Introduction to Erik Eriksons Stages of Psychosocial Development

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Erik Erikson was the first psychologist who proposed a psychosocial theory.  This theory defines the changes in individuals’ behaviors at different ages.  Also, this theory describes eight stages of human development ranging from infancy to later adulthood.  In addition, each stage of development has a psychosocial crisis.  Individuals challenge each psychosocial crisis as they move from one stage to the next.  Moreover, how they deal with each psychosocial crisis shapes their personality.

Trust versus Mistrust (Age: Birth to 1)

The first stage is where infants develop trust or mistrust.  They develop this crisis through the development of social relationship with their primary caregivers.  For instance, infants develop trust if their primary caregivers love, care and respond to their basic needs.  Such basic needs are changing diapers and giving infants foods, clothes, and blankets.  In contrast, infants develop distrust if their primary caregivers neglect them.

Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt (Age: 1 to 3)

The second stage is where toddlers at this stage explore their social environments beyond their primary caregivers’ boundary.  They develop what is right and wrong, which often causes them to say “no” to their caregivers. At the same time, toddlers also learn and master different skills.  Such skills may be toilet training, dressing, feeding, bathing, and walking.  If parents are satisfied with their toddlers’ efforts mastering those skills, their toddlers develop autonomy.  On the other hand, if their parents are not satisfied with their effort mastering those skills, they develop shame and doubt.

Initiative versus Guilt (Age: 3 to 6)

The third stage is where children at this stage take the initiative to plan and organize activities.  They also want to take the initiative to maintain conformity. For instance, a group of children is organizing a birthday party.  Each child assigns to do certain tasks.  If one or two children do not take the initiative to finish the tasks, others may instill a feeling of guilt on them.  As a result, they may suffer low self-esteem.  However, children who take responsibility and get along with others develop a sense of power.  They also develop a sense of self-confidence.

Industry versus Inferiority (Age: 6 to 12)

The fourth stage is where children learn and master skills that their culture set for them.  If they fail to master those skills, children develop a sense of uselessness.  However, if children master those skills that their culture set for them, they develop a sense of competence.  For instance, children from age 6 to 12 must master how to read, write, and solve math problems.  If they master those skills, they develop satisfaction of their accomplishment.  However, if children fail to master those skills, they develop a sense of inferiority.

Identity versus Confusion (Age: 12 to 18)

The fifth stage is where adolescents develop their unique characteristics separate from their families and others. They want to have an understanding how they have been and who they are.  Adolescents also want to find out what social environment corresponds to their identity and principles.  If they succeed finding their identity, teens develop self-confidence about themselves.  Nevertheless, teens who fail to find their identity develop confusion and insecurity about themselves.

Intimacy versus Isolation (Age: 18 to 35)

The sixth stage is where young adults seek out someone outside their families’ realm.  They also seek someone with whom they can share their lives.  In addition, young adults seek out someone with whom they can build a long-lasting relationship or friendship.  If young adults establish a close relationship or friendship with a partner, they develop intimacy.  In contrast, young adults develop isolation if they establish a close relationship or friendship unsuccessfully.

Generativity versus Stagnation (Age: 35 to 65)

The seventh stage is where adults develop generativity or stagnation.  Middle adults who develop generativity make a valuable contribution to society and others.  Such contribution may be to teach, mentor or guide their children or young people.  Other contribution may be to take a leadership’s roles in various organizations or to help others.  Besides, middle adults also establish, guide, and transmit their cultures to the next generation.  As a result of making such contributions to society and others, they feel a sense of satisfaction.  In contrast, middle adults who only concern their desires and needs develop stagnation, or self-absorption.

Integrity versus Despair (Age: 65 to Death)

The eighth stage is where adults reflect their experiences, which Erikson called reminiscence.  They look at what they had done, what they had achieved, and what choices they had made. When adults review their entire lives, they either develop integrity or despair.  If adults develop integrity, they will feel a sense of satisfaction of the lives. However, if adults fail to find meaning and satisfaction in their lives, they will feel resentment and hopelessness.

Erikson’s theory is very important in developmental psychology and to psychologists.  His theory provides useful information for psychologists to develop further research about human development.  Although Erikson’s theory provides useful information, there is criticism of his theory. For instance, Erikson’s theory does not suit when explaining different types of personality differences that exist among individuals.  Such personality differences are listed in the five factor model of personality: extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness.  Personality differences can affect the outcome solving psychosocial crisis.  

Another criticism is that Erikson’s theory fits well with Western cultural values but contrary to various non-Western cultural values.  For instance, many Western societies, such as U.S. and Europe, value the development of autonomy to resolve psychosocial crisis.  On the other hand, many non-Western societies, such as China and Japan, value interdependence to resolve psychosocial crisis.  For this reason, psychologists will continue to develop new developmental theories that correspond to different cultural values.

More about this author: Maureen Leung

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