Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development was developed by Erik Erikson and first published in his 1950 book Childhood and Society though he later revised the theory and published it in subsequent books beginning from the late 1950s to the 1980s.
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This theory is one of the most recognized theories of personality in the field of psychology, alongside Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychosexual. However, in contrast to Freud’s theory, Erikson’s theory defines the influence of social experience over a person’s entire lifetime. The theory is divided into eight stages spanning from infancy to late adulthood.
Psychosocial Stage 1 – Trust vs. Mistrust (Birth-2 years)
This is the first stage of the Psychosocial theory and focuses around the infant’s basic needs being provided by parents or other caregivers. At this phase, the newborn wholly depends on the caregivers for food, care, and love. Their comprehension of the surrounding originates from the parents, for instance, if the parents are affectionate towards the child, their view of the society will positive, but with a lack of affection, the consequence will be a feeling of distrust.
Psychosocial Stage 2 – Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (2-4 years)
At this stage, the child develops a greater degree of personal control and starts to explore their surroundings due to improved muscular coordination and mobility. The children also learn to control their own body functions and this results into some level of autonomy.
However, the child is still largely dependent on the parents. Through the parents’ support, the children develop their first interests that will go on to influence their careers. However, when the children are constrained, they will instead have doubt and reluctance when performing challenging duties.
Psychosocial Stage 3 – Initiative vs. Guilt (4-5 years)
This stage mainly occurs at the preschool stage and is characterized by children attempting to comprehend the world around them and learning basic skills. The development of courage and autonomy are what distinguishes this group from the rest. Children who succeed at this stage feel capable and able to take up leadership roles while those who fail to gain the skills have feelings of guilt, lack of confidence, and lack of initiative (Bee and Boyd, 2004).
Psychosocial Stage 4 – Industry vs. Inferiority (5-12 years)
By interacting with those around them, children at this stage begin to have pride owing to their achievements and skills (Allen & Marotz, 2003). They also learn the idea of time and space and are able to put them into practical use. The stage is very crucial to the development of self-confidence that will be of great benefit both at home and at school and this occurs only if the children are encouraged and commended by their teachers and parents.
Psychosocial Stage 5 – Identity vs. Role Confusion (13-19 years)
At this stage, the adolescent/teenager is more concerned with how they are seen by others. One of the major decisions that the group faces is that of settling on a school and occupation. In the latter stages, the children at this psychosocial stage may develop a sexual identity. Erikson came up with the word ‘Identity Crisis’ in which he stated that each stage had its own crisis (Erikson, 1956).
However, this crisis is more marked at this stage as it marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. Persons who receive support will come out of this developmental phase with more autonomy and control while those who are not supported will be confused and unsure of themselves (Marcia, 1966).
Love: Intimacy vs. Isolation (Young adulthood, 20-24, or 20-40 years)
This stage is more marked around the age of 30 and is characterized by young adults trying to explore or establish personal relationships. Young adults spend more time with their identities or friends while those who are rejected or fear rejection become isolated (Erikson, 1950). After establishing their identities, they are prepared to commit long-term intimate and reciprocal relationships to others that can be through friendships or marital agreements.
Psychosocial Stage 7 – Generativity vs. Stagnation 25-64, or 40-64 years)
This is the stage of middle adulthood and the main focus is on career and family. Persons who succeed during this stage will feel that they are positively impacting on the society by being active in their own families and in the community while persons who fail at this phase will have feelings of unproductivity and detachedness from society.
Psychosocial Stage 8 – Integrity vs. Despair (65-death)
At this phase, persons are less productive and focus is on the reflection of life. It is during the stage that people reflect on their accomplishments. Those who feel proud of their achievements will “have a feeling of integrity while those who are unsuccessful of their achievements will have a feeling that their lives have been wasted and are filled with regret” (Erikson, 1950).
Influence of Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory
The psychosocial theory has had a great influence in my life. For instance, being in my 20s, I am in the Intimacy vs. Isolation stage and am currently bent on making long-term relationships as mentioned by Erikson. I am also making friends with persons with whom I share common interests such as career and academic activities.
I am trying to establish my career, having decided on a specific career earlier on in my teenage years during the Identity vs. Role Confusion stage. At this moment, I feel proud of my achievements and I attribute this to the support and encouragement I received from my parents and teachers. As mentioned by Erikson, support and provision of affection, care, and warmth to the child by both parents and teachers is crucial to the holistic development of the child.
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Allen, E. and Marotz, L. (2003). Developmental Profiles Pre-Birth Through Twelve (4th ed.). Albany, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning.
Bee, H. and Boyd, D. (2004). The Developing Child (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and Society. NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Erikson, E. (1956). The problem of ego identity. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 4(25), 56-121.
Marcia, J. E. (1966). Development and validation of ego identity status. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 3(14), 551-558.