Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development

AKA Erik Homburger Erikson

Born: June 15, 1902Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development Birthplace: Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Died: May 12, 1994
Location of death: Harwich, MA
Cause of death: unspecified
Religion: Jewish
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Psychologist
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Eight Stages of Childhood

Psychosocial development as articulated by Erik Erikson describes eight developmental stages through which a healthily developing human should pass from infancy to late adulthood. In each stage the person confronts, and hopefully masters, new challenges. Each stage builds on the successful completion of earlier stages. The challenges of stages not successfully completed may be expected to reappear as problems in the future.

Psychosocial Development Stages Summary
 Stage  Basic Conflict  Important Events  Outcome
 Infancy (birth to 18 months)  Trust vs. Mistrust  Feeding Children develop a sense of trust when caregivers provide reliabilty, care, and affection. A lack of this will lead to mistrust.
 Early Childhood (2 to 3 years)  Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt  Toilet Training Children need to develop a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Success leads to feelings of autonomy, failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.
 Preschool (3 to 5 years)  Initiative vs. Guilt  Exploration Children need to begin asserting control and power over the environment. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose. Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval, resulting in a sense of guilt.
 School Age (6 to 11 years)  Industry vs. Inferiority  School Children need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.
 Adolescence (12 to 18 years)  Identity vs. Role Confusion  Social Relationships Teens needs to develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self.
 Young Adulthood (19 to 40 years)  Intimacy vs. Isolation  Relationships Young adults need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation.
 Middle Adulthood (40 to 65 years)  Generativity vs. Stagnation  Work and Parenthood Adults need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often by having children or creating a positive change that benefits other people. Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world.
 Maturity(65 to death)  Ego Integrity vs. Despair  Reflection on Life Older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.
Psychosocial Development Stages
Infancy (Birth -18 months)
  • Psychosocial Crisis: Trust vs. Mistrust

Developing trust is the first task of the ego, and it is never complete. The child will let its mother out of sight without anxiety and rage because she has become an inner certainty as well as an outer predictability. The balance of trust with mistrust depends largely on the quality of the maternal relationship.

  • Main question asked: Is my environment trustworthy or not?
  • Central Task: Receiving care
  • Positive Outcome: Trust in people and the environment
  • Ego Quality: Hope
  • Definition: Enduring belief that one can attain one’s deep and essential wishes
  • Developmental Task: Social attachment; Maturation of sensory, perceptual, and motor functions; Primitive causality.
  • Significant Relations: Maternal parent

Erikson proposed that the concept of trust versus mistrust is present throughout an individual’s entire life. Therefore if the concept is not addressed, taught and handled properly during infancy (when it is first introduced), an individual may be negatively affected and never fully immerse themselves in the world. For example, a person may hide themselves from the outside world and be unable to form healthy and long-lasting relationships with others, or even themselves. If an individual does not learn to trust themselves, others and the world they may lose the virtue of hope, which is directly linked to this concept. If a person loses their belief in hope they will struggle with overcoming hard times and failures in their lives, and may never fully recover from them. This would prevent them from learning and maturing into a fully-developed person if the concept of trust versus mistrust was improperly learned, understood and used in all aspects of their lives.

Younger Years (1 1/2 – 3 Years)
  • Psychosocial Crisis: Autonomy vs. Shame & doubt

If denied independence, the child will turn against his/her urges to manipulate and discriminate. Shame develops with the child’s self-consciousness. Doubt has to do with having a front and back — a “behind” subject to its own rules. Left over doubt may become paranoia. The sense of autonomy fostered in the child and modified as life progresses serves the preservation in economic and political life of a sense of justice.

  • Main question asked: Do I need help from others or not?
Early Childhood (3-6 Years)
  • Psychosocial Crisis: Initiative vs. Guilt

Initiative adds to autonomy the quality of undertaking, planning, and attacking a task for the sake of being active and on the move. The child is learning to master the world around them, learning basic skills and principles of physics; things fall to the ground, not up; round things roll, how to zip and tie, count and speak with ease. At this stage the child wants to begin and complete their own actions for a purpose. Guilt is a new emotion and is confusing to the child; she may feel guilty over things which are not logically guilt producing, and she will feel guilt when her initiative does not produce the desired results.

  • Main question asked: How moral am I?
Middle Childhood (7-12 Years)
  • Psychosocial Crisis: Industry vs. Inferiority

To bring a productive situation to completion is an aim which gradually supersedes the whims and wishes of play. The fundamentals of technology are developed. To lose the hope of such “industrious” association may pull the child back to the more isolated, less conscious familial rivalry of the oedipal time.

  • Main question asked: Am I good at what I do?
Adolescence (12-18 Years)
  • Psychosocial Crisis: Identity vs. Role Confusion

The adolescent is newly concerned with how they appear to others. Ego identity is the accrued confidence that the inner sameness and continuity prepared in the past are matched by the sameness and continuity of one’s meaning for others, as evidenced in the promise of a career. The inability to settle on a school or occupational identity is disturbing.

  • Main question asked: “Who am I, and what is my goal in life?”
Early Adulthood (19-34 years)
  • Psychosocial Crisis: Intimacy vs. Isolation

Body and ego must be masters of organ modes and of the other nuclear conflicts in order to face the fear of ego loss in situations which call for self-abandon. The avoidance of these experiences leads to openness and self-absorption.

Middle Adulthood (35-60 Years)
  • Psychosocial Crisis: Generativity vs. Stagnation

Generativity is the concern of establishing and guiding the next generation. Simply having or wanting children doesn’t achieve generativity. Socially-valued work and disciplines are also expressions of generativity.

  • Main question asked: Will I ever accomplish anything useful?…
Later Adulthood (60 years – Death)
  • Psychosocial Crisis: Ego integrity vs. despair

Ego integrity is the ego’s accumulated assurance of its capacity for order and meaning. Despair is signified by a fear of one’s own death, as well as the loss of self-sufficiency, and of loved partners and friends.



Dizon,. General Psychology. Manila: Rex Bookstore, 2003
Uriarte, Gabriel G. General Psychology. Manila, 2007