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Eric Erickson Theory of Psycho-Social Development



Erik Erickson, the famous Psychoanalyst, is credited with developing the theory of psycho-social development which covers the normal development over the entire life span of human beings.

Erickson postulated that the development of an individual is the result of his interaction with his social environment. The social environment puts him under specific crisis by making specific demands at different developmental stages of his life. The way in which the “crisis” of each stage is resolved has a major bearing on one’s personality. As the personality traits are acquired through one’s active interaction with the social environment, hence the stages of development are referred to as psycho-social development.

Stages of Psycho-social Development: 

Erickson divided the psycho-social development into eight stages which are as follows.

Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust (Birth to 1 ½ years)

During this stage, an infant has to completely depend on adults for his basic needs. If the needs are met and sound attachments are formed, the child should develop a trusting, optimistic view about the word. However, if the infant’s basic needs are taken care of poorly, a more distrusting, pessimistic personality may develop.

Stage 2: Autonomy Vs. Sham and Doubt (1.5 to 3 years)

With the newly developed motor skills and language ability, the child now engages in exploring the world.

Stage 3: Initiative Vs. Guilt (3 to 6 years)

During this stage, children experiment and take initiatives that may sometimes conflict with their parent’s rules. Over controlling parents may begin to instill feeling of guilt and self-esteem may suffer. Parents need to support their children emerging independence while maintaining appropriate control. In the ideal scenario, children will be able to relation their sense of initiative and independence while learning to respect the rights and privileges of other family members, his environment and experimenting with his strengths and limitations for achieving a sense of autonomy. The child now, require proper safety measures in activities like running, pulling, walking and handling objects. Also, child need guidance in terms of learning desirable language but this does not mean that he should be denied a reasonable degree of freedom to acquire sense of independence.

Children who are denied the opportunity to develop a sense of independence by over-protective, harsh or restrictive parents begin to doubt their ability and ultimately begin to feel embarrassed or ashamed in the presence of others.

Stage 4: Industry Vs. Inferiority (6 to 12 years)

In the fourth stage, the challenge of learning to function socially is extended beyond the family to the broader realm of the neighborhood and school. Now, in case the child performs well in school, home or in other social environment, he will likely to develop a sense of industry filled with a sense of achievement. On the other hand, if his performance remains inferior to that of his peers or the does not satisfy his teachers or parents with his performance, he may begin to look down upon himself and develop a sense of inferiority.

Stage 5: Identity vs. Role Confusion (12 to 19 years)

According to Erickson, the premiere challenge during this stage is the struggle to form a clear sense of identity. This struggle involves working out a stable concept of oneself as a unique individual and embracing an ideology or system of values that provides a sense of direction. In Erickson’s view adolescents grapple with questions such as “who am I” and where am I going in life?” Achieving a sense of identity, will help an individual in developing the required confidence in his ability to do things, make him properly balanced in firms of emotional reactions and will place him in harmony with his environment. Failure in resolving the crisis will result in role confusion and consequently the individual will not be able to find himself. He may be unable to make the decision about his educational or professional career or about making friends.

Stage 6: Intimacy Vs. Isolation (20 to 45 years)

During this stage, the key concern is whether one can develop the capacity to share intimacy with others. Successful resolution of this crisis should promote empathy and openness.

When one fails to develop an adequate sense of intimacy or when relations deteriorate for one reason or another, one tends to develop a sense of isolation a pulling away from relationships and breaking off ties.

Stage 7: Generativity Vs. Self- Absorption: (45 to 65 years)

During this stage, the key challenge is to acquire a genuine concern for the welfare of future generations, which results in providing unselfish guidance to younger people and concern with one’s legacy.

On the other hand, self absorption is characterized by self-indulgent concerns with meeting one’s own needs and desires.

Stage 8: Ego integrity Vs. Despair (old age, about 65 onwards)

Ego integrity refers to the culmination or integration of the successful resolution of all the seven previous in the course one’s life. The successful resolution of the previous crises provides a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction to one’s ego.

On the other hand, persons who have not been able to successfully resolve the previous crises of the developmental stages look back on their lives with despair and feel dissatisfied with the way they have lived their lives. These people can become desperately afraid of death.

Evaluating Erikson’s Theory:-

The strength of Erickson’s theory is that it accounts for both continuity and transition in personality development. It accounts for transitions by showing how new challenges in social relations stimulate personality development throughout life. It accounts for continuity by drawing connects between early childhood experiences, and aspects of adult personality.

On the negative side, Erickson’s theory has depended heavily on illustrative case studies, which are open to varied interpretations. Another weakness is that theory provide “idealized” description of “typical” development patterns. Thus, it is not well suited for explaining the various personality differences that exist among people. Inadequate explanation of individual differences is a common problem with stage theories of development.


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