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The Zeitgeist (spirit of the age or spirit of the time) is the intellectual fashion or dominant school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular period in time. For example, the Zeitgeist of modernism typified and influenced architecture, art, and fashion during much of the 20th century.
The German word Zeitgeist is often attributed to the philosopher Georg Hegel, but he never actually used the word. In his works such as Lectures on the Philosophy of History, he uses the phrase der Geist seiner Zeit (the spirit of his time)—for example, "no man can surpass his own time, for the spirit of his time is also his own spirit."
Other philosophers who were associated with such ideas include Herder and Spencer and Voltaire. The concept counters the Great Man theory popularized by Thomas Carlyle which sees history as the result of the actions of heroes and geniuses.
Hegel believed that art reflected, by its very nature, the time of the culture in which it is created. Culture and art are inextricable because an individual artist is a product of his or her time and therefore brings that culture to any given work of art. Furthermore, he believed that in the modern world it was impossible to produce classical art, which he believed represented a "free and ethical culture", which depended more on the philosophy of art and theory of art, rather than a reflection of the social construct, or Zeitgeist in which a given artist lives.
In the analysis of the arts and culture, the concept of a "spirit of the age" or zeitgeist may be problematic as a tool for analysis of periods which are socially or culturally fragmented and diverse.
As mentioned, zeitgeist theory of leadership is often contrasted with Thomas Carlyle’s great man theory. In his theory, Carlyle stresses that leaders do not become leaders by fate or accident. Instead, these individuals possess characteristics of great leaders and these characteristics allow them to obtain positions of power.
However, Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy disagreed with Carlyle’s perspective. Tolstoy believed that leadership, like other things, was a "zeitgeist" and was a product of the social circumstances at the time. Thus, it was not the characteristics of the individual that resulted in a leadership, but societal factors of the time that are out of the individuals’ control.
Great man theory and zeitgeist theory can be included in two main areas of thought in psychology. For instance, great man theory is very similar to the trait approach. Trait researchers are interested in identifying the various personality traits that underline human behaviors such as conformity, leadership or other social behaviors. Thus, they agree that leadership is primarily a quality of an individual and that some people are pre-dispositioned to be a leader whereas others are born to follow these leaders. In contrast, situationist researchers believe that social behavior is a product of society. That is, social influence is what determines human behaviors. Therefore, situationism is of the same opinion as Zeitgeist theory – leaders are created from the social environment and are molded from the situation. The concept of Zeitgeist also relates to the sociological tradition that stems from Durkheim and recently developed into social capital theory as exemplified by the work of Patrick Hunout.
These two perspectives have been combined to create what is known as the interactional approach to leadership. This approach asserts that leadership is developed through the mixing of personality traits and the situation. Further, this approach was expressed by social psychologist, Kurt Lewin, by the equation B = f(P, E) where behavior (B) is a function (f) of the person (P) and the environment (E).
-Illusions of our errors not being readily apparent to us because the shared beliefs and assumptions of a particular era support them come from the Zeitgeist. An example can be seen with Henry Goddard and Lewis Terman. The consensus in the 20th century was that existing psychology tests adequately measured basic intelligence in diverse groups of people. Now we know that we have to develop "culture-fair" tests. But because of the Zeitgeist, in these times, the cross-cultural validity of existing tests were not questioned. 
-Failure to question research findings that agree with prevailing political and philosophical ideology represents one of the effects of the Zeitgeist. 
-The Zeitgeist does not always have negative effects. It can stimulate new ideas and creative solutions to problems. An example is seen in the different models and metaphors chosen to describe behavior and consciousness. 
-If Charles Darwin had not lived, his theory of evolution would still have been published. The British naturalist,Alfred Wallace, had come to almost the exact same theory as Darwin concerning natural selection. They jointly presented their idea to the public. If Darwin had not lived there still would have been advocates for evolution produced simply by the zeitgeist of the time period and the spurring of new thoughts and ideas outside of the usual biblical explanations for differential species existence. zeitgeist of the time shows that natural selection would still have been introduced to the public. 
-The zeitgeist of the 1920's revolved around logical positivism. Due to this, the great men of that time were able to impact psychology, such as Watson, Tolman, and Guthrie. This is important because their work on behavioral psychology was able to work against eugenics. Before this time behavioral psychology was not able to impact the field since it did not fit with the spirit of the times. For example, Twitmeyer wrote a paper on knee-jerk in 1902, but it came too early to have the impact it deserved. 
-Skinner being unseated during the cognitive revolution is another example of the zeitgeist in psychology. The zeitgeist was changing during this time, people wanted to show more interest in humans, more people were becoming interested in personality psychology. However, in the 1950's his new experimental approach to psychology using inductive reasoning and descriptive behaviorism was seen as novel and practical. Especially in contrast with psychoanalysts. 
|Look up zeitgeist in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia. (October 2012)|
|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the Spanish Wikipedia. (October 2012)|