Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

Elizabeth Diehl, Cynthia Burton, Jennifer Levitas
  • Author
    Elizabeth Diehl

    Elizabeth has taught in various capacities for 5 years, at both the elementary level and with secondary students. She has a bachelors in History from UCCS and a masters in Special Education from Regis University.

  • Instructor
    Cynthia Burton
  • Expert Contributor
    Jennifer Levitas

    Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

What are Erikson’s stages of development? Learn about Erikson life stages, psychosocial development theory, and the history and contributions to the theory. Updated: 06/22/2021

Table of Contents


Erikson's Stages of Development: Overview

Erikson's theory of psychosocial development looks at each life stage in a person's life as a crises for the individual to solve before advancing to the next stage. There are eight stages, that stretch out across the lifespan. These stages are influenced by biological, psychological and social factors in the individual's lifetime.

Erik Erikson and Joan Erikson

Erikson had a long life of influence on concepts related to human development, psychology and faith. It is also interesting to note that Erikson's works continue to have a deep influence on modern theory of psychological development, yet he never earned a doctorate degree.

Erik Erikson was born in 1902 in Austria. In 1927, Erikson began teaching at a small school for the children of students in the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. This school was founded by Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud's daughter. Through interactions with Freud, he became interested in the field of psychoanalysis, and especially in Anna Frued's research in working with children. Erikson married Joan M. Serson in 1930. Joan was a dancer, with an interest in learning about education and writing. In 1933, Erikson graduated from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. When Hitler rose to power, the family decided to move to the United States, in 1933. Erikson remained in the United States for the rest of his life and worked in prominent universities, such as Harvard, Yale and Berkeley, while he continued to explore and expand his research of child development. Joan worked as his editor and supported his efforts to explaining his theories until his death in 1994.

Psychosocial Development: History

The Erikson life stages theory looks at stages across the lifetime of an individual.

eriksons stages of development ages

Erikson had always enjoyed working with children and had learned the practice of psychoanalysis with children from his time at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. While in the United States, he maintained a private practice and worked as a professor at various prestigious universities. Erikson was interested in how culture affects psychological development in children, so in 1938 he observed Sioux children at the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Erikson was able to use observations and ideas gleaned from studies in art, anthropology and the leading ideas of psychology at the time to create his own theory of psychosocial development.

'Childhood and Society'

In the 1940s, Erikson started writing his ideas as a series of essays that were eventually compiled and printed as a book titled Childhood and Society in 1950. His wife Joan was his editor. His book was surprising to the psychoanalytic world. While the line of thought for Freudian psychoanalysis was that a person's personality was decided and formed by age five, Erikson's theory suggested that instead a person experiences crises throughout their lifetime that affect and shape their personality. Also, while each individual must experience these same crises, each culture has its own influence on how these crises are solved.


Erikson expanded and even introduced new ideas to what Sigmund Freud had identified as important life stages, such as adolescents experiencing challenges to their identities. How a person handles each stage's challenge prepares them for the next stage. Each crisis shapes the person throughout their lifetime. While Freudian tradition focuses on the individual focusing on controlling their impulses and finding gratification, influencers such as Erikson explored how society shapes and impacts the individual through those impulses. Erikson framed his stages of psychosocial development as the individual having a chance to learn one of two outcomes.

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  • 1:03 Oral-Sensory Stage
  • 1:29 Muscular-Anal Stage
  • 1:58 Locomotor & Latency Stages
  • 2:53 Adolescence & Young Adulthood
  • 3:50 Middle & Late Adulthood
  • 4:28 Conclusion
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The 8 Stages of Psychosocial Development Theory and Examples

Each of Erikson's life stages is defined with the central crisis that the individual must experience. The stages are presented as two ideas that are conflicted, such as Trust Vs. Mistrust. It is up to the individual how they tackle the challenges and problems, and what they learn from it. If the person fails to master the positive attribute of the stage, they have learned the negative attribute. When they have mastered one stage, they progress to the next one.

Stage 1: Infancy stage: Trust vs. Mistrust

From birth until 18 months, infants are learning about trust and mistrust. In this stage, the infant needs their basic needs met, and they need to know that their caregivers will respond if they cry out. A baby will learn to trust her caregiver will pick her up and feed her when she is hungry, but will become anxious when her needs are not met.

Stage 2: Early Childhood age: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

In this stage, the young child (18 months to 3 years old) is focused on learning how to care for themselves. A young toddler selecting clothes from the dresser all by himself is a good example of this stage.

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  • Activities
  • FAQs

Psychosocial Development Activities

Writing Prompt 1:

As you learned in the lesson, identity is the primary psychosocial developmental task in adolescence. Identity has many facets—political identity, sexual identity, religious identity, personal identity, and so on. Choose one type of identity that resonates with you and reflect on how it developed in your adolescent years. How did you develop that identity? Did you ''try on'' different identities before deciding on that one? Did your parents significantly influence your identity? Did any significant events happen to help you choose that identity? Write a journal entry consisting of 2-3 paragraphs writing down your thoughts on how your identity developed.

Writing Prompt 2:

For this activity, say you are an elementary school teacher. You understand that the children in your class are experiencing a psychosocial conflict between industry and inferiority. Your desire as their teacher is to help them traverse and exit the stage strongly on the side of industry. Develop a rough lesson plan, writing down five points or ideas for activities that you think would aid in helping them develop industry. For example, you may ask the children to each choose a topic of interest on which to do a project, then have them present the project to the class. In so doing, they will develop a sense of industriousness and proficiency.

What is Erik Erikson's theory?

Erikson's theory of psychosocial development is that an individual's personality changes over time in response to the crises they encounter through their lifetime. These crises are universal and can be examined as 8 stages.

What are Erikson's 8 stages of psychosocial development?

The 8 stages of psychosocial development are: Trust vs Mistrust, Autonomy vs. Shame or doubt, Initiative vs. Guilt, Industry vs. Inferiority, Identity vs. Identity Confusion, Intimacy vs. Isolation, Generativity vs. Self-absorption, and Integrity vs. Despair.

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