The Basic Concept Of Eriksons Theory Psychology Essay

Erik Eriksons theory of psychosocial development is one of the famous theories of personality in psychology. This theory basically related to the impact of social experience across the whole lifespan. Erikson recognized Freud’s contributions but believed that Freud misjudged some important dimensions of human development. Unlike what is said by Freud, Erikson said we develop in psychosocial stages, rather than in psychosexual stages. This theory consists of eight stages of development: Trust versus mistrust; Autonomy versus shame and doubt; Initiative versus guilt; Industry versus inferiority; Identity versus identity confusion; Intimacy versus isolation; Generativity versus stagnation; Integerity versus despair.

The basic concept of Erikson’s theory.

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The application of Erikson’s theory to child development.

The application of Erikson’s theory to children in preschool and early primary levels.


1. The basic concept of Erikson’s theory.

According to Dixon and Stein (2006), Erik Erikson broadened and extended Freudian theory to include the whole life cycle into eight stages of his theory. In determining the outcome of each developmental stage, he brought in the influence of society beyond the family. Each stage is characterized by negotiation of one central issue that is necessary for emotional advancement to the next level. Through the forces of culture, family, individual differences and the changing demands of society makes variation in these stage-locked tasks widely applicable. Dixon and Stein (2006) also state that Erikson’s theory extends through adulthood and highlights some of the generic issues confronting parents as part of their own development.

Santrock (2011) states that as we go through life, there is eight phases of development in Erikson’s theory that unfold and at each stage, there is a unique developmental task confronts individuals with a crisis that must be resolved. Erikson also states that this crisis is not a catastrophe but a turning point marked by both increased vulnerability and enhanced potential. In addition, he proposes that the more successfully a person resolves the crises, the healthier that person’s development will be.

Erikson’s first psychosocial stage is Trust versus mistrust, which is experienced in the first year of life. Trust in infancy sets the stage for a lifelong expectation that the world will be a good and pleasant place to live. Autonomy versus shame and doubt is Erikson’s second stage. This phase occurs between the age of one to three years in late infancy or toddlerhood. Infants begin to realize that their behavior is their own after gaining trust in their caregivers. They start to assert their sense of independence or autonomy. However they are likely to develop a sense of shame and doubt if they are restrained too much or punished too harshly. Third stage in Erikson’s psychosocial theory is Initiative versus guilt that occurs during the preschool years. According to Santrock (2011), as preschool children encounter a widening social world, they face new challenges that require active, purposeful, responsible behavior but if the child is irresponsible and is made to feel too anxious, feelings of guilt may arise inside them. Industry versus inferiority is Erikson’s fourth developmental level, occurring approximately in the elementary school years. Children in this stage need to direct their energy toward mastering knowledge and intellectual skills. However in this stage also there is possible negative outcome that is the child may develop a sense of inferiority like feeling incompetent and unproductive. The next stage is related to adolescent years and as we know adolescent years full with challenges when we can see teenagers start searching for their identities. There are few problems that individuals encounter during the adolescent years such as who they really are, and where they are going in life. If teenagers explore roles in a healthy manner and arrive at a positive path to follow in life, then they achieve a positive identity; if not, identity confusion reigns. This is what Erikson’s fifth theory all about, Identity versus identity confusion. Erikson’s sixth developmental phase is Intimacy versus isolation, which individuals experience during the early adulthood years. In this stage, individuals face the developmental task of forming intimate relationships. Intimacy will be achieved if young adults form healthy friendships and an intimate relationship with another but isolation will be acquired if it is not. Generativity versus stagnation is Erikson’s seventh developmental stage that occurs during middle adulthood. This phase is basically a stage of maturity in which we need to be actively involved in teaching and guiding the younger generation. The feeling of having done nothing to help the next generation is stagnation. Erikson’s eight and final stage of development is Integrity versus despair, which individuals experience in late adulthood. During this stage, a person examines and reflects on the past. If we look back with a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, believing we have adequately coped with life’s victories and failures, then we are said to achieve integrity. In a simple word, integrity involves accepting one’s place and one’s past. On the other hand, if we review our life with a sense of frustration, angry about missed opportunities and regretful of mistakes that cannot be corrected, then we will feel despair. Besides, we fell disgusted with ourselves, contemptuous of others, and bitter over what might have been.

Here is the diagram of the eight stages that have been mentioned above and explained in Erikson’s psychosocial theory.


2. The application of Erikson’s theory to child development.

In the basic concept above we have discussed about main ideas of each stages. Now we wanted to look more on first four stages that apply to child development, specifically from infant until childhood years. We will not consider the fifth stage and later on because those stages related to adolescent periods already.

“It is human to have a long childhood; it is civilized to have an even longer childhood. Long childhood makes a technical and mental virtuoso out of man, but it also eaves a life-long residue of emotional immaturity in him” – Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-1994)

According to Davis and Clifton (1995), Erikson believed that childhood is very crucial in personality development. He accepted many of Freud’s theories, including the id, ego, and superego, and Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality. However Erikson felt that personality continued to develop beyond five years of age and because of it, he rejected Freud’s attempt to describe personality solely on the basis of sexuality. The first four stages parallel stages of psychosexual development outlined by Freud.

The first stage is infancy, roughly the first year. The conflict at this stage, which is the most fundamental crisis of life, is between a sense of basic trust versus basic mistrust. In this phase, the infant totally depend on others to meet its most basic needs. If the needs are met, the infant will likely develop a sense of security and trust. This is reflected by the infant’s feeding easily, sleeping well, and eliminating regularly. Caretakers can leave the infant alone for short periods without causing too much distress, because the infant has learned to trust that they will return. On the other hand, mistrust is reflected by fitful sleep, fussiness in feeding, constipation, and greater distress when the infant is left alone. The sense of trust is obviously significant to infants. It provides a basis for believing that the world is predictable, especially in relationships. Trust can also be enhanced by interaction in which caregivers are attentive, affectionate, and responsive. Inconsistent treatment, emotional unavailability, or rejection can create a sense of mistrust too. This portrayal closely resembles ideas concerning object relations, basic anxiety, and attachment patterns earlier in this chapter.

The second stage is early childhood which occurs in the second and third years of life. Children begin to focus on gaining control over their actions. The crisis of this stage is about creating a sense of autonomy in actions versus shame and doubt about being able to act independently. Erikson followed Freud in assuming that toilet training was an important event here but for different reasons. By acquiring control over bladder and bowels is a way to gain feelings of autonomy (self-direction), this is what Erikson believed. Achieving control over these functions means you are not at the mercy of your body’s impulses. But this is just one way to gain these feelings. When children interact effectively with people and objects, feelings of autonomy and competence emerge. If the efforts lead to failure, ridicule, or criticism or if parents do not let the children act on their own, the result is feeling of shame and self-doubt. Management of this conflict properly leads to the ego qualify of will; a determination to exercise free choice.

The next period is preschool which occurs between the ages of three to five. Being autonomous and capable of controlling your actions is an important start, but it is just a start. An ability to manipulate objects in the world leads to an interesting desire to exert influence, to make things happen – in short, a desire for power (McAdams, 1985). This period corresponds to the stage where Freud saw Oedipal conflicts emerging. As we said earlier, people who are skeptical about the Oedipal conflict tend to treat Freud’s depiction as a metaphor for a more extensive power struggle between parents and child, who by now has become willful. Erikson focused on this power struggle. The conflict at this stage concerns initiative versus guilt. Children who take the initiative are seeking to impose their newly developed sense of will on their surroundings. They express and act on their curiosity as they explore and manipulate their world and ask about things going on around them. Acts and words can also be perilous, however. Action that is too powerful can cause others pain. For example, grabbing a toy you want can distress another child. Asking too many questions can become tiresome to adults. If taking the initiative too often leads to disapproval, feeling of guilt will result. If this crisis is managed well, the child emerges with the ego quality of purpose: the courage to pursue valued goals without fear of punishment. Research has asked whether attaining a sense of basic trust during the first year fosters later initiative. In one study (Lutkenhaus, Grossmann, & Grossmann, 1985), attachment was assessed at age one and the children were studied again (at home) at age three. Those who had been securely attached were quicken to show initiative in interacting with a stranger than those who had been insecurely attached. During a game involving a failure, securely attached children responded by increasing their efforts, but the other not doing so.

The next stage corresponds to Freud’s latency period which occurs from age of five to eleven. Unlike Freud, Erikson held that this period also has a conflict. He called it industry versus inferiority. This term industry reflects the fact that the child’s life remains focused on doing things that have an impact. But now the nature of those efforts acquires a different shade of meaning. In particular, it is no longer enough just to take the initiative and assert power. Now there is pressure to do things that others judge to be good, in two senses. Industriousness is not just doing things; it is doing things that others value. It is also doing things in ways that others regard as appropriate and commendable. The crisis over this sense of industry begins about when the child enters elementary school.

3. The application of Erikson’s theory to children in preschool and early primary levels.

We have discussed a lot about stages in Erikson’s psychosocial theory. Now let emphasize more on last stage of childhood which is the fourth stage in Erikson’s theory that applies in early primary levels. As I mentioned above, when the child enters elementary school, this is the period where the crisis over this sense of industry begins. Generally school is aimed at teaching children to become productive and responsible members of society. The school years are also the period when intellectual skills are first tested. Children are urged to do well in school, and the adequacy of their performance is explicitly evaluated. Besides that, the school experience also involves learning social roles. Children are beginning to learn about the nature of adult work. For example, they are being exposed to some of the tools of adult work. In former times, these were tools of farming, carpentry, and homemaking; today, it is more likely to be computers and machines.

Another role children are acquiring is that of citizenship. Thus, the child’s sense of industry is being judged partly by the acceptability of his or her behavior to the social group. Children with a strong sense of industry differ in several aspects from children with less industry (Kowaz & Marcia, 1991). For example, first they tend to prefer reality-based activities over fantasy. Second, they are more able to distinguish the role of effort from that of ability in producing outcomes. Next, they get better grades. And they also agree more with statements that are socially desirable. To emerge from this stage successfully, children must feel they are mastering the tasks set for them. However, the danger at this stage is developing feelings of inferiority. Such feelings can arise when children are led by others to view their performance as inadequate or morally wrong. For example, when their teachers compare them in classroom and always praise the students that get good grades only. Kids that not perform so well will feel neglected and left behind by the teachers. Managing the conflicts well in this stage is crucial as these experiences they will use in their later life.


4. Summary.

All in all, from my research what I could conclude from Erikson’s psychosocial theory is it contains its own strengths and weaknesses. “Some of the strengths in Erikson’s work is he along with several other researchers found that his eight stages serve as a guide that holds across time and cultures as well. While other theorists refer to the ongoing approach of development as stages or transitions, Erikson was unafraid to characterize development as visibly marked phases. Besides that, Erikson’s eight stages serve as an outline when it comes to defining our culture or even comparing it to a culture that had existed a few centuries ago. Most experimental studies based on Erikson’s work grip around his efforts to ascertain identity, but also around his outlook on adolescence. The Eriksonian theory is used based on the fact that it has been defined as well-equipped to resolve the crisis of early adulthood, this can be successfully reached once the crisis of adolescence has been resolved.

Some of the weaknesses regarding Erikson’s work also involve his eight stages. Everything will be fine if we accept his personal understandings of what each stage stands for. However, what needs to be mentioned is that sometimes in different cultures the timing can be rather off when being compared to the eight stages. Potty training would be one of good examples. In some cultures babies are potty trained by the time that they are nine months of age. In other cultures a few years pass until they begin the potty training and are even breast fed up until the age of five. Another example is that some cultures people marry as early as the age of thirteen and start having children shortly after that. Nowadays, in our culture we have the tendency to stay single, unmarried until around the age of thirty. Another topic that has been pointed out by many theorists is that Erikson’s theory is more applicable to boys than it is for girls. Another controversial aspect refers to Erikson’s work belief on identity formation.. Erikson’s work had a tendency to pay more attention to infancy and childhood compared to adulthood, despite the so-called claim that his eight stages are an entire-life span theory”, (“Strenght and Weaknesses”, 2006).

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