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Erikson's stages of psychosocial development explained

By Remy Meraz April 25, 2023

Erikson's stages of psychosocial development explained

Psychological and social development are crucial components of personal growth, shaping an individual's perspective, behavior, and relationships throughout their lifetime. There have been questions on why is erik erikson theory important, to answer this: Erik Erikson's theory of psycosocial development is one of the most widely recognized and influential theories in developmental psychology, describing a series of eight stages that individuals progress through as they navigate their way from infancy to old age.

However, the lack of awareness regarding the significance of these stages and the developmental tasks they entail can have long-term effects on individuals, leading to a range of issues from a sense of identity crisis to an inability to form stable relationships. This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive explanation of erikson's stages of development peer reviewed, emphasizing both the ideas and importance of understanding these stages for personal growth, effective parenting, and healthy aging.

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What is psychosocial development?

What is psychosocial development?

Psychosocial development refers to the emotional and social changes that individuals experience as they progress through life, starting from childhood to old age. It includes the development of an individual's sense of self, their relationships with others, and their ability to adapt to life's challenges. In simpler terms, it's about how we learn to interact with others and the world around us as we grow up and age.

Child development earlier stages Erikson include: trust vs. mistrust, autonomy v shame and doubt definition, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. role confusion, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. stagnation, and ego integrity vs. despair.

Doubt autonomy versus shame is a critical stage in Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development when a child begins to assert their independence and develop self-control while navigating the potential for feeling shame and doubt about their abilities.

Psychosocial development is rooted in the work of Erik Erikson, a German-American psychologist who developed a theory centered around eight Erikson's stages of psychosocial development. Erik Erikson's model of psychosocial development comprises eight distinct stages, each with its own set of challenges and tasks. Erikson's theory builds on the earlier work of Sigmund Freud, who proposed a theory of psychosexual development, but Erikson expanded it to include social and cultural factors as well. He argued that each stage of development is characterized by a particular challenge or crisis that individuals must resolve to successfully move on to the next stage. Failure to resolve these crises can lead to difficulties in future stages, such as a sense of identity confusion or a lack of intimacy in relationships.

Erikson's theory of psychosocial development has been influential in the field of developmental theorists erikson psychology, and it continues to inform research and practice today. It emphasizes the importance of social and emotional development throughout the lifespan, highlighting the need for individuals to establish healthy relationships, develop a sense of identity, and adapt to changing circumstances as they age.

Erik Erikson's eight stages of psychosocial development

Erik Erikson's eight stages of psychosocial development

Erikson proposed eight developmental stages of psychosocial development, also known as Erikson stages and ages, each of which is associated with a specific age range and a particular challenge or crisis.

To understand the concept of continuity and life stages definition in Erikson's theory, it's essential to delve into the specifics of each developmental stage.

For each stage, eriksons proposed a psychosocial crisis or conflict, such as industry vs inferiority, that individuals must resolve in order to move successfully to the next stage.

Infancy (0-18 months)

The infancy stage, which spans from birth to 18 months, is the first stage in Erik Erikson's theory. During this stage, infants develop a sense of trust or mistrust in the world around them. This stage is crucial in laying the foundation for later stages of development, as a child's early experiences with caregivers can shape their sense of security and confidence in themselves and the world.

Infants learn to trust others and their environment if their basic needs, such as food, shelter, and love, are met consistently and reliably. If infants' needs are not consistently met, they may develop mistrust towards others and the world, leading to a sense of anxiety and insecurity.

The developmental tasks during the infancy stage include developing a sense of trust, learning to depend on caregivers, and developing basic motor and sensory skills. Infants also learn to distinguish between themselves and their environment and form a basic sense of self.

If infants develop a sense of trust, they are likely to have a positive outlook on the world and be confident in their personal relationships and with others. They are also more likely to be curious and exploratory and have a sense of security in themselves. On the other hand, if infants develop mistrust, they may be fearful, anxious, and unsure of themselves and the world around them. They may have difficulty forming relationships and trusting others.

Early childhood (18 months-3 years)

The early childhood stage is characterized by the tension between autonomy and doubt. Children at this age begin to assert their independence and develop a sense of self-control and autonomy, as they learn to walk, talk, and explore their environment. However, if caregivers are overly restrictive or critical, children may develop a sense of shame or doubt in their abilities, leading to feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem.

During the early childhood stage, children also learn to control bodily functions, develop language and communication skills, learn to engage in play and exploration, and begin to develop a basic understanding of gender and learn social norms and expectations.

Children who develop a sense of autonomy are likely to have a positive self-image, be assertive, and have a sense of control over their environment. They are also more likely to be curious, creative, and have a strong sense of independence. However, children who develop shame and doubt stage may feel unsure of themselves, lack of self confidence, and may experience difficulty taking risks or making decisions.

Preschool (3-6 years)

The preschool stage is a critical period in a child's development, marked by significant changes in their social and emotional development. Erikson's theory describes this stage as a period of initiative vs. guilt, in which children begin to develop a sense of purpose and initiative but may also experience feelings of guilt or inadequacy.

During the preschool stage, children develop a range of skills and abilities, including:

  • Learning to express emotions
  • Developing imagination and creativity
  • Developing a sense of gender identity
  • Learning social skills, such as taking turns, sharing, and cooperating with others.

The outcomes of the preschool stage can have a significant impact on a child's future development. Children who develop a sense of initiative and purpose are likely to have a positive self-image, be assertive, and have a sense of direction and purpose. They are also more likely to be imaginative, have good problem-solving skills, and enjoy learning. However, children who experience feelings of guilt may feel inhibited and insecure, which can hinder their ability to take risks and pursue their goals.

School-age (6-12 years)

The main psychosocial stage crisis during the school-age stage is industry vs. inferiority, which refers to the tension between feeling capable and successful versus feeling inadequate and inferior. As children engage in academic and social activities, they start to develop a sense of industry, which is the feeling of being competent and successful at what they do. This sense of industry can help them develop a positive self-image and a sense of purpose.

However, if children perceive themselves as inadequate or unsuccessful, they may experience feelings of inferiority. These feelings can be detrimental to their sense of industry, leading to a lack of motivation and a sense of inadequacy. Children who experience a sense of inferiority may feel like they cannot succeed, leading them to give up on tasks or activities that they perceive as too challenging or difficult. They may also avoid taking risks and trying new things, which can limit their potential for growth and development.

Parents, teachers, and other caregivers play a crucial role in supporting children's development during the school-age stage. It's essential to provide children with opportunities for learning and growth, while also recognizing and celebrating their achievements. Positive reinforcement can help children develop a sense of competence and mastery, while negative experiences can undermine their sense of industry.

It's also essential to provide children with a sense of structure and routine, as this can help them develop a sense of responsibility and discipline. Encouraging children to take on special task and responsibilities that are appropriate for their age and abilities can also help foster a sense of industry and competence.

Adolescence (12-18 years)

During the adolescent stage, 12-18-year-olds seek to discover and define their identity, establish meaningful relationships with peers, further explore their autonomy and independence, and prepare for the transition to adulthood. Adolescents also begin to develop more sophisticated cognitive skills, such as the ability to think abstractly and reason logically.

Puberty plays a unique role in this stage, as individuals experience significant physical changes that can impact their sense of self. Hormonal changes can lead to mood swings and emotional instability, while physical changes can impact self-image and body confidence. Adolescents may also experience social pressures related to physical appearance, personality development, and sexual behavior, further complicating their journey to discovering their personal identity.

Young adulthood (18-40 years)

Erikson's stages of psychosocial development: Young adulthood (18-40 years)

Erikson's view of adulthood starts with Young adulthood. Young adulthood is the fifth stage describe erikson's theory of psychosocial development, spanning from 18 to 40 years. It's during this stage that individuals begin to navigate the challenges of forming intimate relationships while also establishing themselves as independent adults.

Diverse young adults may face unique challenges related to their race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. For example, young adults who identify as LGBTQ+ may face discrimination and marginalization, making it more difficult to form intimate relationships and establish a clear sense of identity. Young adults from low-income families may face barriers to education and career development, limiting their opportunities for economic mobility and independence. In all such circumstances, having a coach or a mentor could also help.

Middle adulthood (40-65 years)

Middle adulthood is the seventh stage in Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development, spanning from 40 to 65 years. Middle adulthood, a stage within Erik Erikson's type of developmental theory, encompasses the years from 40 to 65 and is characterized by the pursuit of generativity, where individuals assess their contributions to society and strive to make meaningful impacts. As individuals move into midlife, they begin to evaluate their contributions to society, including family, work, and community. Those who are able to develop a sense of generativity, whether through raising children, mentoring others, or pursuing creative endeavors, experience a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. In contrast, those in middle age who are unable to develop a sense of generativity may experience feelings of stagnation and dissatisfaction.

Stagnation, in the context of stagnation psychology definition, refers to a sense of inactivity, lack of growth, or feeling stuck in one's life. Individuals who experience stagnation during middle adulthood may feel unfulfilled, as if they're not making meaningful contributions to their families or communities. This can lead to a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction.

The extent to which an individual is able to achieve a sense of generativity is influenced by the preceding and subsequent stages of erickson psychosocial development. For example, individuals who experienced a sense of trust during infancy are more likely to develop a sense of generativity during middle adulthood. Similarly, individuals who successfully navigated the stages of childhood and adolescence are better prepared to establish meaningful relationships, develop a sense of purpose, and contribute to society.

Late adulthood (65+ years)

This final stage requires individuals to review their past, assess their accomplishments, and evaluate their failures, all in the context of their overall life story as the life cycle completed. How individuals interpret their experiences, whether positive or negative, can influence the development of their sense of integrity or despair.

Integrity, in this context, refers to a sense of ego identity and coherence, a feeling that one's life has been meaningful, and a belief that one's contributions have been worthwhile. Individuals who are able to develop a sense of integrity typically feel a sense of satisfaction, completeness, and inner peace. They can embrace their limitations, accept that they may not have accomplished all they set out to do, and yet feel content with their efforts.

In contrast, erikson's last stage of development individuals who are unable to develop a sense of integrity may experience feelings of despair and regret. These individuals may feel that their lives have not been meaningful, that they have failed to achieve their goals, or that they have made little or no contribution to society. These negative feelings can lead to a sense of hopelessness, disillusionment, and even depression.

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Psychosocial development examples:

Here are some psychosocial development examples:

  • Trust versus mistrust: This stage occurs in infancy and toddlers. If infants and toddlers are able to trust their caregivers, they will develop a sense of trust in the world. If they are not able to trust their caregivers, they will develop a sense of mistrust.
  • Autonomy versus shame and doubt: This stage occurs in early childhood. If children are able to develop a sense of autonomy, they will feel confident and capable. If they are not able to develop a sense of autonomy, they will feel ashamed and doubt their abilities.
  • Initiative versus guilt: This stage occurs in middle childhood. If children are able to take initiative and explore their environment, they will develop a sense of purpose. If they are not able to take initiative, they will feel guilty and inhibited.
  • Industry versus inferiority: This stage occurs in adolescence. If adolescents are able to achieve success in their schoolwork and extracurricular activities, they will develop a sense of industry. If they are not able to achieve success, they will feel inferior.
  • Identity versus role confusion: This stage occurs in early adulthood. If young adults are able to develop a clear sense of particular identity, they will be able to make choices and set goals for their lives. If they are not able to develop a clear sense of identity, they will feel confused and uncertain about their future.
  • Intimacy versus isolation: This stage occurs in middle adulthood. If adults are able to form close, intimate relationships, they will feel connected to others and fulfilled. If they are not able to form close relationships, they will feel isolated and lonely.
  • Generativity versus stagnation: This stage occurs in late adulthood. If adults are able to contribute to the lives of others, they will feel a sense of purpose and satisfaction. If they are not able to contribute to the lives of others, they will feel stagnant and unfulfilled.
  • Integrity versus despair: This stage occurs in old age. If adults are able to look back on their lives with satisfaction, they will feel a weak sense of integrity. If they are not able to look back on their lives with satisfaction, they will feel despair.

Criticisms of Erikson's human development theory

erikson's psychosocial development theory has been a significant influence on the field of developmental psychology for many years. However, despite its widespread acceptance, there are several criticisms of the theory that need to be considered.

Limited cultural applicability

One of the key criticisms of Erikson's theory is that it is ethnocentric, meaning that it fails to recognize cultural differences in developmental experiences. Cultural differences in parenting styles, family structures, and social norms can significantly impact the way individuals experience different stages of development. For example, in some cultures, the emphasis may be on collectivism rather than individualism, which can affect the way individuals develop their sense of identity in adolescence.

Moreover, the tasks and challenges that individuals face in different stages of development can vary widely across cultures. For example, the tasks of generativity in middle adulthood, which include contributing to society and leaving a legacy, may not be as important in cultures that emphasize individual achievement rather than community contribution.

Additionally, some cultures may have different beliefs about aging and death, which can influence the way individuals approach late adulthood. For example, some cultures may view aging as a time of wisdom and respect, while others may view it as a time of decline and irrelevance.

Inconsistent stages across the lifespan

Another criticism of Erikson's theory is that it fails to account for the fact that individuals may not always experience the stages in a consistent sequence. For example, individuals who experience significant life events such as trauma, illness, or major life changes may regress to a previous stage or skip a stage altogether. Additionally, some individuals may experience stages out of order, such as an individual in middle adulthood who is still struggling with identity formation.

Some researchers have also criticized Erikson's theory for failing to align with real-world experiences. For example, some studies have shown that individuals in late adulthood do not necessarily experience the same psychosocial challenges or developmental tasks as those described in Erikson's theory. This suggests that the stages may not be applicable to all individuals and that the theory may need to be revised or expanded to better account for real-world experiences.

Limited empirical evidence

Despite its widespread acceptance, there is limited empirical evidence to support Erikson's psychosocial theory. Some critics have argued that the theory is too broad and vague, making it difficult to test empirically. Additionally, the theory relies heavily on subjective self-report data, which may not accurately reflect an individual's developmental experiences.

While Erikson's psychosocial theory has contributed significantly to the field of developmental psychology, these criticisms highlight the need for continued research and refinement of the theory. It is essential to consider cultural differences, empirical evidence, and the consistency of the lifespan stages to better understand psychosocial development.

Other theories on aging and developmental psychology

Other theories on aging and developmental psychology

While the key concepts of Erikson's theory have been influential in shaping our understanding of how and when psychosocial development occurs, it is not the only theory that has been proposed to explain human development across the lifespan. Other theories have emerged that offer alternative perspectives and insights into the processes of aging and development.

Let's explore some of these theories and their contributions to our understanding of human development.

Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development

Piaget's theory of cognitive development is a comprehensive framework that explains how individuals develop their cognitive abilities from infancy through adolescence. Erik Erikson's theory name is frequently cited and discussed in the context of human development and psychology. Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, proposed this theory in the 1920s and 1930s based on his observations of children's behavior and reasoning abilities. Piaget's theory is influential in developmental psychology and education, as it emphasizes the role of active exploration and learning in cognitive development.

According to Piaget's theory, cognitive development progresses through four distinct stages, each marked by increasingly complex forms of thought and reasoning. The first stage is the sensorimotor stage, which occurs from birth to about 2 years of age, during which infants develop their ability to coordinate sensory experiences with motor actions. The preoperational stage occurs from 2 to 7 years of age and is characterized by the development of language and symbolic thinking. The concrete operational stage occurs from 7 to 11 years of age and is marked by the development of logical and concrete thinking, while the formal operational stage occurs from 11 years of age and onward and is characterized by the development of abstract reasoning and hypothesis testing.

Piaget's theory also emphasizes the role of the environment in cognitive development, as children actively engage in exploration and experimentation with the world around them to build their understanding of the world. This process of building cognitive structures is known as assimilation and accommodation.

Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory of Development

Vygotsky's Sociocultural Theory of Development is a theory that explains how social and cultural factors play a critical role in cognitive development. Developed by Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky in the early 20th century, this theory emphasizes the social nature of learning and the ways in which cultural contexts shape individual development.

According to Vygotsky, cognitive development is a collaborative process that occurs through social interaction with more experienced individuals. This process is called scaffolding, where a more experienced person provides support and guidance to help a less experienced person learn and master new skills. Vygotsky believed that this collaborative developmental process was particularly important for children, who are in the process of constructing their understanding of the world.

Moreover, Vygotsky proposed that language is a crucial tool for cognitive development, as it allows individuals to communicate with others, share ideas, and develop new concepts. In Vygotsky's view, language and thought are closely connected, with language serving as a mediator between individual experience and collective knowledge.

Vygotsky's theory also emphasizes the importance of cultural contexts in shaping cognitive development. Different cultures have different ways of thinking, communicating, and problem-solving, and these cultural differences can influence the ways in which individuals approach cognitive tasks. For example, Vygotsky observed that children in some cultures had greater opportunities for collaborative learning and apprenticeship-style learning, which allowed them to develop their cognitive abilities more effectively.

Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development

Developed by American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg in the 1950s and 1960s, this theory builds upon the work of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget and emphasizes the importance of cognitive development in moral reasoning. According to Kohlberg, moral development progresses through five distinct stages, each marked by increasingly complex forms of moral reasoning.

The first stage is the pre-conventional stage, where individuals are motivated by self-interest and punishment. The second stage is also pre-conventional and is characterized by the development of reciprocity, where individuals consider others' perspectives and try to avoid harming others. The conventional stage occurs during adolescence when individuals are motivated by social norms and rules. In stage four, individuals seek to conform to the expectations of authority figures and society as a whole. Finally, in the post-conventional stage, individuals develop a more abstract understanding of moral principles and make moral decisions based on universal ethical principles, such as justice and fairness.

Kohlberg's theory emphasizes that moral development is a process of internalization, where individuals adopt societal norms and values and make them part of their own moral framework. Moreover, Kohlberg believed that moral development occurs through exposure to moral dilemmas and through the process of reflecting upon and evaluating moral decisions.

While Kohlberg's theory has been influential in the field of moral psychology and education, it has also faced criticism for its cultural and gender biases. For example, the theory has been criticized for being too focused on individualism and Western perspectives on morality, neglecting the role of collectivist cultural values in shaping moral reasoning. Additionally, the theory has been criticized for being gender-biased, as Kohlberg's research was primarily conducted with male participants and erikson bias may not fully account for gender differences in moral reasoning.

Socioemotional Selectivity Theory

Socioemotional Selectivity Theory

Socioemotional Selectivity Theory (SST) is a psychological theory that explains how people's social goals change over the course of their lives. According to this theory, people's priorities and goals shift as they age, and their social and personal relationships become increasingly focused on emotional fulfillment and meaning.

The theory is based on the idea that people have a limited time perspective on their lives. As people age, they become more aware of the finite nature of their remaining time and, as a result, shift their priorities toward activities and relationships that are more emotionally rewarding.

SST also proposes that there are two primary types of goals that people pursue in their social relationships: information-seeking goals and socioemotional goals. Information-seeking goals are focused on acquiring new knowledge and experiences, while socioemotional goals are focused on seeking emotional support and maintaining close relationships. As people age, their socioemotional goals become more important, and they prioritize relationships that fulfill these goals.

Selective Optimization with Compensation Theory

According to the SOC theory, as people age, they face a reduction in physical and cognitive abilities, which can lead to a decline in their overall functioning. To adapt to these changes, individuals use a process of selection, optimization, and compensation.

Selection involves choosing the most important goals and activities, while optimization involves maximizing performance in those areas. Compensation involves finding ways to offset or minimize the impact of declines in other areas, such as using assistive devices or seeking help from others.

SOC theory proposes that successful aging involves the ability to adapt to these changes by selecting activities that are most important, optimizing performance in those areas, and compensating for declines in other areas. The theory emphasizes the importance of maintaining a positive attitude towards aging and the ability to adapt to change.

Activity Theory

The Activity Theory is an important framework for understanding how older adults can maintain their social and psychological well-being. One of the key ideas of this theory is that staying active and engaged in meaningful activities can help older adults maintain a sense of purpose and fulfillment, which is important for their overall happiness and health.

Studies have shown that older adults who remain engaged in social and productive activities tend to have better physical and mental health outcomes compared to those who are more socially isolated or inactive. This can include participating in community activities, volunteering, pursuing hobbies and interests, and maintaining social relationships with family and friends.

By staying active and engaged, older adults can also continue to learn and grow, which can help them maintain cognitive function and prevent cognitive decline. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, playing games, or learning a new skill can help older adults stay mentally sharp and engaged.

Another important aspect of the Activity Theory is the idea that social interaction and meaningful activity can provide a sense of continuity and stability in the face of life transitions and changes. This can be particularly important for older adults who may experience changes in their physical or social roles and status, such as retirement or the loss of a spouse.


Erikson's stages of psychosocial development, emphasizing self-awareness as a critical component, provide a framework for understanding how individuals develop and grow throughout their lives. By focusing on the key tasks and challenges to life satisfaction that individuals face at different stages of life, Erikson's theory highlights the importance of achieving a sense of stable personal identity, purpose, and fulfillment in order to promote healthy psychosocial development, even amidst cultural conflict.

For parents and educators, Erikson's theory has important implications for promoting healthy development in children and young adults. By understanding the challenges and needs of individuals at different stages of life, caregivers and authority figures can provide appropriate support and guidance to help children and young adults achieve their full potential.

Overall, the study of psychosocial development is essential for promoting personal growth and well-being throughout the lifespan. By recognizing the challenges and opportunities that individuals face at different stages of life, we can support healthy development and help individuals achieve greatness, , thereby contributing to the organization's growth and success.

For guidance on building a better workplace culture and fostering a positive environment, check out our blog post on identifying and correcting negative workplace culture. If you're interested in understanding the organizations, check out our blog post on demystifying the middle manager.

Read more about: Life Coaching, Existential Crisis

About Remy Meraz

Remy Meraz, co-founder, and CEO of Zella Life, is a visionary leader who leveraged corporate glass ceiling challenges as a woman of color to drive systemic change.

While leading and cultivating high-performance teams from VC-backed startups to Fortune 500, she consistently faced obstacles such as inadequate mentorship, lack of psychological safety, and non-personalized training. Taking matters into her own hands, she turned to executive coaching and NLP training. This life-changing growth experience led to breaking leadership barriers and a passion for cognitive psychology.

Motivated by her experiences, she co-founded Zella Life, an innovative AI-driven coaching platform bridging the talent development gap by enhancing soft skills and emotional intelligence (EQ) in the workplace.

Her vision with Zella Life is to transform professional development into an inclusive and impactful journey, focused on the distinct needs of both individuals and organizations. She aims to promote advancement and culture change by ensuring every professional's growth is acknowledged and supported.

Today, Remy is recognized as an influential innovator, trainer, mentor, and business leader. Under her leadership, Zella Life has delivered significant measurable outcomes for numerous well-known brands. This track record of positive outcomes garnered attention and funding from Google for Startups and Pledge LA, establishing Zella Life as a pivotal force in the learning and development arena tackling and resolving fundamental talent development issues for organizations of all sizes.

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