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Erik Erikson’s Identity Theory Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 29th, 2020

All human beings are different in one way or another. Human beings are not born with identities; however, they acquire their identities with time. Identity crisis occurs during teenage years when people struggle between identity and confusion. The balance between identity and confusion lies in commitment making and identity.

Since life contains lessons, Erikson’s theory has contributed to the elaboration of development. According to this theory, each person experiences eight psychological crises; Erikson’s development framework includes eight stages that cover an individual’s lifespan, which assist an individual to faces and confronts the new challenges (Erik Erikson’s development theory of identity development, n.d, p.45).

The epigenetic principle states that characteristics developed at each stage are carried to the next stage as they rely on each other. According to Whitley (2009, p.29), “this principle acts as an explanation of growth, anything that grows has a ground plan and out of this ground plan the parts arise, each part has it time of special ascendancy until all parts have arisen to form a functioning whole.”

The fifth stage serves as a growth point in an individual’s life; therefore, it is an indication of potential growth towards a quality personality of the rest of one’s life.

These stages include infancy, which ranges from 0-18months where trust or mistrust can be developed. A mother can establish trust to the infant through care, so that the infant does not develop mistrust towards the world at large. In this stage, the needs of an infant such as food, comfort, and affection are met by parents. If the caregivers are neglectful or abusive, the infant learns that the world is an uncouth place for people.

Developing the trust of others is essential in an individual’s life, for instant, a child will only learn to trust his mother if he is taken care of regularly. In addition, infants begin to trust themselves as pertains to their bodies, such that they can reach for something, crawl, stand, and finally walk. However, delays in body satisfaction may result to mistrust of time (Erik Erikson’s development theory of identity development, n.d, p.46).

The second stage is autonomy vs. shame; that is common in toddlers between 18 months – 3years. In this stage, toddlers begin exploring their environment with the support of their parents; however, caution is required as the toddlers may access things that are dangerous and harmful to their health and safety. In this stage, a child will develop special interests in specific things, such as music. However, when parents are too strict, they may hinder the child’s attempt to venture into new challenges.

This stage also attributes to a child’s training, for instance, toilet training whereby a child is able to control body waste products until he reaches the toilet. However, if too much is demanded from the children, there is a possibility of children developing doubts in their capability to accomplish tasks.

The third stage includes initiative vs. guilt, which ranges between three to six years; here, children learn to be logical, for instant, the fact that items fall down and not upwards. They also learn risk taking in the process of learning, for instant, crossing the road alone or riding a bicycle without wearing a helmet. A child may also develop a sense of frustration for not being able to achieve his goals. If a child fails to achieve his goals, he may suffer from guilt and seem powerless if ridiculed by peers (Nevid, 2008, p.349).

Industry vs. inferiority is a stage that occurs between six to 12 years, whereby children are eager to learn, hence developing through reading, writing, and communicating. However, children at this stage can be rebellious; nevertheless, if children perform competently in school and in extra- curriculum activities, they result to being industrious by taking up a role in these activities. Self-confidence is developed in most children at this stage, as they recognize their talents such as in sports or music.

Identity vs. identity confusion occurs in adolescence between 12-18 years. The adolescents are usually concerned with their personality in the presence of others, as they develop a sexual identity. In this stage, adolescents develop a sense of personal identity, while avoiding the dangers of diffusion and confusion.

Identity achievement is achieved when an individual recognizes his strengths and weaknesses and determines the best way to deal with them. This stage is very important as it contributes towards realization of an identity, whereby, one goes through puberty and the need to establish boundaries.

Intimacy vs. isolation ranges between 19-40years. Identity confusion ends as adults understand identities and fit in well socially. Adults are afraid of being turned down or their relationship breaking, therefore, long-term commitments are made. Generativity vs. stagnation is a middle adult stage that entails, guiding the next generation, by either raising a family or contributing towards the society, hence resulting to a sense of productivity and accomplishment.

Ego integrity vs. despair is the final stage of development, which is accompanied by low productivity due to old age and retirement. At this stage, people look back at their accomplishments and feel content. However, in case of a negative outcome, an individual in this stage may consider his life as a waste, since he was not able to accomplish his goals. Erikson’s theory stresses on our adaptive nature; however, it can also be considered vague regarding the causes of development.

How does the theory address differences in gender and culture?

According to Franz & White (1985 p227), Erikson has neglected personality of both genders, as he does not elaborate much on the development of intimacy in both genders. The main critique is that the theory fails to account for the interpersonal attachments, which are essential development of both male and female. In the identity stage, pubescence is characterized by rapid body changes, which enhance sexual awareness.

Nevertheless, Erikson’s theory, as a personality theory, fails to account for personality developments in both genders. Erikson assumes that development stages are the same for both females and males. His theory elaborates that one must accept his own sex, however sex does not determine how one functions. Nevertheless, Eriksson’s theory does not apply to some cultures, as they do not acknowledge some of the stages. In addition, women do not literally fit in Erikson’s model as it mainly focuses on the male gender.

Does the theory present a comprehensive explanation of how personality develops? If so, how does it do this, if not, what is not explained?

The adolescent stage in Erikson’s stage of psychosocial development establishes a sense of personality identity. However, failure to develop identity dramatically results in role confusion. In the intimacy vs. isolation stage, people explore personal relationships, hence developing close and intimate relationships with other people, some ending up developing secure and committed relationships. In Erikson’s theory, adolescents have unlimited imagination that allows one to develop and exercise his new skills.

Adolescents look for affirmation from their seniors hence identify confusion. According to Erikson’s stage of development, personality develops in a pre-determined order – it develops throughout one lifetime.

Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development has eight stages, each of which yields to a healthy personality and interactions. However, unhealthy personality may result from failure to complete a particular stage. In trust vs. mistrust, trust is developed when a child is sure that the world is secure, however, if this stage is incomplete, trust may never be achieved.

In the autonomy vs. shame and doubt stage, a child learns to be more confident and develops ability to pick things on his own; however, if a child is discouraged and criticized, he will feel incapable of surviving, hence become dependent on others.

Industry vs. inferiority stage involves a child comparing his worthiness to others; hence, the caregiver should ensure that the child feels worth, as an initiative towards developing personality. Identity v. role confusion stage entails adolescence search for an identity, hence this stage involves exploration in search of one’ identity.

In the intimacy vs. isolation stage, young adults make major choices regarding their future, for instant, who they want to spend their lives with, dating or when they want to settle down; the choices made are based on their own personality. In this theory, every stage is important and paves way for the next stage; however, if a stage is not successful, it yields to failure that affects an individual’s personality (Jeannine, 2007).

How does the theory address changes in personality over the lifespan?

Erik Erikson’s theory elaborates that personality develops throughout ones lifetime. According to Clitton & Davis (1995) Erikson theory emphasizes on the importance of personality in childhood, hence rejecting Freud’s attempt to describe personality only based on sexuality.

However, Erikson feels that personality develops even after five years of age. Each stage in Erikson’s theory is associated with psychosocial crisis that is based on physiological development. However, the outcome of one stage is not permanent since it can be influenced by later experiences.

Social and sexual factors contribute to personality development in this theory. According to Singer (1975, p.17), when a baby is born, he leaves the mother’s womb and enters the world, in which there are opportunities and limitations of his culture. The author further elaborates that Erikson’s theory attempts to include a child’s social growth, his culture, and societal forces as the main contributors of personality.

Erikson believes that each individual meets a crisis in each stage and he should resolve the crisis before moving to the next stage. Therefore, Erikson’s theory mainly views crisis as a turning point of a potential. The development of trust in offspring is because of care from mothers.

According to Whitley (2009, p.21), Erikson’s development stages are a series of life structures which change with time; it is a design of a person’s life in each stage. As an individual progress through each stage, he/she gains a positivity or negativity, which determines the personality change in each stage.

As a child grows significantly, a relationship forms between family and friends, and encompasses one’s culture. Identity crisis was referred to a situation where one encountered difficulties in the outcast of his society and environment; for instance, war veterans. However, in adolescents, identity describes an experience in that particular stage, especially in the fifth stage, which determines progress towards a healthy personality. The author further indicates that solid formation of an identity determines a healthy personality.

A healthy personality cannot be formed without a solid identity; hence, ego identity determines one’s ability to maintain immutability. Therefore, a healthy personality is achieved as long as an individual is capable of taking advantage of an opportunity that maintains their desire in life. Likewise, a healthy society should be capable of assisting and respecting an individual’s choices (Whitley, 2009, p.33). Therefore, personality changes at each level in the lifecycle, whereas crisis and positive outcomes determine the nature of a personality.

Do you think of this theory fits in modern times? (I.e. does it make sense to you in the modern world—why/why not?) Does it adequately explain the concepts of personality and why?

Erik Erikson’s identity theory elaborates on the stages of development in a lifespan; however, this theory has been subjected to many critiques throughout. For instant, in Erikson’s fifth stage on identity formation, questions have risen on whether it is possible for an individual to change throughout his life. His theory also seems more applicable in the male gender other than the female gender, and he simply emphasizes more on the childhood stages other that adulthood.

Each stage in his theory is marked by virtues learned by an individual, which he must absorb. Each trait that is acquired in a stage is essential for the next stage as a child grows. In addition, each stage is accompanied by crisis, which is a turning point that results to integrity. This theory signifies the life stages that an individual goes through. It is however essential in the modern society as it is an indication of how we develop our personalities.

When children come into the world, they are naïve and hardly understand anything, it is only logical that they adapt and learn from the way they are treated. If they are given special care, for instance through breastfeeding, they develop trust to the surrounding environment and believe that the world is harmless.

However, if they are neglected, they develop a completely different attitude towards the world. This is exactly what happens; therefore, this theory is realistic. The theory has further elaborated on identity crisis, a common factor that individuals face at a particular stage in life, especially in teenage.

Erikson’s theory has been explored by many authors, among them being Marcia who in his journal has further elaborated on identity. This includes identity statuses that vary from achievement, moratorium, and foreclosure and identity diffusion. Identity achievement occurs when a person explores different identities but makes a commitment to only one identity. Moratorium is a status of an individual who actively explores different identities but has not made any commitment.

While foreclosure involves a status, which involves making a commitment, but without exploring identity, identity diffusion occurs without the presence commitment or identity crisis (Marcia, 1966, p.552). In today’s changing world, identity crises are common than in early years, therefore exploring of one’s aspects at work, home and in relationships, contributes in strengthening one’s personal identity. Erik Erikson’s theory explores personality from childhood stage to despair stage, clearly identifying the role and social experiences in each stage.

The extension of Erikson’s research by Marcia is a clear indication of the quality of Erikson’s theory. According to Lerner (2002, p.417), Erikson’s epigenetic principle further explain that, as ego develops, it is faced with new demands in the society.

However, if these demands are healthy, development is evident; therefore, if the new demands are to be met, adaptations are necessary. For instant, an infant is only expected to consume food given by the caregiver, but when she/he is adult, he is expected to work. Therefore, the theory enlightens us that a behavior that seemed adaptive at some age does not remain functional for a lifetime.

What should be added or subtracted to the theory to make it fit into modern times? Do you think the theory has continued to be valid over time)?

The theory is faced with several critiques, emphasizing mainly on childhood and only lightly discussing on adulthood. The theory is compared to a life-long project, from birth to death, and somehow answers questions regarding development in life and how personality is achieved. Therefore, the theory is important to learners and researchers but has room for improvement. Erikson’s theory has fulfilled a social need for a theory in explaining the concept of psychological growth and development and adaptation to rapid and dramatic changes in life.

Nevertheless, according to Hoare (2005, p.21), people continue to adapt to life as it unfolds, meaning, change is required in each stage of the life cycle. In addition, Erikson focused his attention on children mainly before turning into adults thus discovering the problem of ego identity in the adolescent stage. Thereafter, he focused on adulthood in terms of intimacy and relationships. According to the author, Erikson illustrates how a person’s body complies with psychological needs, fears, and experiences that may contribute to physical or mental illness.

According to Sorell & Montgomery (2001, p.105), a female standpoint critiques Erikson’s identity theory in that, it excludes the lives of women and it is limited to identity, hence there is need to consider human experience in explorations of self-construction. In addition, there is need to correct on the omission of women in the Erickson’s theory.


Individual’s identity is currently changing due to new experiences and information acquired from interacting with peers. Therefore, Erikson emphasizes that competence motivates behavior and individual’s actions. When each development stage is handled well, a sense of mastery or strength is achieved. However, if a stage is poorly managed, a sense of inadequacy will be achieved. Each of the development stages involves a conflict that an individual must encounter, thus a possibility of growth and failure is higher.

A healthy personality is achieved as long as an individual is capable of taking advantage of an opportunity that maintains his/her desire in life. Therefore, a healthy society should be capable of assisting and respecting an individual’s choices. The epigenetic principle indicates that an individual develops through unfolding personality which is partly determined by our success. Nevertheless, Erikson’s theory is important in modern society, as it assists learners to understand life development and cycle.


Clifton, A. Davis, D. (1995). . Web.

Erik Erikson’s development theory of identity development. Web.

Franz, C. White, K. (1985). : Extending Erikson’s theory, Boston University. Web.

Hoare, C. (2005). Erikson’s general and adult developmental revisions of Freudian thought: “outward, forward, upward. Journal of Adult Development, Vol. 12, No. Web.

Jeannine, S. (2007). Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages Applied to Supervision. Guidance & Counseling, Vol. 21, Issue 3. Web.

Lerner, R. (2002). Concepts and theories of human development; Edition 3. Routledge Publisher. Web.

Marcia, J. (1966). . Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 3, No. 5, 551-558. Web.

Nevid, J. (2008). Psychology: Concepts and Applications. OH: Cengage Learning, Publisher.

Singer, D. (1975). Charlotte’s web; Erikson’s life cycle. School Library Journal. Web.

Sorell, G. Montgomery, M. (2001). Feminist Perspectives on Erikson’s Theory: Their Relevance for Contemporary Identity Development Research. Identity: an international journal of theory and research, 1(2), 97–128 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Web.

Whitley, B. (2009). Applying a comprehensive-internal model for the evaluation of social-scientific research to the identity crisis stage of Erik Erikson’s developmental theory. Web.

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