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Erik Erikson's Eight Psychosocial Stages

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Young People
Wordcount: 2783 words Published: 17th Jul 2017

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This paper explores the developmental attributes physically, cognitively and socially of two children, one male and one female, ages five and ten, respectively. This writer will identify the socio-economic status (SEC), age, gender, ethnic background, and family demographics of each of these children. The two children this writer has chosen come from similar living situations (i.e. they both live with single mothers), but have vast differences in their physical, cognitive, and social development. This paper will examine Erik Erikson’s Eight Psychosocial Stages as explained by Dacey, Fiore, Travers (2009) in an effort to explain the noticeable differences in the two children that this writer has chosen to observe. These two children were chosen because they are both being raised in a single parent household, which is something that this writer can relate to, as this writer is a single mother. This writer will also explore the Cognitive Development Approach theories of Jean Piaget and Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Learning in an attempt to further explain the significant differences in these two children.

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Childhood Observation

Theories on Human Development

Many psychologists have different perspectives when it comes to analyzing theories on human development. For the purposes of these observations, this writer has chosen to take a closer look at the views of three well known psychologists. The psychological theories of development that this paper will explore are the theories of Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Albert Bandura.

First, this writer will discuss Erik Erikson and his Psychosocial Theory of Development. It is a widely accepted belief that, “Erik Erikson was the chief proponent of a psychosocial theory of development (2009).” This writer believes that Erikson had a great understanding of the human life process. Erik Erikson is best known for his ideas on Stages of Psychosocial Development and Identity Crisis. Erikson broke down the progression of human life into a series of eight stages, each of these stages being marked by a crisis that must be resolved so that the individual can move on to the next stage. It makes perfect sense that everyone should overcome a crisis in order to successfully move on to the next stage in their life. In a seminal work, “Erikson used the term crisis as a developmental term – that is a time of increased vulnerability and heightened potential (Erikson, 1968).” Erikson also contributed to our understanding of personality as it developed and shaped over the course of the lifespan. While we must combine the theories of many psychologists in order to understand the development of humans through the lifespan, Erik Erikson’s views on development seem to be the ones with which most people can closely relate.

Now, we will move our attention to Jean Piaget, a man who was well ahead of his time. It has been said that, “Jean Piaget was among the first researchers to study normal intellectual development (2009).” Jean Piaget is credited as being one of the most significant psychologists of the twentieth century. Piaget focused his attention on the roles that cognitive mechanisms play in development. Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development consist of four stages: Sensorimotor, Preoperational, Concrete operational, and Formal operational. Piaget’s first stage is the Sensorimotor stage, which lasts from birth to about two years of age. During the Sensorimotor stage, the “infant uses senses and motor abilities to understand the world, beginning with reflexes and ending with complex combinations of Sensorimotor skills (http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/piaget.html).” Piaget’s second stage of Cognitive Development is the Preoperational stage, which lasts from two to seven years of age. It is during this stage that children are able to make use of symbols and rapid growth of language occurs. The third stage of Piaget’s Cognitive Development is the Concrete operational stage, which lasts from seven to eleven years of age. In this stage, the child can reason about physical objects. The final stage of Piaget’s Cognitive Development is the Formal operational stage, which occurs from eleven years of age and up. During the Cognitive Development stage, “Piaget believed that abstract thinking leads to reasoning with more complex symbols. In this stage we become increasingly competent of adult-style thinking (http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/piaget.html).”

Lastly, the writer would like to discuss Albert Bandura and Social Cognitive Learning. Bandura’s Social Cognitive Learning theory suggests that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. For instance, “The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation (http://www.learning-theories.com/social-learning-theory-bandura.html).” As Bandura and Walters (1963) noted, “children often do not do what adults tell them to do but rather what they see adults do, hence learning by observation.” There is much to be gained in the area of Social Cognitive Learning by observing others. That is, “By observing others, children may acquire new responses, including socially appropriate behaviors (2009).” Bandura’s term for observational learning is modeling. In order for effective modeling to take place, there are four conditions that must be present; these conditions include attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. That is, “Social learning theory explains human behavior in terms of continuous reciprocal interaction between cognitive, behavioral, and environmental influences (http://www.learning-theories.com/social-learning-theory-bandura.html).”


This writer will begin by describing the subjects of her observations. For this exercise, the researcher used her son, Aidan, and, Samantha, the daughter of her friend, both of which she has known since birth. Aidan is a 5-year-old, white male with no siblings. He is raised in a single parent household and has no contact with his father. Aidan and his mother live in a very large house with the subject’s grandfather on several acres of farm land. Aidan has extensive contact with his grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins, and close family friends that are considered ‘family.’ Up until recently, Aidan also had extremely close contact and a wonderfully close relationship with his grandmother and great-grandfather, both of whom have passed away within the last two years. In classifying the socio-economic status from which Aidan comes, this writer would describe it as a middle class socio-economic status. Aidan also attends private school with a very small class size. Thus he is privy to more one-on-one contact with his teacher, which is something that may not be available to children attending public schools.

The second subject that the writer observed is, Samantha, who is a 10-year-old girl, with one male sibling (age 4). She is being raised by her single mother and has never had any contact with her father. Samantha lives in a lower-middle class neighborhood with her mother and younger brother. Before moving into her current home, Samantha grew up in an income based housing complex. Samantha’s mother works full time in order to support her two children. Because of her mother’s busy work schedule, Samantha spends most of her time with her maternal grandparents. Samantha is of a lower socio-economic status than the other subject of this paper, attends public school and seems to have a hard time socializing with her classmates and teachers. She also appears to struggle with anger issues and has a rather severe lack of self-confidence.

Given the observations on the subjects above, the writer will now explore the developmental theories of Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Albert Bandura, respectively. First we will begin with Erik Erikson and his Psychosocial Theories of Development. Aidan, the researcher’s first subject, appears to be on track with all of Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages, within his age range. For instance, “In Erickson’s first stage, which is by far the most important, infants should develop a sense of basic trust (2009).” In Aidan’s case, this stage was successfully completed due to him being on a set schedule and being surrounded by warmth, care, consistency, and discipline. Though he faced a multitude of health problems during this phase of his development, the love and warmth that was bestowed upon him enabled him to successfully complete Erik Erikson’s first stage. Erikson’s second Psychosocial stage, Autonomy versus shame and doubt, “takes place during early childhood and is focused on children developing a greater sense of personal control (http://psychology.about.com/od/psychosocialtheories/a/psychosocial.htm)”. Important events associated with this stage of Psychosocial Development include gaining more control over food choices, children wanting to dress themselves and choose their own clothing, toilet training, and control of one’s body functions. Aidan was very insistent about doing these things during this phase of his development. Interestingly enough, he displayed some of these behaviors during Erickson’s first stage of Psychosocial Development. For example, Aidan was potty trained by the time he was 18 months old, chose his own clothes, and began trying to dress himself. This brings us to Erikson’s third stage of Psychosocial Development, Initiative versus Guilt. This phase takes place during the preschool/nursery school years and is marked by “children beginning to assert their power and control over the world by directing play and other social interaction (http://psychology.about.com/od/psychosocialtheories/a/psychosocial_2.htm).” Manipulation of surroundings are prevalent in this stage of a child’s development, as “they are building on the ability to control themselves, children now acquire some influence over others in the family (2009).” This is the phase of development that Aidan is in currently, and he is definitely an assertive little boy who likes to direct play and “be in charge.” Aidan can be manipulative in certain situations, such as, if mommy says no, he will immediately go ask his granddaddy. Overall, this researcher feels that Aidan has successfully completed all of Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial stages thus far.

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Now, we will discuss the researcher’s second subject, Samantha. Upon the researcher’s observations, Samantha was unsuccessful in completing the Basic trust versus mistrust phase. This writer believes that this may be due to caregivers who were inconsistent, emotionally unavailable, or rejecting. The afore mentioned variables could very well have contributed to feelings of mistrust in Samantha as an infant. With that stated, “Failure to develop trust will result in fear and a belief that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable (http://psychology.about.com/od/psychosocialtheories/a/psychosocial.htm).” Samantha’s mother had her at a very young age and may have been ready to deal with the complete change of life that comes with bringing a child into the world. Because of the unsuccessful completion of this first and most important stage in Samantha’s development, she exhibited signs of inadequacy and self-doubt during the Autonomy versus Shame, Doubt phase, thus meaning that she was unsuccessful in completing the second stage as well. When Samantha reached the third stage of Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory of Development, there seemed to be a marked improvement in her behavior, however she still displayed characteristics of a child who was very hard to deal with. It was at this time that she was enrolled in a stable preschool where she remained until it was time for her to start kindergarten. This researcher believes that this was probably the stability that Samantha was longing for and so desperately needed. Before being enrolled in preschool, it was not uncommon for her to be subjected to her mother’s various relationships, which often were unsuccessful. Since Samantha has never had a “father”, she always became easily attached to these various men. This leads this researcher to believe that this may be an underlying reason for Samantha’s lack of trust and inability to fit in with others. At this point, Samantha has now moved into Erikson’s fourth stage of Psychosocial Theory of Development, Industry & Inferiority. For instance, “Children expand their horizons beyond the family and begin to explore the neighborhood (2009).” In Samantha’s case, she can best be described as a recluse. From the moment she gets home from school, she doesn’t emerge from her room until it is dinnertime. This researcher feels that this is certainly not a healthy environment, as there is no communication between mother and daughter. At times, Samantha seems to be very resentful of her mother. In this researcher’s opinion, Samantha has not successfully completed any of Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development thus far.

The writer will now explore Jean Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development. As stated earlier, “Jean Piaget believed that cognitive development means that we form more sophisticated cognitive structures as we pass through four stages: the Sensorimotor, the Preoperational, the Concrete operational, and the Formal operational (2009).” The Sensorimotor stage, which begins at birth and goes to about 2 years of age, is marked by an infant’s ability to use their bodies to form cognitive structures. The researcher’s first subject, Aidan, had various complications that required physical and occupational therapy, as well as neck surgery all before two years of age. Due to these complications, he was somewhat delayed in moving from the Sensorimotor stage to the Preoperational stage. Once he got all of the physical and occupational therapies and neck surgery behind him, he rapidly moved into the Preoperational stage. During this stage, children ages 2 to 7 years, are able to make use of symbols and there is a rapid growth in language. Aidan, being the researcher’s son, was taught sign language from three months of age until he was about 2 years old. The reasoning for this was so that he would be able to communicate with others before he was able to talk, but when the time for rapid growth in language came, Aidan preferred to use sign language over verbalization. After a few talks and much encouragement, Aidan soon began to chatter away.

Samantha, the writer’s second subject, flourished throughout the Sensorimotor stage and Preoperational stage. She was a very active little girl with a great imagination and amazing verbal skills. It is the Concrete operational stage that Samantha struggles with. It is during this stage that accommodation occurs. “Accommodation is Piaget’s term to describe the manner by which cognitive structures change (2009).” Samantha seems to be unable to make rational judgments, which in turn causes her to be very manipulative. This researcher believes that this goes back to a very lax parenting style in which Samantha is treated as more of a burden than the gift that she is.

The final theory to be discussed is Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Learning Theory. Simply stated, Bandura believed that “we obtain information from observing other people, things, and events (2009).” Bandura stresses the importance of modeling in observational learning. In Aidan’s case, he has been surrounded by the positive influence of modeling. He is a polite, however sometimes rambunctious little boy who knows how to use his manners. Children are like sponges, always observing and soaking up everything around them. This can sometimes lead to bad behaviors or socially appropriate behaviors. In Samantha’s case, she is a product of her surroundings. This researcher believes that due to her stressful home life, Samantha only knows to act out in order to get attention. The unfortunate things about this is that the attention she gains from acting out is never the attention she desperately needs.


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