I.      Overview of Erikson’s Post-Freudian Theory

       Erikson postulated eight stages of psychosocial development through which
people progress. Although he differed from Freud in his emphasis on the ego
and on social influences, his theory is an extension rather than a repudiation of Freud’s psychoanalysis.


II.     Biography of Erik Erikson

       Erik Erikson was born in Germany in 1902, the son of a Jewish mother and an unknown father. Possibly because he never knew his biological father, Erikson experienced several “identity crises” throughout his life. As a schoolboy, he was accepted neither as a Jew (the religion of his mother and step-father) nor as a Gentile. At age 18 he left home to pursue the life of a wandering artist and to search for self-identity. He gave up that life to teach young children in Vienna, where he met Anna Freud, who introduced him to psychoanalysis. When he moved to the United States and accepted a position at the Harvard Medical School, Erikson had no academic degree but had graduated from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. In addition to Harvard, Erikson taught at Yale, the University of California at Berkeley, and several other institutions. He died in 1994, a month short of his 92nd birthday.


III.    The Ego in Post-Freudian Psychology

       One of Erikson’s chief contributions to personality theory was his emphasis on ego rather than id functions. According to Erikson, the ego is the center of personality and is responsible for a unified sense of self. It consists of three interrelated facets: the body ego, the ego ideal, and ego identity. Major changes in ego can take place at any stage, but they are most likely to occur during adolescence.

       A.      Society’s Influence

       The ego develops within a given society and is influenced by child-rearing practices and other cultural customs. Historically, all cultures and nations have developed a pseudospecies, or a fictional notion that they are superior to other cultures.

       B.      Epigenetic Principle

       The ego develops according to the epigenetic principle; that is, it grows according to a genetically established rate and in a fixed sequence. Part of each developmental stage exists before that stage reaches its zenith, and part continues to grow during the ascendancy to later stages.


IV.    Stages of Psychosocial Development

       Each of the eight stages of development is marked by a conflict between a syntonic (harmonious) element and a dystonic (disruptive) element, which produces a basic strength or ego quality. Also, from adolescence on, each stage is characterized by an identity crisis or turning point, which may produce either adaptive or maladaptive adjustment.

       A.      Infancy

       Erikson’s view of infancy (the first year of life) is similar to Freud’s concept of the oral stage, except that Erikson expanded the notion of incorporation beyond the mouth to include sense organs such as the eyes and ears.

       1.      Oral-Sensory Mode

       The psychosexual mode of infancy is oral-sensory, which is characterized by both receiving and accepting.

       2.      Basic Trust Versus Basic Mistrust

       The psychosocial crisis of infancy is basic trust versus basic mistrust. For future psychological growth, the infant must learn both to trust (the syntonic element) and to mistrust (the dystonic element).

       3.      Hope: The Basic Strength of Infancy

       From the crisis between basic trust and basic mistrust emerges hope, the basic strength of infancy. Infants who do not develop hope retreat from the world, and this withdrawal is the core pathology of infancy.

       B.      Early Childhood

       The second to third year of life is early childhood, a period that compares to Freud’s anal stage but also includes mastery of other body functions such as walking, urinating, and holding.

       1.      Anal-Urethral-Muscular Mode

       The psychosexual mode of early childhood is anal-urethral-muscular, and children of this age behave both impulsively and compulsively.

      2.      Autonomy Versus Shame and Doubt

The psychosocial crisis of early childhood is autonomy versus shame and doubt.
Again, both the syntonic and dystonic elements are essential for proper psychosocial growth.

       3.      Will: The Basic Strength of Early Childhood

       The psychosocial crisis between autonomy on the one hand and shame and doubt on the other produces will, the basic strength of early childhood. Early willfulness is the beginning of free will, which reaches its zenith during adulthood. Early childhood’s core pathology is compulsion.

       C.      Play Age

       From about the third to the fifth year, children experience the play age, a period that parallels Freud’s phallic phase. Unlike Freud, however, Erikson saw the Oedipus complex as an early model of lifelong playfulness and a drama played out in children’s minds as they attempt to understand the basic facts of life.

       1.      Genital-Locomotor Mode

       The primary psychosexual mode of the play age is genital-locomotor, meaning
that children have both an interest in genital activity and an increasing ability to move around.

       2.      Initiative Versus Guilt

       The psychosocial crisis of the play age is initiative versus guilt, and the proper balance between the two produces purpose, the basic strength of the play age.

       3.      Purpose: The Basic Strength of the Play Age

       The conflict between initiative and guilt helps children to act with purpose and to set goals. But if children have too little purpose, they develop inhibition, the core pathology of the play age.

      D.      School Age

       The period from about 6 to 12 or 13 years of age is called the school age, a time of psychosexual latency and of psychosocial growth beyond the family.

       1.      Latency

       Because sexual development is latent during the school age, children can use their energies to learn the customs of their culture, including both formal and informal education.

       2.      Industry Versus Inferiority

       The psychosocial crisis of this age is industry vs. inferiority. Children need to learn to work hard, but they also must develop some sense of inferiority.

       3.      Competence: The Basic Strength of the School Age

       From the conflict of industry and inferiority emerges competence, the basic strength of the school age. Lack of industry leads to inertia, the core pathology of this stage.

       E.      Adolescence

       Adolescence begins with puberty and is marked by a person’s struggle to find ego identity. It is a time of psychosexual growth, but it is also a period of psychosocial latency, when little social growth is expected.

       1.      Puberty

       The psychosexual mode of adolescence is puberty, or genital maturation. Puberty itself presents few sexual problems, but it signals a search for personal identity.

       2.      Identity Versus Identity Confusion

       The psychosocial crisis of adolescence is identity versus identity confusion. Psychologically healthy individuals emerge from adolescence with a sense of who they are and what they believe; however, some identity confusion is normal, even for psychologically mature teenagers.

      3.      Fidelity: The Basic Strength of Adolescence

       The conflict between identity and identity confusion produces fidelity, or faith in some ideological view of the future. Lack of belief in one’s own selfhood results in role repudiation, the core pathology of adolescence. Role repudiation, an inability to bring together one’s various self-images, can take the form of either diffidence or defiance.

       F.      Young Adulthood

       Young adulthood, from about age 18 to 30, begins with the acquisition of
intimacy and ends with the development of generativity, or the training of
the next generation.

       1.      Genitality

       The psychosexual mode of young adulthood is genitality, which is expressed as mutual trust between partners in a stable sexual relationship.

       2.      Intimacy Versus Isolation

       The psychosocial crisis of young adulthood is intimacy versus isolation. Intimacy is the ability to fuse one’s identity with that of another without fear of losing it, whereas isolation is the fear of losing one’s identity in an intimate relationship.

       3.      Love: The Basic Strength of Young Adulthood

       The crisis between intimacy and isolation results in the capacity to love, or mature devotion that overcomes basic differences between two people. The core pathology of young adulthood is exclusivity, or inability to love another person.

       G.     Adulthood

       The period from about age 31 to 60 is adulthood, a time when people make significant contributions to society.

       1.      Procreativity

       The psychosexual mode of adulthood is procreativity, or the caring for one’s children, the children of others, and the material products of one’s society.

      2.      Generativity Versus Stagnation

       The psychosocial crisis of adulthood is generativity versus stagnation, and the successful resolution of this crisis results in care.

       3.      Care: The Basic Strength of Adulthood

       Erikson defined care as taking care of the persons and products that one has learned to care for. The core pathology of adulthood is rejectivity, or the rejection of certain individuals or groups that one is unwilling to take care of.

       H.      Old Age

       The final stage of development is old age, from about age 60 until death. This time can be productive both for individuals and for their society.

       1.      Generalized Sensuality

       The psychosexual mode of old age is generalized sensuality, or taking pleasure
in a variety of sensations and an appreciation of the traditional lifestyle of the
opposite sex.

       2.      Integrity Versus Despair

       The psychosocial crisis of old age is the struggle between integrity (the maintenance of ego-identity) and despair (the surrender of hope).

       3.      Wisdom: The Basic Strength of Old Age

       The struggle between integrity and despair may produce wisdom (the basic strength of old age), but it may also lead to disdain, a core pathology marked by feelings of being finished or helpless.


V.     Erikson’s Methods of Investigation

       Erikson relied mostly on anthropology, psychohistory, and play construction to explain and describe human personality.

      A.      Anthropological Studies

       Erikson’s two most important anthropological studies were of the Sioux of South Dakota and the Yurok of northern California. Both studies demonstrated his notion that culture and history help shape personality.

       B.      Psychohistory

       Erikson combined the methods of psychoanalysis and historical research to
study several personalities, most notably Gandhi and Luther. In both cases, the individual experienced an identity crisis that produced a basic strength rather than
a core pathology.

       C.     Play Construction

       Erikson’s technique of play construction became controversial when he found that 10- to 12-year-old boys used toys to construct elongated objects and to produce themes of rising and falling. In contrast, girls arranged toys in low and peaceful scenes. Erikson concluded that anatomical differences between the sexes play a role in personality development.


VI.    Related Research

       Erikson’s theory has generated a moderately large body of research, especially in the areas of identity and generativity.

       A.      Identity in Early Adulthood

       Ravenna Helson and Jennifer Pals (2000) have studied identity in young women and found that those with anchored identity had a clear and strong sense of well-being and saw themselves as a separate and equal partner in their marriage Also, identity established in early adulthood was associated with stable marriages and high levels of creativity. In addition, Pals (1999) found that women who had solid identity and high creative potential at age 21 were more likely than other women to have had a challenging and creative work experience at age 52.

      B.      Generativity in Midlife

       People high in generativity should have a lifestyle marked by creating and passing on knowledge, values, and ideals to a younger generation, and should benefit from a pattern of helping younger people. Research by Dan McAdams and colleagues (McAdams, 1999; McAdams, Diamond, de St. Aubin, & Mansfield, 1997; McAdams & de St. Aubin, 1992) found that adults at midlife who contributed to the well-being of young people had a clear sense of who they were and what life had to offer them. Other research from this team found that highly generative adults were likely to have coherent and cohesive life stories and identities. Similarly, Pratt, Norris, Arnold and Filyer (1999) found that generativity is an important component of a mature adulthood.


VII.   Critique of Erikson

       Although Erikson’s work is a logical extension of Freud’s psychoanalysis, it offers a new way of looking at human development. As a useful theory, it rates high on internal consistency and on its ability to generate research. We rate the theory about average on its ability to be falsified, to organize knowledge, to guide the practitioner, and to express ideas in a simple yet comprehensive fashion.


VIII.  Concept of Humanity

       Erikson viewed humans as basically social animals who have limited free choice and who are motivated by past experiences, which may be either conscious or unconscious. In addition, we rate Erikson high on both optimism and uniqueness
of individuals.


Summary Chart

Summary Chart






1. Oral-Sensory

Birth to 12 to 18 months

Trust vs. Mistrust


The infant must form a first loving, trusting relationship with the caregiver, or develop a sense of mistrust.

2. Muscular-Anal

18 months
to 3 years

Autonomy vs.


The child's energies are directed toward the development of physical skills, including walking, grasping, and rectal sphincter control. The child learns control but may develop shame and doubt if not handled well.

3. Locomotor

3 to 6 years

Initiative vs.


The child continues to become more assertive and to take more initiative, but may be too forceful, leading to guilt feelings.

4. Latency

6 to 12 years

Industry vs. Inferiority


The child must deal with demands to learn new skills or risk a sense of inferiority, failure and incompetence.

5. Adolescence

12 to 18 years

Identity vs.
Role Confusion

Peer relationships

The teenager must achieve a sense of identity in occupation, sex roles, politics, and religion.

6. Young Adulthood

19 to 40 years

Intimacy vs.

Love relationships

The young adult must develop intimate relationships or suffer feelings of isolation.

7. Middle Adulthood

40 to 65 years

Generativity vs. Stagnation


Each adult must find some way to satisfy and support the next generation.

8. Maturity

65 to death

Ego Integrity vs. Despair

Reflection on and acceptance of one's life

The culmination is a sense of oneself as one is and of feeling fulfilled.



Marcia’s Elaboration of Identity Development

Marcia’s Elaboration of Identity Development