the United States

Once in the United States, Koffka published his ideas on Gestalt in the Psychological Bulletin thanks to the help of psychologist Robert Ogden. In this way, this current of psychology was introduced in the United States with great success.

During the following years, Koffka continued to research while teaching at the university, this time at Smith College in Massachusetts. The discoveries he made there were collected in the book by which he is best known: Principles of Gestalt psychology .

After a series of health and personal problems, Koffka finally died in 1941 of a heart attack, at 55 years of age.

Theory and other contributions

Human psychological development

The main contribution of Koffka to psychology was the application of the Gestalt theory to research on human psychological development.

His main idea is that children perceive the world holistically and respond to stimuli in the same way. Only with the years we acquire the ability to distinguish the parts that make up each set.

This idea was then fundamental to the advancement in the field of developmental psychology, as well as being the one that led him to fame. However, Koffka also conducted research in other areas, such as learning, perception, memory and thinking.

Foundation of the theory of Gestalt

On the other hand, Kurt Koffka was a key piece in the foundation of the Gestalt theory, one of the first psychological currents of humanistic character. Together with Wertheimer and Köhler, he created several specialized magazines, carried out research and disseminated his ideas in a large number of articles and several books.

Although Gestalt psychology has changed a lot in recent decades, its foundations have remained intact since the time of Koffka. Therefore, today is considered one of the most influential psychologists of all time.


  1. "Kurt Koffka"in: Psychology and Mind. Retrieved on: April 25, 2018 from Psychology and Mind: psicologiaymente.com.
  2. "Kurt Koffka"in: Britannica. Retrieved on: April 25, 2018 from Britannica: britannica.com.
  3. "Kurt Koffka"in: Wikipedia. Retrieved: April 25, 2018 from Wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org.
  4. "Kurt Koffka"in: New World Encyclopedia. Retrieved: April 25, 2018 from New World Encyclopedia: newworldencyclopedia.org.
  5. "Kurt Koffka"in: Psychology Encyclopedia. Retrieved: April 25, 2018 from Psychology Encyclopedia: psychology.jrank.org.

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