What is the basic mechanism that accounts for growth in psychosocial theory?

Freud believed that we go through five stages of psychosexual development, and each stage is crucial in the successful development of the self. Failure to progress through certain stages leads to issues later in life. Erik Erikson developed Freud's theory with the eight stages of identity development.

So, how do you think our personalities develop? At what ages do we start to develop them? We'll be looking at Erik Erikson's (1959) Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development as one potential theory about personality and the self.

  • First, we will provide an Erikson's stages of development summary, discussing Erikson stages of development ages.
  • Then, we'll discuss Erikson's stages of development importance, providing stages of development examples and charts.
  • To conclude, we will delve into an evaluation of Erikson's eight stages of identity development.

Erikson's Stages of Development: Summary

According to Erikson, personality is developed through an eight-stage order of psychosocial development. These ages range from the time we are infants until we are adults. Erikson believed that social experiences, interactions and relationships played an important role in an individual's personality and growth development.

During each stage, the individual goes through a crisis - this crisis is between the individual's own needs and society's needs. Each stage is important, as the individual develops a healthier personality afterwards (if it is successfully completed).

What is the basic mechanism that accounts for growth in psychosocial theory?
Figure 1: Erikson believed our personality is developed in stages.

If successful, after each stage, the individual gains a basic virtue. This virtue can help individuals approach and address crises throughout their lives.

Let's now briefly consider the stages of development.

Erikson's Stages of Development: Chart

We will now go through each stage and consider its importance for personality development and what could happen if the stage succeeds or fails. Here are the stages of development in a chart.

StageAges(s)CrisisBasic virtue gained1.New-born - 18 monthsTrust vs. mistrustHope2.1.5 - 3 yearsAutonomy vs. shameWill3.3 - 5 yearsInitiative vs. guiltPurpose4.5 - 12 yearsIndustry vs. inferiorityCompetency5.12 - 18 yearsIdentity vs. role confusionFidelity6.18 - 40 yearsIntimacy vs. isolationLove7.40 - 65 yearsGenerativity vs. stagnationCare8.65 +Ego integrity vs. despairWisdom

Erikson Stages of Development Ages

Erikson's stage of development focuses on different ages to infer a person's stage. In general, the ages are:

  • Newborn to 18 months (Trust vs. mistrust)
  • 1.5 to 3 years (Autonomy vs. shame)
  • 3 to 5 years (Initiative vs. guilt)
  • 5 to 12 years (Industry vs. inferiority)
  • 12 to 18 years (Identity vs. role confusion)
  • 18 to 40 years (Intimacy vs. isolation)
  • 40 to 65 years (Generativity vs. stagnation)
  • 65+ years (Ego integrity vs. despair)

Erikson's Stages of Development Examples

We can see examples of each stage in action how a person in a specific age range acts, namely, how the person interacts in each stage with the world and people around them.

For instance, a newborn in stage one will be pretty naive and rely on a person they trust to navigate the world. They do not have the facilities to operate on their own.

Conversely, a 70-year-old man will be more contemplative, focusing on their accomplishments throughout life and how satisfied they are with how they have lived. They will not be concerned about relying on their primary caregiver, such as a parent, to provide comfort.

Let's delve further into each stage, examining the importance of Erikson's stages of development.

Erikson's Stages of Development: Importance

Let's delve further into each stage proposed by Erikson. The stages highlight the person's needs and the potential virtues they gain upon "completing" each stage. Failure to complete a stage can significantly impact a person's development later in life, leading to stagnation and dissatisfaction with their achievements.

Erikson's Stages of Development: Stage 1

Stage 1 is the stage of trust vs. mistrust. This stage lasts from birth to 18 months old. At this stage, the primary needs of the infant are to receive stable, consistent and reliable care from their primary caregiver.

Success in Stage 1

If the primary caregiver reliably meets the infant's needs, the infant will develop trust, which will present itself in future relationships. They will develop a sense of security and the basic virtue of hope. The trust developed will help the infant maintain hope that they will be suitably supported during a crisis.

Failure in Stage 1

If the infant's needs are not met, or if they are inconsistently or unpredictably met, the infant will develop mistrust and anxiety as they will not have hope that they will have support during a crisis. They will not gain the virtue of hope and instead will develop fear, which will present itself as mistrust, anxiety and suspicion in future relationships.

Erikson's Stages of Development: Stage 2

Stage 2 is the stage of autonomy vs. shame and doubt. This stage lasts from 1.5 years to 3 years. At this stage, the child is focused on developing control over their independence and skills, such as putting on shoes and playing with their toys. They develop autonomy and independence.

Success in Stage 2

If the child is supported in their pursuit of autonomy and independence, they will develop the basic virtue of will. This means that they start to make their own decisions (such as what they want to wear or eat); if they are supported, they will have increased confidence in their ability to survive and do things independently.

Failure in Stage 2

If the child is criticised, controlled or generally discouraged from making their own decisions or speaking up, they will feel as though they cannot survive by themselves. This can lead to them being overly dependent on others, having low self-esteem or doubting their abilities.

During this stage, parents are advised to encourage children to perform tasks independently but still providing support if necessary. In this way, the child's independence is valued but they are not left to fail without support.

According to Erikson, the parents should balance between not doing everything for the child and criticising the child for failing at something.

Erikson's Stages of Development: Stage 3

Stage 3 is the stage of initiative vs. guilt. This stage lasts from 3 - 5 years. At this stage, playing is important for the child as they learn how to interact with others and develop their interpersonal skills, most likely at nursery/preschool or school.

As children play and take part in activities with other children, they develop their initiative and their sense of confidence in leading others and making decisions.

Success in Stage 3

If this initiative is supported by the parents, the child will be able to assert themselves through play and social interactions, and they will develop the basic virtue of purpose. The child may also assert themselves verbally by asking questions due to curiosity and learning.

What is the basic mechanism that accounts for growth in psychosocial theory?
Figure 2: According to Erikson, developing interpersonal skills is important at this stage.

Failure in Stage 3

If parents criticise or control the child's quest for initiative too much, the child may start to feel guilty for trying to direct play or social interaction. In addition, the child may feel as though they are a nuisance for asking questions or wanting to assert themselves.

This may lead to a lack of creativity and interpersonal interactions due to guilt. Erikson states there needs to be a balance between initiative and guilt, however, as too little guilt can lead to a lack of conscience and self control.

Erikson's Stages of Development: Stage 4

Stage 4 is the stage of industry vs. inferiority. This stage lasts from 5 - 12 years. At this stage, it is important to the child to fit into wider society and with their peer groups. They will learn many new skills in school and be encouraged to do things independently.

Success in Stage 4

Children should be encouraged for taking initiative; if so, they feel competent and secure in their ability to achieve something. They will develop the basic virtue of competence.

Failure in Stage 4

If parents or teachers restrict or discourage initiative, the child is unlikely to be secure in their abilities and may not believe they are competent. In addition, if they feel they cannot live up to society's expectations of their skills, this can lead to a feeling of inferiority.

Erikson's Stages of Development: Stage 5

Stage 5 is the stage of identity vs. role confusion. This stage lasts from 12 - 18 years. At this stage, children become adolescents and developing a personal sense of self and identity is very important.

Success in Stage 5

Adolescents begin to think about their place in society as well as their future, dreams and goals. They will explore their identity to try and cement exactly who they are. Once they grow into themselves and adapt to bodily changes, the basic virtue of fidelity is developed.

This means that the adolescent will accept others even where there are significant differences, such as in ideology.

Failure in Stage 5

If the adolescent does not form their own sense of identity or does not explore their identity, they may be confused about themselves (identity crisis) or their place in society (role confusion). To respond to these, the adolescent may try to experiment with different things, e.g. different friends or engaging in political activities.

Pressuring an adolescent into a particular identity can also lead to failure in this stage; this can cause the adolescent to rebel.

Erikson's Stages of Development: Stage 6

Stage 6 is the stage of intimacy vs. isolation. This stage lasts from 18 - 40 years. At this stage, adults are faced with crises in the formation of intimate relationships with other people.

Success in Stage 6

Adults will begin to commit to others, such as family members, friends and romantic partners. They will learn how to maintain relationships and develop feelings of safety and care within themselves. This will lead to the basic virtue of love.

Failure in Stage 6

If adults avoid intimacy or commitment in relationships, they may develop psychological issues such as depression, and the subsequent lack of intimacy can result in isolation.

Erikson's Stages of Development: Stage 7

Stage 7 is the stage of generativity vs. stagnation. This stage lasts from 40 - 65 years. At this stage, adults contribute to society in many ways; through their work, involvement in communities or organisations and through raising children.

Success in Stage 7

If successful, adults feel as though they have left their mark in the world and nurtured something that will outlive them. They feel useful and accomplished, which develops the basic virtue of care.

Failure in Stage 7

If adults do not contribute to or participate in society, they may feel unproductive and disconnected from their community and wider society.

Erikson's Stages of Development: Stage 8

The final stage is the stage of ego integrity vs. despair and lasts from 65 years of age onwards. At this stage, adults reflect on their lives and either experience acceptance or regret towards their life choices.

Success in Stage 8

Adults who reflect on their life and feel completeness and satisfaction will develop integrity if they believe they have led a successful life. They will develop the basic virtue of wisdom, allowing them to accept death.

Failure in Stage 8

If adults do not feel as though they have been productive, or if they regret their life choices, they will develop despair. This can lead to a depressing and dissatisfied final stage of life.

Erikson states that even if wisdom is developed, the adult should experience both ego integrity and despair in a healthy balance.

Strengths of Erikson's Stages of Development

First, let's examine the strengths of Erikson's theory.

  • The stages acknowledge the importance of later periods of an individual's life as well as childhood

  • The stages are relatable; many have said that the stages have related to their own life experiences

  • The theory links different stages of psychosocial development across a lifespan

  • There is support to back up Erikson's theory

  • Goodcase and Love (2016) highlighted how the stage concerning integrity and despair can be navigated and understood using narrative therapy; a self-examination is a valuable tool even in old age

Weaknesses of Erikson's Stages of Development

Now, let's explore the weaknesses of Erikson's theory.

  • Some argue that the stages are too descriptive - Erikson offers little explanation as to why such development occurs

  • The theory does not offer explanations as to which kinds of experiences individuals should have to move from one stage to another

  • Some have argued that this theory is based on male development, as Erikson believed that development differs by gender. It has been criticised for using male development as the 'default' for a human development theory (Gilligan, 1982)

  • Erikson's theory fails to account for cultural impacts on stages, and how one stage may be approached at a sooner age in one culture than another

    What is the psychosocial development theory?

    According to the psychosocial theories, development is a product of the ongoing interactions between individuals and their social environments. Societies, with their structures, laws, roles, rituals, and sanctions, are organized to guide individual growth toward a particular ideal of mature adulthood.

    What are the basic premises of Erikson's theory?

    Both psychosocial and psychoanalytical in its orientation, Erikson's theory is based on the premise that psychological development is the result of an interaction between the individual's biological needs and the social forces encountered in everyday life.

    What was the main idea behind Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development?

    The main idea behind Erikson's theory of psychosocial development is that our personality develops in stages, and at every one of these stages a psychosocial crisis unfolds in a way that determines our personality development based on the outcome.

    What are the types of psychosocial development?

    Stages of Psychosocial Development. Stage 1: Trust Versus Mistrust. Stage 2: Autonomy Versus Shame and Doubt. Stage 3: Initiative Versus Guilt.