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Stages of Development

Stages Of Psychosocial Development

Like those who have studied cognitive development, researchers in the field of psychosocial development have also developed stage theories to understand and explain children's development in this domain. By far the most notable and global stage theory of social development comes from the work of Erik Erikson. A psychoanalyst by training, his stage model had roots in Freudian theory but took as its points of departure a lifespan approach to understanding development and a recognition of the impact of culture and society on development.

Erikson characterized social development as proceeding through eight distinct stages that cover the entire lifespan; these stages are summarized briefly in Table 1. Within each stage, a central crisis presents itself. Typically this crisis relates to some important issue confronting the individual at that point of development. Erikson identified a positive and a negative possible outcome for each stage. If development is to proceed favorably, each stage must be resolved in such a way that the positive outweighs the negative. Otherwise, the individual carries the burden of that negatively resolved stage throughout life, constantly facing it but perhaps eventually resolving it in a more favorable direction.

Erikson also recognized that culture and society play an important, ever-expanding role in directing the course of development and determining the outcome of each crisis. At first, the infant's "society" consists primarily of the mother. As the child grows and goes out into the world, however, that circle of influence is expanded to include other adults, peers, and social institutions such as school, churches, and political structures.

In Erikson's theory, the individual is constantly in search of an identity. People seek to define themselves at each stage of development; that definition varies with the stage, but in the best-case scenario there is always a positive "reinvention" of the self such that the person decides that he or she is inherently good, worthy, capable, and lovable. Development in one stage is influenced by the positive or negative outcomes of all the previous stages, much in the same way that Piaget's successive stages of cognitive development were thought to build upon previous stages. Thus, for example, in the scenario where all crises are resolved positively, babies in their first year of life (through experiences with the mother or other primary caretaker) learn to trust that their needs will be met. This gives them the courage and confidence to go out and explore the world once they are able to crawl or walk away from the mother, and to do things for themselves. With support and success in these efforts, by age four or so they develop a desire to go after personal goals, confident that they will succeed in whatever they try. Adolescence marks a special crisis period in Erikson's theory, as this is a time when children face adulthood and seek to define what kind of adult they will be (in Erikson's terms, they face an "identity crisis"). Armed once more with the confidence that they are good, competent, and worthy people, young adults are able to open up their deepest, most vulnerable sides to loved ones, building intimate relationships. They turn their efforts to the good of society, and, in old age, take stock of their lives with satisfaction at their accomplishments and contributions. Thus Erikson's theory, like Piaget's, is a perfect example of a stage model of development. Each stage has its own unique features and issues, yet looking across the stages one can easily trace the impact of previous stages on subsequent development and outcomes.

Additional topics

Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 7Stages of Development - Stages Of Cognitive Development, Stages Of Psychosocial Development, Summary