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Personality Theory Research Paper

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Updated: Jan 22nd, 2020


Erik Erikson is a proponent of Freud’s psychosexual development theory supporting Freudian elements of psyche and the concepts of Oedipal and Electra complexes as explanation of sexuality. In his theory of epigenetic psychosocial development of personality, he expanded the Freud’s psychosexual theory by introducing the aspect of society and culture and by adding the principle of epigenetic.

Erikson postulates that the genesis of the personality development is from the innate characteristics of a child that are sequentially build through the eight stages of personality development under the influence of the society and culture. Erikson believes that personality development does not end at adolescence as depicted by Freud but it is a lifelong process.

Each stage has an optimal time required for the ego to resolve a psychosocial crisis. The resolution of the psychosocial crises at the preceding stages cumulatively determines the personality. Proper resolution of the psychosocial crisis in each stage result into a personality virtue while poor resolution of the psychosocial crisis result into mal-adaptation and malignancy.

Mal-adaptation and malignancy are the anomalies of imbalanced personalities that may occur at each stage. The malignancy is due to skewed ego resolution towards negative personality while mal-adaptation is due to the skewed ego resolution towards positive personality.

Hence, the epigenetic psychosocial theory postulates how personality develops from the innate characteristics through into the adulthood by the consecutive and cumulative impacts of the society and culture.

The Infant Stage

This personality development occurs within the first two years of an infant, a stage known as oral-sensory stage. The psychosocial crisis here is between the trust and mistrust that depends on the perceived quality of the maternal care by the infant.

Proper resolution and balance of the trust and mistrust by the ego, results into a virtue of faith and hope that gives an infant the qualities of patience and tolerance when the needs are not satisfied in time.

These virtues are important in our future personalities, as they will help us “get through disappointments in love, our careers, and many other domains of life” (Boeree, 2006). Faith and hope will make us endure the hard circumstances we encounter in the society and our work places.

Improper and imbalanced resolution of trust and mistrust by the ego will result into malignancy and mal-adaptation. Too much maternal care will result into “mal-adaptive tendency of sensory mal-adjustment” where an infant will trust anybody through into the adulthood without imagining of possible harm from the strangers.

On the other hand, poor maternal care will result into “malignant tendency of withdrawal” where an infant develops mistrust, depression and psychosis way into the adulthood (Boeree, 2006). An overt trust or mistrust personality affects our relationships in the work place and the society.

The Toddler Stage

This is the second stage occurring between 2-4 years, and is known as anal-muscular stage. The psychosocial crisis at this stage is the autonomy versus shame and doubt that depends on the degree of the restrictions imposed on the child by the parents. The toddler needs a balance between autonomy, and shame and doubt thus the ego must resolve the psychosocial crisis by balancing the two.

According to Boeree (2006) “proper, positive balance of the autonomy, and shame and doubt, you will develop the virtue of willpower or determination.” The virtue attitude of determination improves our performance in the work places and the society.

Little or no restriction of a toddler will result into “mal-adaptive tendency of impulsiveness” where a toddler develops a personality of shameless and overconfidence in which later in adulthood one become over ambitious.

On contrary, too much restriction of the toddler will result into “malignant tendency of compulsiveness” where the toddler loses self-esteem and becomes dependent on the rules and regulation in order to do things perfectly (Boeree, 2006).

Preschooler Stage

This is the genital-loco motor stage, which occurs at the age of 4-6 years. The psychosocial crisis is between the initiative and guilt at the level of family relation. At this stage, the child develops the capacity of moral judgment and oedipal experience ensues.

The virtues of purpose and courage result when the ego resolves and balance the psychosocial crisis between the initiative and the guilt (Davis & Clifton 1995). The virtues of purpose and courage help us to be responsible in our work and to the society.

If the child has too much initiative, it will result into “maladaptive tendency of ruthlessness” where the person becomes selfishly objective in life not considering the interest of others. On the other hand, too much guilt will result into “malignant tendency of inhibition” (Boeree, 2006). The inhibited person becomes reserved and rigid, never to propose anything that is worth doing in the work places and in the society.

School Age Child

This is the fourth stage in psychosocial development and it occurs between the ages of 6-12 years. The psychosocial crisis is industry versus inferiority that occurs in the context of the community and the school. At this stage, the balance between industry and inferiority results into the virtue of competence (Davis & Clifton 1995). The virtue of competence in our lives makes us achieve satisfaction in our work and serving the society.

The mal-adaptation of industry will result into narrow virtuosity that is characterized by the narrowness of our minds and interests, hence making us be mere actors of our real characters in the society (Davis & Clifton, 1995).

The malignancy of inferiority that occur at this stage is the inertia; one become inactive in the work place and in the society due to the feeling of inferiority complex thus the inactiveness makes have poor socialization skills.

Adolescence Stage

This is the fifth stage occurring between the ages of 12-18 years. The psychosocial crisis is between ego identity and the role confusion in the context of peer groups and role models. The virtue of fidelity is achieved when there is proper resolution of the psychosocial crisis by the ego (Boeree, 2006). Fidelity makes us to conform to the demands of the work and the society in spite of the challenges.

The anomaly resulting from psychosocial crisis resolution is the identity crisis. Too much of the role confusion will result into “malignant tendency of repudiation” where one becomes alienated from the mainstream society and get involved with the vices in the society.

On the other hand, excess of the ego identity will result into “mal-adaptive tendency of fanaticism” (Boeree, 2006). Fanaticism makes one to nurture the infallible interests without considering the views of others.

Adult Stage

These are the sixth, seventh and the eight stages and occur between the ages of 18 and beyond. The psychosocial crises are intimacy versus isolation, generativity versus stagnation and integrity versus despair. The psychosocial crises occur in the context of friends, partners, workmates, and the society.

If the psychosocial crises are resolved and balanced very well, the virtues of love, care, and wisdom are obtained (Davis & Clifton, 1995). The virtues of love and care are what makes us a have a healthy relationships with our partners, families, friends, community and the whole society.

While the virtue of wisdom makes one approach death with courage and this is the gift to the children as “healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death” (Davis & Clifton, 1995).

The mal-adaptations at these stages are the promiscuity, overextension, and presumption. The mal-adaptations results into loose behavior at young adult, overworking in the middle adult and presumptuous character.

In contrast, the malignant tendencies are exclusion from relationships in the young adult, middle life crisis of rejectivity and disdained in the life of the old (Cherry, 2010). These malignancies and mal-adaptations are the personalities the society is trying to avoid in the bid to build a better society.


The epigenetic psychosocial personality development theory clearly elucidates the sequentially development of personality from the innate personality of an infant through into the old through a cumulative effect of the societal and cultural factors. This theory is consistent with the Freud’s psychosexual theory with extension of the developmental stages into eight as compared to the five stages of psychosexual theory.

Moreover, the aspects of culture and society have been incorporated together with the epigenetic concept. Balanced and proper resolution of the psychosocial crises at the stages results into personality virtues while skewed resolution of the crises results into personality anomalies of ma-adaptation and malignancy. The personality virtues and anomalies determine our roles in the work places and in the society.


Boeree, G. (2006). Erik Erikson: Personality Theories. Psychology Department Shippensburg University. Retrieved from

Cherry, K. (2010). Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development. Psychology. Web.

Davis, D., & Clifton, A. (1995). Psychosocial Theory: Erikson. Haverford. Retrieved from

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