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Erikson and the First Four Stages of the Theory of Psychosocial Development
Developmental Psychology Across the Lifespan
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Erikson and the First Four Stages of the Theory of Psychosocial Development

Erikson and the First Four Stages of the Theory of Psychosocial Development

Author: Erick Taggart

Identify the key aspects of psychosocial development theory.

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Hello, class.

Today we're going to be talking about the theory of psychosocial development, which is a long term. It was propounded by a man named Erik Erikson. A great man with a great name. Erikson was a psychologist who was originally born in Germany, but later fled to the US after the Nazis took over. He continued his psychology studies there.

Erikson is neo-Freudian, which is to say, he follows the ideas of Sigmund Freud. He was influenced by these psychoanalytical, unconscious ideas. You can see this influence in his theories.

The theory of psychosocial development says that our personality develops in stages throughout life, depending on our experiences. So our personality, or our psychology, develops as a result of our social, our external experiences.

This theory looks at the entire course of a lifetime, whereas a lot of other theories might only look at early development. This looks that entire span of development.

Erikson gave eight stages to go through. We'll look at the first four today. It's important to remember, when we talk about stages, that these are not exact or absolute sorts of stages. Different people develop in different ways. So if a person doesn't necessarily fall within this exact category, that might not necessarily mean that they're dysfunctional in any kind of way.

Each one of these stages that Erikson developed has two different forces that are occurring. First, there's a conflict that's occurring between multiple personal impulses, and the social world around them. This is what he called the psychosocial dilemma. These conflicts that are occurring within ourselves in response to the outside world, lead to the development, or lack thereof, of certain psychological qualities that we might recognize. Again, we'll look at each one of these in turn, so we can understand this better.

The second force that's occurring here is, a desire for mastery, or to be competent in something. In other words, at each one of these stages, we want to be good at it. We want to master it in some kind of way. So let's take a look at the stages.

The first stage in the theory of psychosocial development occurs within the first year of life, from zero to one year of age. This is the trust versus mistrust stage. So you see how that conflict occurs. During this stage, the child is very young and they're dependent on their caretakers, or their parents. So they need to receive reliable and sufficient care. They need to be fed at a regular rate, as well as to receive enough food. They need to be held, they need to feel security. Lack of this security leads to mistrust. Mistrust as a result that this can have a later influence on people's lives. People that developed more of that mistrust in the conflict, later might have feelings of insecurity or suspicion. They might have certain social or emotional problems with relating to others. So you can see how each one of these stages is going to have an influence on the later lives of the individuals.

The second stage, from one year of age to three years, is autonomy versus shame or doubt. And this is when the child is developing a sense of personal control, either over their body-- they can move their arms and legs-- or their environment. They control their toys, and things like that.

During this time, activities like toilet training are really important, because it's when children are starting to understand this feeling of independence that they're developing, and control over themselves. Also, accidents that occur, like spilling, or the child falling. And personal choices that the child makes, like what kind of food they want, or what kind of toys. So reactions by the parent of shame or doubt towards the personal choices or the control that the child has, can have an adverse effect, and lead to those feelings of shame and doubt.

A person that develops more autonomy on this side generally develops feeling secure or confident in themselves. Whereas a child that feels more shame or doubt at this stage might develop feeling more shameful. They feel self-doubt. So the reactions that the parents have to these sorts of things can be very important on the child later on in life.

The third stage, from three to five years of age, is the stage of initiative versus guilt. This is when the child is becoming more independent from the parents. They start to interact with others. This is when they're trying to explore their environment more, to move out from their parents, and to go outside, or to explore different rooms on their own. This is also when they start to play independently, as well. So it's important at this stage that a parent gives space to explore. On the other hand, if the parent starts to criticize or reprimand the child overly for their choices, it can lead to feelings of guilt in the child.

A child that takes more initiative at this stage generally, later in life, starts to feel more capable. They feel like they're able to do things better on their own. They're more imaginative, and they also develop more as leaders. Whereas the children that receive more guilt at this stage become more guilty people. They also have more self-doubt, and they lack initiative. They don't do things on their own, necessarily.

The last stage, from 6 to 12 years of age-- the last one we'll talk about today-- is the industry versus inferiority stage. This coincides with when the child first enters school and they start to develop all these new skills. They learn how to be productive and to do activities that are valued by their society. It's at this stage that the child starts to feel more of a sense of pride or accomplishment at the things that they're doing. And they can either receive encouragement to continue doing those things, or criticism-- saying that they didn't do those well, maybe they were being messy, or they weren't coloring correctly. Things like that. When a child is encouraged at this period, they tend to feel more competent. They have more self esteem, they feel more self worth as a result of that. Whereas, if they receive more criticism in what they were doing, they might have more self-doubt, or they might feel inadequate as a person.

So these are the first four in the early stages of Erikson's psychosocial development.

Terms to Know
Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt (2-3 years)

Children must develop sense of independence, explore their environment, be able to have free choice If this independence is not given, the child will feel shame and doubt (question their own independence).

Erickson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

Individuals face psychosocial dilemmas faced throughout the lifetime as one manages internal and external demands.

Industry vs. Inferiority (6-12 years)

Kids deal with new school and social demands. Success leads to competence and failure leads to inferiority.

Initiative vs. Guilt (3-5 years)

Child is more assertive, curious, and takes more initiative. Guilt is developed if the child is punished for initiative.

Trust vs. Mistrust (0-2 years)

Infants either gain trust in a predictable, loving, caring environment or mistrust from your parent/caregiver.