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PloS one

Understanding Collective Discontents: A Psychological Approach to Measuring Zeitgeist.


PMID 26114943

Abstract

Over the last decade, several countries around the world developed a collective sense of doom and gloom: Their Zeitgeist could be characterized as one of decline. Paradoxically, in some countries, such as the Netherlands, this collective discontent with society seems to exist despite high levels of individual well-being. Current psychological research informs us about why individuals would feel unduly optimistic, but does not account for a collective sense of decline. The present research develops a novel operationalization of Zeitgeist, referred to as a general factor Z. We conceptualize Zeitgeist as a collective global-level evaluation of the state (and future) of society. Three studies confirm that perceptions of the same societal problems at the personal and collective level differed strongly. Across these studies we found support for a hypothesized latent factor Z, underlying collective-level perceptions of society. This Z-factor predicted people's interpretation of new information about society that was presented through news stories. These results provide a first step in operationalizing and (ultimately) understanding the concept of Zeitgeist: collectively shared ideas about society. Implications for policy are discussed.

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