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University of Wyoming

Erik Erikson

Theory of Phychosocial Development


Based on the views of Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson's basic concepts center on eight turning points or steps of individual development. Each step is tied to a particular chronological period of time. Each stage starts with a new issue that involves a choice between two opposites- one good and one bad. Erikson referred to the relationship between stages as the 'epigenetic principle'. This principle stated that each "stage of the life span there emerges a new characteristic that is dependent for its development on the successful resolution of the crisis posed by the previous stage; in turn, this new characteristic becomes an essential building block for the stage that follows it" (Scarr and Vander Zanden).

Assumptions about Learning:

Erikson proposed that people grow through experiencing a series of crisis in their lives. He believed that individuals needed to achieve trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, their own identity, generatively, integrity and acceptance. Erikson viewed development as a lifelong process.

Brief History:

Erik Erikson (June 15, 1902-May 12,1994) was a German American psychoanalyst. Initially he studied in Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute where in 1927, he was psychoanalyzed by Anna Freud. Erik moved to the United States in 1933 and worked at a variety of institutions including Harvard University (1934-1935, 1960-1970), Yale University (1936-1939), and the University of California at Berkley (1939-1951). Erikson was one of the first psychoanalysis that researched both the abnormal and the well-adjusted person and their reactions to society. In later years, Erikson went on to write psychohistory. He studied the lives of such men as Martin Luther King Jr. And Gandhi and wrote books that chronicled their developmental journeys. Erikson's publications included: Childhood and Society (1950), Young Man Luther (1958), Gandhi's Truth (1969) Pulitzer Prize winner, and Vital Involvement in Old Age (1986).

Major Proponents/Critics:

Erikson emphasized the emotional dynamics of social development for individuals. He believed that learning society's rules was not a conditioned or imitated response, but a part of the development of an individual. Many psychologists disagreed with him. Many of these scientists believed that social development was a result of conditioning or modeling.

Major Tenets:

Erikson's main contribution was to link psychoanalysis theories to human development and the societal influences. He was a strong believer that social environmental variables were a major influence on personality development.