What is Psychosocial Development?
Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development is one of the best-known theories of personality in psychology. Much like Sigmund Freud, Erikson believed that personality develops in a series of stages. Unlike Freud's theory of psychosexual stages, Erikson's theory describes the impact of social experience across the whole lifespan.
One of the main elements of Erikson's psychosocial stage theory is the development of ego identity. Ego identity is the conscious sense of self that we develop through social interaction. According to Erikson, our ego identity is constantly changing due to new experiences and information we acquire in our daily interactions with others.
When psychologists talk about identity, they are referring to all of the beliefs, ideals, and values that help shape and guide a person's behavior. The formation of identity is something that begins in childhood and becomes particularly important during adolescence, but it is a process that continues throughout life. Our personal identity gives each of us an integrated and cohesive sense of self that endures and continues to grow as we age.In addition to ego identity, Erikson also believed that a sense of competence motivates behaviors and actions. Each stage in Erikson's theory is concerned with becoming competent in an area of life. If the stage is handled well, the person will feel a sense of mastery, which is sometimes referred to as ego strength or ego quality. If the stage is managed poorly, the person will emerge with a sense of inadequacy.
In each stage, Erikson believed people experience a conflict that serves as a turning point in development. In Erikson's view, these conflicts are centered on either developing a psychological quality or failing to develop that quality. During these times, the potential for personal growth is high, but so is the potential for failure.
Psychosocial Stage 1 - Trust vs. Mistrust
- The first stage of Erikson's theory of psychosocial development occurs between birth and one year of age and is the most fundamental stage in life.
- Because an infant is utterly dependent, the development of trust is based on the dependability and quality of the child's caregivers.
- If a child successfully develops trust, he or she will feel safe and secure in the world. Caregivers who are inconsistent, emotionally unavailable, or rejecting contribute to feelings of mistrust in the children they care for. Failure to develop trust will result in fear and a belief that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.
- Of course, no child is going to develop a sense of 100 percent trust or 100 percent doubt. Erikson believed that successful development was all about striking a balance between the two opposing sides. When this happens, children acquire hope, which Erikson described as an openness to experience tempered by some wariness that danger may be present.
Psychosocial Stage 2 - Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
- The second stage of Erikson's theory of psychosocial development takes place during early childhood and is focused on children developing a greater sense of personal control.2
- Like Freud, Erikson believed that toilet training was a vital part of this process. However, Erikson's reasoning was quite different then that of Freud's. Erikson believe that learning to control one's bodily functions leads to a feeling of control and a sense of independence.
- Other important events include gaining more control over food choices, toy preferences, and clothing selection.
- Children who successfully complete this stage feel secure and confident, while those who do not are left with a sense of inadequacy and self-doubt.
- Erikson believed that achieving a balance between autonomy and shame and doubt would lead to will, which is the belief that children can act with intention, within reason and limits.
Psychosocial Stage 3 - Initiative vs. Guilt
- During the preschool years, children begin to assert their power and control over the world through directing play and other social interactions.
- Children who are successful at this stage feel capable and able to lead others. Those who fail to acquire these skills are left with a sense of guilt, self-doubt, and lack of initiative.
- When an ideal balance of individual initiative and a willingness to work with others is achieved, the ego quality known as purpose emerges.
Psychosocial Stage 4 - Industry vs. Inferiority
- This stage covers the early school years from approximately age 5 to 11.
- Through social interactions, children begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments and abilities.
- Children who are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers develop a feeling of competence and belief in their skills. Those who receive little or no encouragement from parents, teachers, or peers will doubt their abilities to be successful.
- Successfully finding a balance at this stage of psychosocial development leads to the strength known as competence or a belief our own abilities to handle the tasks set before us.
Psychosocial Stage 5 - Identity vs. Confusion
- During adolescence, children explore their independence and develop a sense of self.
- Those who receive proper encouragement and reinforcement through personal exploration will emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self and a feeling of independence and control. Those who remain unsure of their beliefs and desires will feel insecure and confused about themselves and the future.
- Completing this stage successfully leads to fidelity, which Erikson described as an ability to live by society's standards and expectations.
Psychosocial Stage 6 - Intimacy vs. Isolation
- This stage covers the period of early adulthood when people are exploring personal relationships.
- Erikson believed it was vital that people develop close, committed relationships with other people. Those who are successful at this step will form relationships that are committed and secure.
- Remember that each step builds on skills learned in previous steps. Erikson believed that a strong sense of personal identity was important for developing intimate relationships. Studies have demonstrated that those with a poor sense of self tend to have less committed relationships and are more likely to suffer emotional isolation, loneliness, and depression.
- Successful resolution of this stage results in the virtue known as love. It is marked by the ability to form lasting, meaningful relationships with other people.
Psychosocial Stage 7 - Generativity vs. Stagnation
- During adulthood, we continue to build our lives, focusing on our career and family.
- Those who are successful during this phase will feel that they are contributing to the world by being active in their home and community. Those who fail to attain this skill will feel unproductive and uninvolved in the world.
- Care is the virtue achieved when this stage is handled successfully. Being proud of your accomplishments, watching your children grow into adults, and developing a sense of unity with your life partner are important accomplishments of this stage.
Psychosocial Stage 8 - Integrity vs. Despair
- This phase occurs during old age and is focused on reflecting back on life.
- Those who are unsuccessful during this stage will feel that their life has been wasted and will experience many regrets. The individual will be left with feelings of bitterness and despair.
- Those who feel proud of their accomplishments will feel a sense of integrity. Successfully completing this phase means looking back with few regrets and a general feeling of satisfaction. These individuals will attain wisdom, even when confronting death.
Limitations of Psychosocial Theory
What kinds of experiences are necessary to successfully complete each stage? How does a person move from one stage to the next? One major weakness of psychosocial theory is that the exact mechanisms for resolving conflicts and moving from one stage to the next are not well described or developed. The theory fails to detail exactly what type of experiences are necessary at each stage in order to successfully resolve the conflicts and move to the next stage.