Erik Erikson

28.04.2015 |

Episode #8 of the course “Influential Psychologists Throughout History”

Erik Erikson was a developmental psychologist who focused on psychosocial stages. His research and theory emphasis was on the role of society and culture on the individual. He is probably best known for his development of eight psychosocial stages that everyone goes through. His argument was that each person must go through one stage before proceeding on to the next, and that each stage builds upon the last (the epigenetic principle). His view was also somewhat unique because it assumed that adults continue to develop well into their adult lives (instead of just halting development when the child becomes an adult).

Erikson theorized that each stage involved some kind of conflict or crisis. The individual must “solve” or deal with this crisis before moving on to the next stage. The individual will also develop what Erikson referred to as a “basic virtue” by resolving this conflict. The conflict stems from the tension between their individual development and social development (or expectations).

Stage 1 is trust versus mistrust. This stage occurs during infancy, and the child will develop “hope” as their basic virtue. Stage 2 is autonomy versus shame. This stage is during early childhood, and the child will develop “will.” Stage 3 is initiative versus guilt, and the child will develop “purpose” between the ages of 3 and 5. Stage 4 is industry versus inferiority, where the child ages 5 to 12 will develop “competency.” Stage 5 involves ego identity versus role confusion, and it occurs in adolescence. The teen will then develop “fidelity.” In stage 6, the young adult will deal with intimacy versus isolation, and they will develop “love.” Stage 7 involves adults (age 40 to 65). Their conflict is between generativity and stagnation, and they will develop “care.” Lastly, after 65, adults will face the conflict between ego integrity and despair. If successful, they will develop “wisdom.”

Erikson’s work with stages laid a platform for developmental psychology, particularly because it extended the development stages well into adulthood.


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