Basic Trust & Mistrust: Erik Erikson's Theory

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  • 0:03 Erikson's Theory of…
  • 1:18 Stages
  • 3:19 Trust vs Mistrust
  • 5:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Robin Harley

Robin has a PhD in health psychology. She has taught undergraduate and graduate psychology, health science, and health education.

This lesson will explore trust vs. mistrust, the first stage in Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. This stage begins at birth and lasts through one year, and is marked by a reliance on caregivers to meet basic needs.

Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

Almost every species requires some degree of care and nurturance after birth. Human infants, in particular, are highly dependent on their caregivers for food, shelter, and protection. As babies, we must be able to trust that our caregivers will meet our needs. Otherwise, mistrust can develop and lead to lifelong problems.

In his theory of psychosocial development, a developmental psychologist named Erik Erikson, who lived from 1902-1994, discussed the potential conflicts that can develop out of this and other stages of life. According to Erikson, we begin life in the trust vs. mistrust stage. In this lesson, we'll discuss this important first stage. First, however, let's examine Erikson's theory as a whole in order to provide context.

You've likely heard of the famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and have had at least some exposure to his work in popular culture. Freud focused on the importance of early childhood experiences in the development of personality. He viewed development as a series of psychosexual stages that occur in the first few years of life. Each stage is marked by a sexual conflict, which, if left unresolved, could lead to long-lasting psychological problems.


Erikson took influence from Freud's work in that he also saw development as a series of stages and potential conflicts. However, he placed more emphasis on social interaction than sex. Although he held that development can continue throughout a person's life, rather than ending after the first few years. Erikson devised a series of eight stages in the form of conflicts that we encounter at certain age ranges:

  1. Trust vs. mistrust (from birth-1 year): As infants, we depend on our caregivers to provide for our basic needs, and develop trust when these needs are met. Otherwise, we may grow up to be suspicious and mistrustful.
  2. Autonomy vs. shame and doubt (1-3 years): As toddlers, we become willful and curious. If we're restricted, we may develop shame and doubt.
  3. Initiative vs. guilt (3-5 years): As young children, we engage in play, interaction, and self-expression. Too much criticism can cause guilt.
  4. Industry vs. inferiority (5-12 years): At this age, we learn to read and create. Positive reinforcement will lead to industriousness. Otherwise, we may feel inferior.
  5. Identity vs. role confusion (12-18 years): As teens, we typically try to understand who we are, but this can sometimes lead to confusion.
  6. Intimacy vs. isolation (18-40 years): In adulthood, we often seek intimacy in order to avoid feeling isolated.
  7. Generativity vs. stagnation (40-65 years): In middle adulthood, we focus on establishing our careers and families. If we are unsuccessful, we can feel stagnant.
  8. Integrity vs. despair (65+ years): As older adults, we contemplate the integrity of our lives and accomplishments. If we do not feel accomplished, we may experience despair.

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