3.5.3 Erikson's Psychosocial Development Theory

3.5.3  Erikson's Psychosocial Development Theory

Erikson's model of psychosocial development is a very significant, highly regarded and meaningful concept. The word 'psychosocial' is Erikson's term, effectively from the words psychological (mind) and social (relationships). His  theory explains the eight stages of human development. Erik Erikson first published his eight stage theory of human development in his 1950 book Childhood and Society. The chapter featuring the model was titled 'The Eight Ages of Man'. He expanded and refined his theory in later books and revisions, notably: Identity and the Life Cycle (1959); Insight and Responsibility (1964); The Life Cycle Completed: A Review (1982, revised 1996 by Joan Erikson); and Vital Involvement in Old Age (1989).

Erikson believed that his psychosocial principle is genetically inevitable in shaping human development. It occurs in all people. Erikson was largely concerned with how personality and behaviour is influenced after birth - not before birth - and especially during childhood. In the 'nature v nurture' (genes v experience) debate, Erikson was firmly focused on nurture and experience. Erikson's psychosocial theory essentially states that each person experiences eight 'psychosocial crises' (internal conflicts linked to life's key stages) which help to define his or her growth and personality.

Table: Erikson's eight psychosocial stages

 Psychosocial Crisis Stage

Life Stage

age range, other descriptions

 1. Trust v Mistrust


0-1½ yrs, baby, birth to walking

 2. Autonomy v Shame and Doubt

Early Childhood

1-3 yrs, toddler, toilet training

 3. Initiative v Guilt

Play Age

3-6 yrs, pre-school, nursery

 4. Industry v Inferiority

School Age

5-12 yrs, early school

 5. Identity v Role Confusion


9-18 yrs, puberty, teens*

 6. Intimacy v Isolation

Young Adult

18-40, courting, early parenthood

 7. Generativity v Stagnation


30-65, middle age, parenting

 8. Integrity v Despair

Mature Age

50+, old age, grandparents

People experience these 'psychosocial crisis' stages in a fixed sequence, but timings vary according to people and circumstances.  This is why the stages and the model are represented primarily by the names of the crises or emotional conflicts themselves (e.g., Trust v Mistrust) rather than strict age or life stage definitions. Age and life stages do feature in the model, but as related rather than pivotal factors, and age ranges are increasingly variable as the stages unfold.

Each of the eight 'psychosocial crises' is characterized by a conflict between two opposing positions or attitudes (or dispositions or emotional forces). Erikson never really settled on a firm recognizable description for the two components of each crisis, although in later works the first disposition is formally referred to as the 'Adaptive Strength'. He also used the terms 'syntonic' and 'dystonic' for respectively the first and second dispositions in each crisis, but not surprisingly these esoteric words never featured strongly in interpretations of Erikson's terminology, and their usual meanings are not very helpful in understanding what Erikson meant in this context.

The difficulty in 'labeling' the first and second dispositions in each crisis is a reflection that neither is actually wholly good or bad, or wholly positive or negative. The first disposition is certainly the preferable tendency, but an ideal outcome is achieved only when it is counter-balanced with a degree of the second disposition.

Successful development through each crisis is requires a balance and ratio between the two dispositions, not total adoption of the apparent 'positive' disposition, which if happens can produce almost as much difficulty as a strong or undiluted tendency towards the second 'negative' disposition.

Some of the crisis stages are easier to understand than others. Each stage contains far more meaning than can be conveyed in just two or three words. Crisis stage one is 'Trust versus Mistrust', which is easier to understand than some of the others. Stage four 'Industry versus Inferiority' is a little trickier. You could say instead 'usefulness versus uselessness' in more modern common language. Erikson later refined 'Industry' to 'Industriousness', which probably conveys a fuller meaning. See the more detailed crisis stages descriptions below for a clearer understanding.

Successful passage through each stage is dependent on striking the right balance between the conflicting extremes rather than entirely focusing on (or being guided towards) the 'ideal' or 'preferable' extreme in each crisis. In this respect Erikson's theory goes a long way to explaining why too much of anything is not helpful for developing a well-balanced personality.

A well-balanced positive experience during each stage develops a corresponding 'basic virtue' (or 'basic strength - a helpful personality development), each of which enables a range of other related emotional and psychological strengths. For example passing successfully through the Industry versus Inferiority crisis (stage four, between 6-12 years of age for most people) produces the 'basic psychosocial virtue' of 'competence' (plus related strengths such as 'method', skills, techniques, ability to work with processes and collaborations, etc). More detail is under 'Basic virtues'.

Where passage through a crisis stage is less successful (in other words not well-balanced, or worse still, psychologically damaging) then to a varying extent the personality acquires an unhelpful emotional or psychological tendency, which corresponds to one of the two opposite extremes of the crisis concerned.  Neglect and failure at any stage is problematical, but so is too much emphasis on the apparent 'good' extreme. For example unsuccessful experiences during the Industry versus Inferiority crisis would produce a tendency towards being overly focused on learning and work, or the opposite tendency towards uselessness and apathy.

'Basic psychological virtue' and 'basic virtue' (same thing), are Erikson's terminology. A basic virtue is not the result of simply achieving the positive extreme of each crisis. Basic virtue is attained by a helpful balance, albeit towards the 'positive', between the two extremes. Helpfully balanced experience leads to positive growth.  Erikson identified one basic virtue, plus another virtue (described below a 'secondary virtue') for each stage. At times he referred to 'basic virtues' as 'basic strengths'.

The chart below identifies the 'basic psychosocial virtues' - and related strengths - which result from successfully passing through each crisis. Erikson described success as a 'favourable ratio' (between the two extremes) at each crisis stage.

crisis including adaptive strength

basic virtue & secondary virtue (and related strengths)

life stage / relationships / issues

1. Trust v Mistrust

Hope & Drive (faith, inner calm, grounding, basic feeling that everything will be okay - enabling exposure to risk, a trust in life and self and others, inner resolve and strength in the face of uncertainty and risk)

infant / mother / feeding and being comforted, teething, sleeping

2. Autonomy v Shame & Doubt

Willpower & Self-Control (self-determination, self-belief, self-reliance, confidence in self to decide things, having a voice, being one's own person, persistence, self-discipline, independence of thought, responsibility, judgement)

toddler / parents / bodily functions, toilet training, muscular control, walking

3. Initiative v Guilt

Purpose & Direction (sense of purpose, decision-making, working with and leading others, initiating projects and ideas, courage to instigate, ability to define personal direction and aims and goals, able to take initiative and appropriate risks)

preschool / family / exploration and discovery, adventure and play

4. Industry v Inferiority

Competence & Method (making things, producing results, applying skills and processes productively, feeling valued and capable of contributing, ability to apply method and process in pursuit of ideas or objectives, confidence to seek and respond to challenge and learning, active busy productive outlook)

schoolchild / school, teachers, friends, neighbourhood / achievement and accomplishment

5. Identity v Role Confusion

Fidelity & Devotion (self-confidence and self-esteem necessary to freely associate with people and ideas based on merit, loyalty, social and interpersonal integrity, discretion, personal standards and dignity, pride and personal identity, seeing useful personal role(s) and purpose(s) in life)

adolescent / peers, groups, influences / resolving identity and direction, becoming a grown-up

6. Intimacy v Isolation

Love & Affiliation (capacity to give and receive love - emotionally and physically, connectivity with others, socially and inter-personally comfortable, ability to form honest reciprocating relationships and friendships, capacity to bond and commit with others for mutual satisfaction - for work and personal life, reciprocity - give and take - towards good)

young adult / lovers, friends, work connections / intimate relationships, work and social life

7. Generativity v Stagnation

Care & Production (giving unconditionally in support of children and/or for others, community, society and the wider world where possible and applicable, altruism, contributing for the greater good, making a positive difference, building a good legacy, helping others through their own crisis stages

mid-adult / children, community / 'giving back', helping, contributing

8. Integrity v Despair

Wisdom & Renunciation (calmness, tolerance, appropriate emotional detachment - non-projection, no regrets, peace of mind, non-judgemental, spiritual or universal reconciliation, acceptance of inevitably departing)

late adult / society, the world, life / meaning and purpo


Source: http://www.businessballs.com/erik_erikson_psychosocial_theory.htm#freud%...