Erik Erikson's Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development: Conflicts & Growth

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  • 0:01 Psychosocial Development
  • 1:26 Birth - 12 Years
  • 4:46 Middle & High School
  • 5:25 Adulthood
  • 7:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Hurst

Melissa has a Masters in Education and a PhD in Educational Psychology. She has worked as an instructional designer at UVA SOM.

Erikson identified eight stages of psychosocial development, with each stage presenting a conflict that must be overcome. This lesson will discuss the conflict and growth associated with each stage of development.

Psychosocial Development

How does one develop a sense of who they are; where they belong? How does one person feel confident and secure, while another may feel depressed and question their life? In this lesson, we will discuss the conflict and growth associated with each stage of Erik Erikson's psychosocial development theory.

Psychologist Erik Erikson, a major contributor to developmental psychology, proposed a comprehensive theory of the ways that individuals develop their identity, or in other words, a sense of who they are, and society's influence on that development. This theory is labeled the stages of psychosocial development and is characterized as a series of psychological stages that have a basic conflict and important event leading to growth. The theory was developed from his hundreds of clinical observations in children.

Erikson identified eight stages of psychosocial development in an individual. Characteristics of these stages include:

  • Each stage unfolds from the preceding stage in a particular sequence
  • Each stage involves an ever-widening involvement with others
  • The centerpiece of each stage is a life task for the individual; specifically, each stage involves a conflict between two opposites, and the individual's efforts at each stage are to achieve a ratio between the two

Birth - 12 Years

Let's take a look at the stages now, and then group them into categories as we go. Birth through elementary school: the four basic conflicts from birth through elementary school are trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame and doubt, initiative vs. guilt, and industry vs. inferiority.

Trust vs. mistrust occurs from birth to 12-18 months. The quality of the relationship between the infant and its mother or primary caregiver is essential to developing the infant's trust in the environment, and developing a sense of trust is a cornerstone of a healthy personality. The important event in this stage is feeding. The unsuccessful completion of this stage can result in an inability to trust and culls a sense of fear about the inconsistent world, leading to feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and an overall feeling of mistrust toward the world.

Autonomy vs. shame and doubt occurs between 18 months and three years old. As the child begins to stand firmly on his or her feet, he or she separates the environment into 'I and you, me and mine'. The general significance of this stage consists of the maturation of the child's muscle system and the ability to coordinate such actions as holding and letting go and the child's increasing ability to exert his or her will. The important event in this stage is toilet training. If children are encouraged in this stage, they will become confident and secure. If they are criticized or overly controlled, they will begin to feel inadequate in their ability to survive and become overly dependent on others, lack self-esteem, and feel a sense of shame and doubt in their abilities.

The initiative vs. guilt stage occurs between three and six years old. At the end of the third year, the child learns to move around more freely, asks questions about many things because his or her language skills are more developed, and imagination expands. During this stage, the child's personality forms around imagination. This stage is characterized by a willingness to learn quickly and to make things together with other children. The important event in this stage is independence of activities. If children are given the room to be independent and play, the child develops a sense of initiative and security. If the child is controlled and not allowed to use his or her imagination, they begin to develop a sense of guilt and may feel like a nuisance to others.

The industry vs. inferiority stage occurs between six and 12 years old. The trend in this stage is observing how things are done and learning. In elementary school, this involves planning, working, and sharing with others. The important event in this stage is school. If children are reinforced by adults and teachers for their initiative, they begin to feel industrious and confident in their abilities. If they do not receive this reinforcement, they may begin to feel inferior and doubt their abilities. The danger in this period is the potential for developing a sense of inadequacy. The child may feel, for example, that skin color, parental status, or the cost of his or her clothes determines social worth instead of a will to learn. In these situations, permanent damage can be done to the child's sense of identity.

Middle and High School

In the middle and high school range, there is one stage in this period: identity vs. role confusion, which occurs between 12 and 18 years old. Toward the end of adolescence, the person should have assembled elements of identity that are converging and abandoned those elements that do not fit. The adolescent's identity should have gradually integrated, for example, preferred capacities, significant interactions, and consistent roles. If this does not occur, the sense of who they are as a person can be hindered, resulting in confusion about themselves and their role in the world. The important event in this stage is peer relationships.

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