Erikson’s Theory of Human Development

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Erik Erikson was a German-American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst who never even received a formal degree in psychology. Erikson was a student of Sigmund Freud and in his work he took Freud’s theory and expanded from it, by analyzing childhood, adolescence, and adulthood development. Erikson developed a model that broke down the human development into eight psychosocial stages. Erikson’s developmental theory was published in his book, Childhood and Society (1950), his theory was developed from his social and cultural studies. Each stage has an age range, and a conflict that should be overcomed before moving on to the next conflict stage in development. Failing to overcome a conflict at any stage may result in shortcomings later in life, and will shape the person’s identity as they grow.

The first stage in Erikson’s stages of human development is the Infant stage, consisting of ages ranging from birth to 18 months. The conflict of the infant stage is “Trust vs. Mistrust” infants are learning to trust that the caregiver will take care of all their needs. Needs like, feeding them when they are hungry, changing them when they need to be changed, and to nurture them to fulfill their emotional needs. If an infant does not achieve trust at this stage they will then have a mistrust for adults, and they may have a hard time feeling safe in the world as they continue to develop. When an infant achieves trust they will then continue to the second stage of human development.

The second stage is the Toddler stage, ages 1-3 years, the main conflict of the Toddler stage is “Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt” toddlers are now becoming more active and will try to be more independent in performing daily and new tasks. If allowed to be autonomous with no restrictions from caregivers, toddlers will have a sense of independence that will motivate them to to take on tasks on their own. When a toddler is kept from performing tasks on their own, and feel like they can’t do anything without the help of others, they then may feel shame and will doubt themselves to be independent. The doubt in theirself will follow them as they grow older, and may affect any obstacles they may encounter in their life.

Children who achieved autonomy will now mature into an initiative role, in the third stage of Erikson’s model, the conflict stated is “Initiative vs. Guilt,” this pertains to the preschool years, 3-5 years of age. At this age children will be ambitious to exploring new things and see where they can take charge, they will also explore creative ideas. When the child’s new explorations are encouraged they will achieve initiative at this stage. If they are made to feel inadequate they will then feel incapable and gain a sense of guilt, and therefore will fail at overcoming this conflict at this stage.

A child that achieves initiative will go on to the fourth stage for preadolescents, ages 5-12 years, this is the longest stage for children. Preadolescents are now in school and their conflict at this stage is “Industry vs. Inferiority”. It may be a long haul for children at this stage but with their accomplishments in school and activities, and through positive encouragement from caregivers, to teachers, and even their peers, industry can very well be achieved. For the children who continue to feel incapable, worthless, and left out will develop feelings of inferiority.

The adolescent stage then follows the preadolescent making it the fifth stage, this stage occurs at ages 12-18 years. The main conflict at this stage of life is “Identity vs. Role Confusion.” At this stage adolescents are on a quest of self identity as they mature, they look to their peers and the adults in their life to find where they want to see themselves fit in as an adult in the world. This may be the most transformational stage as an adolescent, as they try to find their identity. When an adolescent does not find who they truly want to be at this stage is when they fail to overcome the conflict, and then continue to have role confusion as an adult in the world.

Just like a child has human development stages, adults have their stages as well. The sixth stage pertains to young adults, 18-40 years of age. The conflict at this stage in life is “Intimacy vs. Isolation,” young adults at this stage will be in search of an intimate partner, to possibly establish a lifelong committed relationship. Achieving intimacy will lead to healthy, happy relationships, including marriage, children, a and successful career. Failure at this stage will result in isolation of oneself, fear of commitments, and unhappiness that can lead to depression.

For those who have achieved intimacy as a young adult will move on to the seventh stage of middle adulthood, ages 40-65 years, facing the conflict of “Generativity vs. Stagnation.” At this stage life goals are reassessed to move their life into a direction of accomplishing things like, parenting and contributing to the world through their career and charities or organizations. For those who fail at this stage will have feelings of worthlessness to their community.

At the eighth and final stage of development for late adulthood, ages 65+ years. The conflict of the late adulthood stage is “Ego Integrity vs. Despair.” It is a time of reflection back on the life they have lived, and a realization of their accomplishments. If they are content with how things have come about they will feel that they have established integrity. If they have feelings of regret, and disappointment they will have a sense of despair and unhappiness. A person’s social experience throughout their life may weigh heavily on the outcome of their overall personality, achievements and contentedness in a lifespan.


Cite this paper

Erikson’s Theory of Human Development. (2021, Jun 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/eriksons-theory-of-human-development/



What are Erikson's 8 stages of human development?
Erikson's 8 stages of human development are: 1) trust vs. mistrust, 2) autonomy vs. shame, 3) initiative vs. guilt, 4) industry vs. inferiority, 5) identity vs. role confusion, 6) intimacy vs. isolation, 7) generativity vs. stagnation, and 8) ego integrity vs. despair.
What are the main concepts of Erikson's theory of development?
Erikson's theory of development is a theory of psychosocial development. The main concepts of the theory are that there are eight stages of development, each with a different task or conflict to be resolved.
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