Quick Facts:

  • His education never went beyond high school
  • His original career goal was to be an artist
  • He was the first person to view development continuing throughout the life span
  • He was one of the first to suggest that societal factors influenced one's development.


During his time, Erikson was considered to be a neo-Freudian. He felt it crucial to explore society's influence on one's identity development which contrasts Freud's belief that development was purely biological.‍ ‍

His work with diverse groups, which were different groups mainly throughout America, ‍piqued his interest in the development of one's identity and how it can be influenced by one's environment, culture, ethnicity, etc. One of the opposing views he had from Freud’s theory is the development of a person spans over a lifetime, not purely the first five years of one's life. More so, he was one of the first to spend immense amounts of time observing children's behavior.
An Overview of the Theory via Youtube clip

View Of Human Nature

Although Erikson believes all humans have "in born laws of development" (Miller, 2009, p. 148), a person is also active in his/her developmental process. Erikson believed persons have the opportunity to regress to other stages in order to fully develop the stage, if s/he felt it necessary.

Nature vs. Nurture

Erikson felt identity development was based on both nature and ‍nurture‍. His argument for nature was physical, cognitive, physiological development and maturation dictated the initial stage progressions. However, in the early stages parents need to provide an equal amount of nurturing by giving their child time to perform activities on his/her own.

Gillani (2011) describes Erikson's Nature vs. Nurture agrument‍ best in his chapter on "Psychological Theories and Integrated Thematic Learning Environments":
"Erikson believed that because we are social animals, the society has also evolved certain social orders, roles and demands that are parallel with physical growth. For example, when a child achieves control of his muscle movement, we then expect him to explore his surroundings under parental guidance; or when a child has command of his language and is capable of taking care of rudimentary tasks, society expects him to attend school."
To read more from Gillani's chapter click here

Development as Quantitative or Qualitative?

‍Erikson observed a quantitative and qualitative nature to the developmental process. He saw the developmental process as ‍quantitative‍ based on his belief that the stages are formed around physical maturation. Due to this, a person cannot jump stages; s/he must initially progress one at a time. However, the person's role is qualitative since s/he is able to revert to previous stages to further enhance or complete the stage of identity development in order to reshape his/her personality.

Erikson's Eight Stages of Life Span Development

STAGE ONE: Basic Trust vs. Mistrust (Birth to 1 y/o)
Regards whether the infant can build trust with his caregiver which the child bases on how often his needs are met re: eating, changing, and being soothed when the infant is upset. Completion of this stage requires for the infant to trust his self regarding his ability to become familiar with urges, wants and needs. If the child is too trusting, she will not be able to decipher between good and bad people. Yet, if the child lacks trust it will affect his mood and personality in future stages.613del.png

STAGE TWO: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (2 y/o-3 y/o)
Newly developed motor skills and cognitive abilities allow for a child’s better sense of identity, but bring upon the child more responsibility (i.e. anal control and the "I can do it myself stage"). Shame and doubt can occur if the child is forced to potty train too soon, s/he never fully develop a positive balance or trust/mistrust, or has over bearing parents. (Miller, 2002, p.152) this stage also begins to socialize child with rules and authority.

CONNECTION= In Stage 2, if one starts potty training too soon or has over bearing parents, in Stages 6-8 he will develop a personality that is "over controlled, compulsive and rigid" (Miller, 2009, p. 153) or will have trouble of holding on to things or letting go.

<-- Provides an example of a child practicing autonomy
STAGE THREE: Initiative vs. Guilt (4 y/o- 5 y/o)
Child's first glimpse into exploring the question of "Who am I?" The first place a child looks to answer this old age question is at her parents. Moreover, she will look to her society to see who the honorable and important people are and recognize she should be like them re: teachers, firefighters, nurses, etc. Guilt may arise if sexual urges, bad behaviors or negative thoughts occur.

STAGE 4: INDUSTRY vs. INFERIORITY (6 y/o to Puberty)
When children become sponges re: take in everything from arithmetic and spelling to learning, and how to get away with things through observation. If the child is successful in these areas s/he will feel competent allowing the child to move gracefully through the stage. If s/he fails or struggles to learn and implement all s/he is "sponging up" he will feel defeated and inferior.

Learning to ride a bicycle (Industry)
Being the last to be picked for kickball (Inferiority)
Achieving academic success (Industry)
Making friends (Industry)

STAGE FIVE: Identity and Repudiation vs. Identity Diffusion (Adolescence)
After puberty, the gift of more independence brings more responsibility. In return, the person feels the need to redefine (or define) who he/she is going to be and become. At this stage, the person begins to contemplate what s/he values or enjoys through school activities, by adapting peers attitudes or beliefs, by his/her faith practice, etc. to use as a platform or building blocks of one's core identity. Identity diffusion may occur if the child cannot find beliefs, values, or roles that fits him or her.

CONNECTION= In stage 5 "identity diffusion" may be from not choosing a specific, detailed, or strong identity stalling the development of a successful completion of the stages thru the lifespan. This may lead the person to become very passive and indecisive.

Neo-Erikson, James Marcia expanded on Erikson’s idea of identity diffusion. He believed there are more stages to identity development than identity and identity diffusion:

"Identity Achievements are individuals who have experienced a decision-making period and are pursuing self-chosen occupation and ideological goals. Foreclosures are persons who are also committed to occupational and ideological positions. but these have been parentally chosen rather than self-chosen. They show little or no evidence of "crisis."' Identity Diffusions are young people who have no set occupational or ideological direction, regardless of whether or not they may have experienced a decision-making period. Moratoriums are individuals who are currently struggling with occupational and/or ideological issues: they are in an identity crisis." (Marcia, 1980, p.111)

Foreclosures: A student goes to college for Social Work because his father is a Social Worker and everyone expects him to be one as well.
Moratoriums: A student realizes the classes for Social Work are no longer intriguing and is bored. She decideds to explore other majors. Generally this stage is accompanied with anxiety and uncertanity as a person searches for her identity.
Identity Diffusion: The student has stopped searching for a major (or identity) because of numerous failed attempts. He may take classes based on what classes his friends are taking because he feels lost and hopeless.
Identity Achievement: The student has gone through moratorium and accepts the major (or identity) she actively searched for and developed. She may have changed her major from Social Work to Zoology, or realized Social Work really was the career for her.

STAGE SIX: Identity and Solidarity vs. Isolation (Young Adulthood)
Now the adult develops intimate relationships with friends, lovers and self, which furthers the adult’s own development and personality. If one is rejected in this stage, s/he may risk forming negative views about intimate and retreat to isolation.

<--Example of the outcomes of Stage Six
STAGE SEVEN: Generativity vs. Stagnation (Middle Adulthood)
This stage involves giving back to society ‍through child rearing or dedicating one's life to leaving the earth and society a better place for future generations. If one does not partake in generativity besides being viewed as stagnant, s/he may also be perceived as selfish or pompous.
STAGE EIGHT: Integrity vs. Despair (Late Adulthood)
After progression through the stages the person ends his/her life reflecting on and accepting what did or did not happen. Generally, s/he is pleased with the life s/‍he ‍has lead. However, if s/he is regretful s/he will die in despair.

Methodologies For Testing Presence Of Various Stages:

  • Inventory of Psychosocial Balance (IPB, Domino & Affonso, 1990)‍. This measure was designed to assess all eight Eriksonian psychosocial stages.‍
  • Erikson Psychosocial Stage Inventory (EPSI; Rosenthal, Gurney, & Moore, 1981). This measure was designed to assess several stages of Eriksonian’s stages.
  • Inventory of Psychosocial Development (IPD; Constantinople, 1969). This measure assesses the first six stages of Eriksonian psychosocial stages. Even though this measurement was mostly utilized in this area, psychometric property and inconsistent factor structure were criticized (Domino & Affonso, 1990).
  • Assessing a single stage (Simmons, 1970; Tan, Kendis, Fine, & Porac, 1977).
  • Identity: Most measurement related to Eriksonian's stage were focused on this concept. The focus of identity measurement was generally on identity integration with identity confusion.

Critiques and the Current State of Erikson's Life Span Identity Development Theory

Erikson lacks an explanation of what continues to drive people from stage to stage. Some would argue parents influence and encourage their children to move to the next stage. Though this is a plausible explanation, it does not account for the person's continued drive to progress to the next stage after the person is old enough to make his or her own decisions. In most Western cultures, this age of indepence occurs around the age of 18, the end of Erikson's Stage Five: Adolescence; therefore the person would have an unexplained drive to carry him or her through three more stages of identity development.

Although there are some methodologies designed to empirically test Erikson's theory (as seen above), numerous parts of his theory cannot be tested empirically. Erikson developed his theory mainly through observations which "are laden with interpretations." (Miller, 2002, p.160)

Unfortunately for Erikson, his theory is becoming less applicable to the current world daily.
The Old-Old
For instance, Erikson's final stage, Stage Eight: Integrity vs. Despair, begins for a person at the age of 65. Erikson's concept of old, at the end of one's life, may have been around the age of 65 in the time period he developed his theory. However, today if one goes out into the community and begins asking workers, runners, shoppers, movie goers how old they are, the person will find many of the people giving their ages of 65 and above, but none of those people will seem near the end of their life. Currently, Erikson's Stage Eight would best fit those who fall under the term "Old-Old". The people who are "Old-Old" are 80 and above. (Suzman, Willis and Manton, 1992) The development of the "Old-Old" is not just relevant to those in the United States or in the Western world, "The possibility of dramatic changes in Japenese society is evidenced by the unprecedented levels of life expectancy observed in Japan...." (Suzman, Willis and Manton, 1992, p.8)

The "Young Old", as the age group of 65-80 has been coined, may be continuing Stage Seven: Generativity vs. Stagnation through child rearing grandchildren or their own young children, giving back to their community and world by volunteering or still working hard in their careers.
Young Adulthood
Although the age period given is still the same for Erikson's Stage Six: Young Adulthood (18-early 30s), the mind frames and views have changed drastically for those in the category. When Erikson first developed his theory, he felt those 18- early thirties should be looking for intimiate love and finding a life long occupation. In fact, he considered partial failure of the stage if the yound adult had not found intimiate love or an occupation. With the economy, young adults realize they may not work in the same field for 30 years as their preceding generations. Also, today, the average age of one's first marriage is older every year. In 1956, the median age for a woman to get married was 20.1 years old and for a man 22.5 years old. Fast forward 50 years to 2006, the median age for a woman to marry was 25.3 years old and a man 27.1 years old. Not only are people choosing to put off marriage until later in life, people are also reproducing in later years as well. In 2006, only 11% of 18-24 years old had children, 37% of 25-29 year olds had children and 57% of 30-35 year olds had children. (Komaie and Rumbaut, 2007, p.5)

Many conclude the increase of the median marriage age and people waiting to have children is due to the person wanting to establish a career before settling down. Erikson's Stage Seven: Generativity vs. Stagnation (mid-30s-64) states during this time people are settled and wanting to give back to the community by raising children or finding jobs to help leave the world a better place for the future generations. Yet Briddell, Flanagan, et al. (2006) have found generativity in young adults which, again outdates Erikson's original theory:

"With respect to social change and the polity, we report trends in youths’ commitment to goals that promote the common good, i.e., the importance they attach to making a contribution and being a leader in their community and of having a job where they can help others and do something worthwhile for society; their interest in current events and environmental awareness; and indicators of their participation in conventional and lifestyle politics, and volunteer work in their communities."

Fortunately for Erikson, he believed in a fluid identity development. He believed people had the opportunity to progress through stages quickly or regress through stages as they saw necessary for full completion of their identity development. Though people, today, may not progess through the stages at the age Erikson originally proposed, Erikson's stages are still relevant to our world today; at some point in one's life, a person will experience each of Erikson's stages.

To the Neo-Eriksonians wikipage