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Erickson’s Psychosocial Theory

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Erickson’s Psychosocial Theory

Erickson put forth his theory of psychosocial development.

Erik Erikson

German-born American psychoanalyst Erik Erikson proposed a theory of human development that stressed the interaction between psychological and social forces. Unlike Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, Erikson viewed development as lifelong.

Erik Erikson (1902-1994), American psychoanalyst, who made major contributions to the field of psychology with his work on child development and on the identity crisis.

Erikson was born in Frankfurt, Germany. He was an artist and teacher in the late 1920s when he met the Austrian psychoanalyst Anna Freud. With her encouragement, he began studying at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute, where he specialized in child psychoanalysis. In 1933 he immigrated to the United States, first joining the faculty of the Harvard Medical School and then moving to Yale University. During this period Erikson became interested in the influence of culture and society on child development. He studied groups of Native American children to help formulate his theories. These studies enabled him to correlate personality growth with parental and societal values. His first book, Childhood and Society (1950), became a classic in the field. As he continued his clinical work with young people, Erikson developed the concept of the “identity crisis,” an inevitable conflict that accompanies the growth of a sense of identity in late adolescence. Among his other books are Young Man Luther (1958); Insight and Responsibility (1964); Identity (1968); Gandhi’s Truth (1969), which won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award; and Vital Involvement in Old Age (1986).


Psychosocial Theory 

Erickson’s twofold process in which individuals’ psychological development proceeds hand in hand with the social interactions they experienced as they go through life.

Erickson based his conclusions on observations of people he treated, some in childhood, and others at various stages of adulthood. 

Erickson’s Psychosocial Stages

Erickson viewed the life cycle of development from cradle to grave as having eight stages. Each stage brings new social experiences and new crises—which, if surmounted successfully, lead to continuous, steadily enriched personality growth.





Favorable Outcome

Unfavorable Outcome


1st year of life

Trust vs. Mistrust 

Faith in the environment and future events

Suspicion, fear of future events

2nd year

Autonomy vs. Doubt 

A sense of self-control and adequacy

Feelings of shame and self-doubt

3rd through 5th years

Initiative vs. Guilt 

Ability to be a “self-starter,” to initiate one’s own activities.

A sense of guilt and inadequacy to be on one’s own 

6th year to puberty

Industry vs. Inferiority 

Ability to learn how things work, to understand and organize.

A sense of inferiority at understanding and organizing.

Transition years


Identity vs. confusion 

Seeing oneself as a unique and integrated person. 

Confusion over who and what one really is.


Early adulthood

Intimacy vs. isolation

Ability to make commitments to others, to love. 

Inability to form affectionate relationship.

Middle age

Generativity vs. self-adsorption

Concern for family and society in general.

Concern only for self—one’s own well-being and prosperity.

Aging years

Integrity vs. despair

A sense of integrity and fulfillment; willingness to face death.

Dissatisfaction with life; despair over prospect of death.





Written by Joseph Eulo

May 28, 2008 at 6:56 am

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