Eriksons psychosocial theory

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27th Apr 2017 Psychology Reference this


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The main element of Erikson’s psychosocial theory is the development of ego identity. Ego identity can be defined as the conscious sense of self that we develop through interactions with others in our social groups. Erikson strongly believed that with every new experience our ego identity alters, and that our behaviours and actions motivated by confidence. Hence Erikson’s theory is based upon the likelihood that a person needs to become competent at every stage in life, and develop a certain amount of ego quality before moving on to the next phase. Yet if the stage is managed poorly the individual will emerge with a sense of inadequacy. In each stage of development Erikson believed that individuals experience conflicts where developing or failing to develop psychological qualities are concerned.

There are eight stages of Erikson’s psychosocial theory:

Trust vs. Mistrust

This is the most fundamental stage in life and occurs between birth and one year of age. The parents / caregivers play a very important role due to the infants utter dependence. Successful Completion will result in a child feeling safe and secure. Failure will result in a belief that the world is inconsistent and

Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

At this stage toddlers (years 1 -3) now turn their attention to developing a sense of self control. Success at this stage help toddlers to be confident; failure will lead to sense of inadequacy and self doubt.

Initiative vs. Guilt

At this preschool level children explore and assert control through play and social interaction. Attaining success at this stage brings a sense of capability and leadership. Failure will lead to a sense of guilt, self-doubt and lack of initiative.

Industry vs. Inferiority

Over the ages of approximately five to eleven children now develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments and abilities. Encouragement at this stage is necessary for the adequate ego strength to be attained. Success will lead to competence and failure at this stage will to low-self esteem and doubt.

Identity vs. Confusion

Self – exploration and independence are the objectives of adolescence. Over this period of ages twelve to eighteen persons need to develop a strong sense of self, independence and control. Failure to do so will result insecurity and confused outlooks on life.

Intimacy vs. Isolation

At this stage young adults (years 20-35) explore intimacy and personal relationships. Erikson’s works assumes that a strong sense of personal identity is necessary at this stage, to develop secure committed relationships. Those who lack sense of self are more likely to suffer from loneliness and depression.

Generativity vs. Stagnation

Now fully grown adults, individuals focus on building their personal lives, careers and families. Effective completion of this stage evoke emotional satisfaction that individuals are making a contribution to this world. Individuals who fail at this point feel unproductive and uninvolved.

Integrity vs. Despair

Success at this level is based on successful completion of the previous stages. During old age one reflects on life and focuses on either the successes of one’s life or the failure or regrets of one’s actions. Failure at this stage, result in feelings of bitterness and despair. Success at this stage, result in persons gaining wisdom even in the face of death.

Sigmund Freud

Freud’s psychosexual stages of development revolve around the belief that personality develops through a series of childhood stages during which pleasure seeking energies become focused on certain erogenous areas. Also known as psychosexual energy or libido, it is described as the driving force behind behaviour. Psychic energy is an important concept in Freudian psychology. The structure of the mind and development all revolve around how the individual attempts to deal with psychic energy.

Freud believes that there are five main stages of psychological development:

oral (0-18 months)

anal (18 months – 3 1/2 years)

phallic (3 1/2 years – 6 years)

latency (6 years – puberty)

genital (puberty – adulthood)

Of these five stages Freud assumes that each psychosexual stage has three main parts:

A physical focus: where an individual’s energy is concentrated and their gratification obtained.

A psychological theme: this is related to both the physical focus and the demands being made on the individual by the outside world as they develop. For each stage, one can do too much or too little of what is ideal.

An adult character type: in the first three stages this adult character type is one that is related to being fixated or stuck at that stage. If a person doesn’t resolve the psychological issues that arise at that stage they will always have problems relating to those issues.

The Oral Stage

The oral stage begins at birth, at this stage the oral cavity is the primary focus of libidal energy. The child, of course, preoccupies himself with nursing, with the pleasure of sucking and placing things into the mouth. Over indulgence at this oral stage results in an individual becoming optimistic and gullible, whereas lack of satisfaction can result in an individual becoming pessimistic, envious, suspicious and sarcastic. This stage lasts approximately eighteen months.

The Anal Stage

After the oral, comes the anal stage. At approximately one and a half years, the child becomes obsessed with the erogenous zone of the anus and with the retention or expulsion of the feces. This is their first encounter between the id, which derives pleasure from expulsion of bodily wastes, the ego and the superego, which represent the practical and societal pressures to control the bodily functions. A child at this point can become either anally retentive or anally expulsive. An anally retentive individual tends to be neat, precise orderly, careful, stingy and meticulous. An anal expulsive character results in a person being careless, reckless, disorganized, defiant and generally messy. The resolution of the anal stage, proper toilet training, permanently affects the individual propensities to possession and attitudes towards authority. This stage lasts from one and a half to two years.

The Phallic Stage

At this stage the greatest of all sexual conflicts in Freud’s belief arises, The Oedipus complex in men, and the Electra complex in women. At this point of a child’s life they become attached to parent of the opposite sex.

In the masculine gender the Oedipus conflict sources itself from the natural love for his mother, one that becomes sexual due to the focus of libido at this stage. The boy now experiences castration anxiety, an anxiety that stems from the fact that his father stands in the way of his sexual desires for his mother. The child now develops aggression and envy toward his father but is fearful that his father will remove his penis, especially since he notices that women do not have any. Instead the young male decides to become as much like his father as possible, as it is evident that his mother is more attracted to him (the father).

As for young females, they face the Electra complex. This conflict roots itself in the young girl’s discovery that she, as well as other women, do not have a penis. At the realization of this she becomes envious of her father and also develops an erotic type love for him. Freud refers to this as penis envy and the child blames her mother for her apparent castration. Freud believes that the resolution for the Electra complex comes much later-on and is never truly complete.

Failure to resolve at the phallic stage develops a character that can be reckless, resolute narcissistic. It can also have a person fearful or incapable of close love. It is also theorized that fixation at the phallic stage could be a root cause of homosexuality.

Latency Period

During the latency period, one’s libido lies dormant. According to Freud it is a time of “unparalleled repression of sexual desires and erogenous impulses.” Throughout this stage from six years to approximately twelve years, the sexual energy is focused in the direction of academics and same-sex friendships.

The Genital Stage

At the time of Freud’s work age twelve was the age of puberty and at this stage the child’s libido focus, returns to their genitalia. Interest now turns to heterosexual relationships and creation and enhancement of life. Young adolescents now seek maturity and intellectual and artistic creativity. Fixation at this point would result in an unbalanced life but completion will result in an individual who is psychologically well-adjusted and balanced.


Piaget’s work is based on the cognitive development of children. He proposed that children’s thinking does not develop in a constant pattern but instead, there are certain points at which it “spikes” and moves into completely new areas and capabilities. He noticed these abnormalities at approximately 18 months, 7 years and 11 or 12 years. We can assume from this that before these ages, children are not capable of understanding things in certain ways.

The Sensori-motor

Piaget’s first stage is the Sensori-motor stage, which occurs from birth to 2yrs. During this period the child’s cognitive abilities allows them to differentiate themselves from objects and explore the repercussions of intentional action. The child’s also understands object permanence: the fact that an object remains existent even it is not present to one’s senses. Piaget divided the Sensori-motor stage into six different categories:

Reflexes (0-1 month: The child understands the environment purely through inborn reflexes such as sucking and looking.

Primary Circular Reactions (1-4 months): Involves coordinating sensation and new schemas.

Secondary Circular Reactions (4-8 months): The child becomes more focused on the world and begins to intentionally repeat an action in order to trigger a response in the environment.

Coordination of Reactions (8-12 months): The child starts to show clearly intentional actions. The child may also combine schemas in order to achieve a desired effect.

Tertiary Circular Reactions (12-18 months): Children begin a period of trial-and-error experimentation.

Early Representational Thought (18-24 months): Children begin to move towards understanding the world through mental operations rather than purely through actions.

The Pre-operational

Throughout the ages of approximately two to seven, children begin to use language and represent objects by co-relating it to images and words; they also experience difficulty in accepting the view point of another. Also significant at this stage is the fact that children partake in role playing. Piaget believes that this trait can be linked to the fact that they become increasingly adept at using symbols. He also coined the phrased egocentrism at this stage, which refers to the fact that children cannot yet understand concrete logic and cannot mentally manipulate information.

Concrete Operational

At this stage children can now think logically about objects and events, they are also able to categorize objects according to several features and can order them in series along a single dimension such as size or height. This stage occurs between the ages of approximately seven to eleven and though children are able to understand concrete operations it is hard for them to understand abstract or hypothetical concepts. Piaget also concluded that children were good at inductive logic; which involves going from a specific experience to a general principle.

Formal Operational

This is the last stage of development according to Piaget’s work which takes effect from the age of eleven upward. At this point it is theorised that an individual can now logically and systematically test and consider abstract propositions and hypotheses.

Comparison of Erikson and Freud.

Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory and Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory are two well-known theories of human growth and character development. Although influenced by Freud’s ideas, Erikson believed that Freud focused his theory too much on the id and developed his theory from an ego perspective.

Sigmund Freud theorized that individuals go through five stages of psychosexual development of which, conflicts between pleasures sources help shape an individual’s personality. Erik Erikson theorized that individuals go through eight stages of psychosocial development where people experience a conflict that serves as a turning point in development. Both Erikson and Freud agreed that human development is largely an unconscious growth; when developmental change occurs it is a gradual, cumulative growth of distinct, universal stages (continuity). Yet Freud’s work concluded that our personality is shaped by how well conflicts are resolved and whether the demands of reality influence these resolutions, Whereas Erikson places more emphasis on cultural experiences as determining factors of an individual’s development. The Freudian theory states that human behaviour is motivated by sexual

impulses (libido); conversely, Erikson’s theory focuses on a sense of competence with social affiliations as the primary influence on human behaviour. It is also important to note that the age ranges were basically the same for the first four stages of development.

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