Erikson’s Eight Stages of Development
Psychologist Erik Erikson developed his eight stages of development to clarify the developmental challenges faced at various times in people’s lives. Stage-based theories of development were extremely popular during Erikson’s era. However, Erikson’s theory differs from other popular theories in that a person does not have to successfully complete one stage of development to move on to the next stage of development. Erikson’s stages of development are widely taught in psychology courses in the United States.
The Eight Stages of Development
Each stage is presented as two opposing statements representing the challenges a person faces at a particular age. If the person does not overcome the challenges of his or her developmental stage, these challenges are likely to become ongoing problems. For example, a child who never establishes trust in infancy may grow into an adult who struggles with trust in romantic relationships. The eight stages of development are:
- Infancy: Hopes — Trust vs. Mistrust – Infants learn to trust others based upon the response of their caregivers, usually parents.
- Toddlerhood: Will – Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt – During this phase, young children begin exploring the world around them. If caregivers provide a safe base from which to explore the world and encourage the child’s interests and burgeoning independence, the child will gain a sense of autonomy. Children whose parents or caregivers discourage them or foster excessive dependence may develop feelings of shame.
- Preschool Years: Purpose – Initiative vs. Guilt – Preschoolers are increasingly focused on doing things themselves and establishing their own goals. When this tendency is nurtured, children grow into adults who are able to take initiative, but when this tendency is undermined, children may be fraught with guilt.
- Early School Years: Competence – Industry vs. Inferiority – As children grow in independence, they become increasingly aware of themselves as individuals. Children who achieve and are praised for their achievements develop self-confidence and industry, while children who fail to achieve or who are constantly criticized may consistently feel inferior.
- Adolescence: Fidelity – Identity vs. Role Confusion – The famed term “identity crisis” comes from this period of development. Erikson argued that adolescents undergo an identity crisis during which they must establish an identity, goals, and a purpose. Adolescents who struggle to find a purpose to their lives and a separate identity from their parents and other caregivers may be unable to establish a coherent, consistent identity.
- Young Adulthood: Love – Intimacy vs. Isolation – This is the period of development during which many people get married or enter into significant relationships and has been defined as anywhere from 20-24 years to 20-40 years. After a young person has established his or her identity, he/she becomes equipped to establish intimate relationships with others. Failure to do so can result in long-term feelings of isolation.
- Middle Adulthood: Care – Generativity vs. Stagnation – This is the period of development during which most people have children. People who are able to provide guidance or a legacy to the next generation feel a sense of purpose, while people who do not do so may feel stuck.
- Late Adulthood: Ego Integrity vs. Despair – During this phase, older adults reflect back on the life they have lived. Those who feel fulfilled by their lives are able to face death and aging proudly, while those who feel disappointment may fall into despair.
Erikson in Popular Culture
Erikson famously applied his theories to Mahatma Gandhi in his book Gandhi’s Truth. Erikson aimed to identify the origins of Gandhi’s militant nonviolence by exploring Gandhi’s early development.
- Erikson, E. H. (1969). Gandhi’s truth: On the origins of militant nonviolence. New York, NY: Norton.
- Harwood, R., Miller, S. A., & Vasta, R. (2008). Child psychology: Development in a changing society. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Last updated: 02-5-2013