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4.1 ERIKSON’S THEORY OF PERSONAL AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

ERICKSON’S EIGHT LIFE-SPAN STAGES

Erikson’s StatesDevelopmental period
Trust versus mistrustInfancy (first year)
Autonomy versus shame and doubtInfancy (second year)
Initiative versus guiltEarly childhood (preschool years, ages 3 to 5)
Industry versus inferiorityMiddle and late childhood (elementary school years, 6 years to puberty)
Identity versus identity confusionAdolescence (10 to 20 years)
Intimacy versus isolationEarly adulthood (20s, 30s)
Generativity versus stagnationMiddle adulthood (40s, 50s)
Integrity verusus despairLate adulthood (60s onward)

In Erikson’s (1968) theory, eight stages of development unfold as people go through the human life span. Each stage consists of a developmental task that confronts individuals with a crisis. For Erikson, each crisis is not catastrophic but a turning point of increased vulnerability and enhanced potential. The more successfully an individual resolves each crisis, the more psychologically healthy the individual will be. Each stage has both positive and negative sides.

  • Trust versus mistrust is Erikson’s first psychosocial stage. It occurs in the first year of life. The development of trust requires warm, nurturant caregiving. The positive outcome is a feeling of comfort and minimal fear. Mistrust develops when infants are treated too negatively or are ignored.
  • Autonomy versus shame and doubt is Erikson’s second psychosocial stage. It occurs in late infancy and the toddler years. After gaining trust in their caregivers, infants begin to discover that their behavior is their own. They assert their independence and realize their will. If infants are restrained too much or punished too harshly, they develop a sense of shame and doubt.
  • Initiative versus guilt is Erikson’s third psychosocial stage. It corresponds to early childhood, about three to five years of age. As young children experience a widening social world, they are challenged more than they were as infants. To cope with these challenges, they need to engage in active, purposeful behavior. In this stage, adults expect children to become more responsible and require them to assume some responsibilities for taking care of their bodies and belongings. Developing a sense of responsibility increases initiative. Children develop uncomfortable guilt feelings if they are irresponsible or are made to feel too anxious.
  • Industry versus inferiority is Erikson’s fourth psychosocial stage. It corresponds approximately with the elementary school years, from six years of age until puberty or carly adolescence. Children’s initiative brings them into contact with a wealth of new experiences. As they move into the elementary school years, they direct their energy toward mastering knowledge and intellectual skills. At no time are children more enthusiastic about learning than at the end of early childhood, when their imagination is expansive. The danger in the elementary school years is developing a sense of inferiority, unproductiveness, and incompetence.
  • Identity versus identity confusion is Erikson’s fifth psychosocial stage. It corresponds to the adolescent years. Adolescents try to find out who they are, what they are all about, and where they. are going in life. They are confronted with many new roles and adult statuses (such as vocational and romantic). Adolescents need to be allowed to explore different paths to attain a healthy identity. If adolescents do not adequately explore different roles and don’t carve out a positive future path, they can remain confused about their identity.
  • Intimacy versus isolation is Erikson’s sixth psychosocial stage. It corresponds to the early adult years, the twenties and thirties. The developmental task is to form positive close relationships with others. Erikson describes intimacy as finding oneself but losing oneself in another person. The hazard of this stage is that one will fail to form an intimate relationship with a romantic partner or friend and become socially isolated. For such individuals, loneliness can become a dark cloud over their lives.
  • Generativity versus stagnation is Erikson’s seventh psychosocial stage. It corresponds to the middle adulthood years, the forties and fifties. Generativity means transmitting something positive to the next generation. This can involve such roles as parenting and teaching, through which adults assist the next generation in developing useful lives. Erikson described stagnation as the feeling of having done nothing to help the next generation.
  • Inegrity versus despair is Eriksons eighth and final psychosocial stage. It corresponds to the late adulthood years, the sixties until death. Older adults review their lives, reflecting on what they have done. If the retrospective evaluations are positive, they develop a sense of integrity. That is, they view their life as positively integrated and worth living. In contrast, older adults become despairing if their backward glances are mainly negative.

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