Theory of Psychosocial Development

A Paper On Theory

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Psychology Research & Review

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The Theories of Psychosocial Developement

Erik Erikson focused on the socializing of children, instead of cognitive development, believing children develop in a predetermined order. He was interested in how socialization affects a child's sense of self. The Theory of Psychosocial Development has eight different stages and every stage has two possible outcomes. Acquiring a healthy personality and thriving relations with others comes when successfully completing a stage. However, failing a stage makes it more difficult to complete further stages, resulting in an unhealthy personality and sense of self. Nevertheless, these stages can be successfully resolved later. These are the stages of his theory and their description. (Van Wagner, 2006)

Erikson's first stage is known as Trust vs. Mistrust. This stage is from birth to one year and is the most essential stage in a child's life. This is when a child learns the ability to trust others. The child learns that he will be given food when he is hungry or his diaper will be changed when it is dirty. However, the ability to learn trust is based on the caretaker's consistency and quality. Developing trust successfully, will assure the child confidence, and enable the child to feel safe and secure. Inconsistent and emotionally unavailable caretakers contribute mistrust feelings. If unable to complete this stage successfully, inability for the child to trust will result and the child's world, filled with unpredictability. An example of success in this stage can be seen in the movie, 'Three Men and a Baby' with the men taking care of an infant who learns to trust them over time.
The second stage is identified as Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt. From one through three years of age, independence is asserted and there is a greater sense of personal control. Walking, choosing toys and toilet training is a vital piece of this stage. Completing this stage means a feeling of freedom, increasing confidence and a secure feeling. Those who fail are left with a sense of self-doubt, low self-esteem, and inadequacy. (Heffner, n.d.) The child in the movie 'Look Who's Talking' shows this sense of freedom and control as he feels free to wander outside and walk around town on his own.

Stage three is Initiative vs. Guilt. Between ages three to six (preschool years), children assert themselves more frequently, asserting power and control of their environment. They orchestrate their play and other social endeavors. Being successful at this stage makes a child feel capable of leading others. If failure occurs on this step, there is a sense of guilt, lack of initiative, and self-doubt. In the cartoon, 'Rugrats,' Angelica is confident and assertive on the playground as she becomes the bossy leader of the children in the sandbox.

Erikson labeled stage four Industry vs. Inferiority. From age 6 to puberty (early school years), accomplishments and abilities help children develop a sense of pride. At this stage teachers and parents commending and encouraging children helps them develop feelings of competence and they believe in the skills they are developing and achieving their goals. If teachers and parents restrict encouragement, the child starts to feel inferior; their own abilities doubted and may not reach their potentials. (Heffner, n.d.) This encouragement can be seen in the television show 'Family Ties' that shows a strong family with parents that encourage their children and take pride in their accomplishments.

Stage five is known as Identity vs. Role Confusion. Adolescence starts the transition from child to adult, which is an important stage. Looking at the future in terms of a profession, housing, relationships, and a family, they are also exploring their possibilities and beginning to form their own identity upon exploration. Encouragement and reinforcement will carry these children through this stage where they will conclude this stage having control, independence, and a strong sense of self. Without the encouragement, they can be confused, insecure, and unsure about their future, beliefs, and themselves. 'The Cosby Show' was an example of strong parental role models that showed their children a successful marriage and good work ethic. The children were encouraged to get an education and to work hard for what they wanted to accomplish.

The sixth stage is Intimacy vs. Isolation. During early adulthood we explore private relationships and intimately sharing ourselves with others. Successful achievement of this stage will lead to long-term commitment and calm relationships. Avoiding relationships, intimacy, and dedication will lead to lonesomeness, seclusion, and depression. (Van Wagner, 2006) An example of this is seen in the television show 'Home Improvement' when teenage sons were taught to talk out their problems and to express their feelings with each other.

Stage seven is recognized as Generativity vs. Stagnation. During adulthood, we put together our lives, family and careers are our main focal point. Being active in your community, home and organizations will make you succeed in this stage. Failing to manage your skills feels as if you are detached, stagnant, and unproductive. In the television show 'Happy Days,' the father is focused on family and work while the mother takes care of the family and the home. Both parents are also involved in the community as well as the lives of their children.

The eighth and final stage is Ego Integrity vs. Despair. Growing older and becoming senior citizens, our productivity slows down. Recalling our accomplishments, we can develop integrity as we view ourselves as leading a life of success. Feeling remorse about the past, not accomplishing set goals, we become dissatisfied and despair develops, this leads to depression and misery. An example of this is seen in the movie 'The Bucket List.' Two older men learn they are dying and realize there are many things they have not done in their lives. They make a list of those things and attempt to accomplish them before they die.

In analyzing the study 'Egocentrism in Older Adults: Piaget's Three Mountains Task Revisited' by Lorraine McDonald and Ian Stuart-Hamilton, one must first clearly define two specific things. First, what exactly was Piaget's Three Mountains Task? And second, what exactly is meant by the term 'egocentrism.' It's probably easier to entertain the second question first. Egocentrism, put simply, is a belief that everyone else shares your views, your concepts, and your ideas. It is the 'inability' to understand that there are differing views other than your own (Egocentrism, 1998).

In Piaget's Three Mountains Task, researcher Jean Piaget set about to prove that children were egocentric. Along with his colleague Barbel Inhelder, the two devised a test to establish this theory. The test, known as the Three Mountains Task, was relatively simple ' in theory. The child was positioned in front of a table-top model of three mountains. The child was then asked to select an image showing the view he or she can see from a set of substitutes. Invariably, the child does this correctly, indicating that he or she understands the concept. The child is then shown a doll sitting at another position at the table. He or She is then asked to choose the view the doll can see from an assortment of alternative pictures. Children under the age of seven typically chose the view that they, themselves, saw. This indicated that they had no concept of others point of views. Therefore, it was concluded, children of this age were indeed egocentric (Piaget & Inhelder, 1948/1956). It was children in the age range of 7-12, however, that were able to define an alternative point of view and appreciate that others had a different perspective. Interestingly, it is this age range that very closely resembles the age range defined by Erikson's Theory as the Industry vs. Inferiority stage.

In the study by McDonald and Stuart-Hamilton, the two researchers decided to use the Three Mountains Task not with children, but with adults. The test was set up quite similar to the original, but with a few small changes. For example, instead of doll being positioned at the table, there was a picture of a farmer. This was done so as not to make any of the test subjects feel as if they were being subjected to something 'juvenile' (McDonald & Stuart-Hamilton, 2002). The results were somewhat surprising.

It was determined that older adults had trouble with the test. Some critics of Piaget simply believe that the test is too hard; too hard at least for the subjects he was examining. What McDonald and Stuart-Hamilton found was that adults had trouble with the test for two reasons. One was that they simply erred when giving an answer. They understood the concept that was being asked of them, they simply lacked the spatial skills to answer correctly. The second reason was more interesting. It was determined that older adults really are egocentric. They answered incorrectly due to a breakdown in processing and simply returned a 'default' answer, much the same way a child would (McDonald & Stuart-Hamilton, 1996).

So how does this compare to Erikson's theory? Only slightly, it would seem. Each stage of Erikson's theory focuses on successes and failures. While success and failure is important in the Three Mountains Task, their importance only pertains to establishing the subject's perspective. Erikson was much more concerned with the subject's emotional stability in regards to their achievements or lack thereof.

It's hard to argue with the results achieved here. It's possible there is more room for study ' that the Three Mountain Task is indeed too difficult. However, it seems certain that older adults do regress to some level of egocentrism.

In 'The Home Environments of Children in the United States Part II', studies scrutinize how happenings in an American child's atmosphere affect their development. The studies include children of different racial backgrounds as well as poverty status from birth to age 13 (Bradley, Corwyn, Burchinal, McAdoo & Garcia Coll, 2001).

One study that was conducted analyzed the effects of spanking children. During this study a relationship was discussed between spanking and behavioral problems. The lessons learned were that African-American and European-American children who were spanked as a punishment had significantly more behavior problems in school than Hispanic children who were spanked. The reason that Hispanic children had less behavioral problems was because the traditional Hispanic household consists of many family members, many who have a hand in the raising of a child. In a traditional African-American and European-American household parents are generally the only authority figures at home. As a child grows older, tensions tend to grow between the child and their parents.

When authority is distributed among several family members, as it is in a typical Hispanic household, a child is less likely to act up in spite of their parents (Bradley, et al, 2001). The children in this study follow the stages of Erikson's theory. Children rebel against their parents in different ways and at different stages of their lives. The difference between the ethnic groups shows that the environment in which we live can change the degree to which we respond to stimuli.
The study 'Piaget on Childhood' discusses Jean Piaget's theories on how children within certain age groups learn and the relationship that age has with how a particular age group and mentality view the world. It further discusses how children re-examine and adjust their thinking based upon new information, thus changing and evolving 'their' thought process in regards to the world in which they live, which is dependent upon cognitive abilities. (Patient Teaching, 1990).

According to Piaget, there are four stages in which the most changes occur in young mental development. The first is sensory-motor, which takes place from birth until two years of age. (Patient Teaching, 1990). During this stage of development, a child forms 'their' view of the world based upon sensations and movement. (Patient Teaching, 1990). This time period is when the child begins to learn that there is separation between himself and his/her environment. (Patient Teaching, 1990).

The second stage, according to Piaget, is the preoperative stage which takes place from the time the child begins to express themselves through verbal communication and roughly seven years of age. During this stage, the child begins verbally communicating and utilizing symbols for the representation of objects within his/her environment. However, during this stage, the child will have difficulty in realizing that others do not perceive things exactly as they do, thus the child will take information and alter it to coincide with their 'view of the world'. (Patient Teaching, 1990).
The next two stages are concrete and formal observations. The concrete stage occurs from about first grade until early adolescence. During this stage, the child begins to make rational judgments about information and environmental factors and has evolved past the point of manipulating information to coincide with 'their' perspective of the world. (Patient Teaching, 1990). The formal operations stage occurs during adolescence and is the final form of cognition. (Patient Teaching, 1990). At this stage, the child/person no longer needs 'concrete' objects in order to rationalize; they can now utilize deductive and hypothetical reasoning for problem solving. Also, during this stage, the child/person has developed the ability to view the world in which they live through a variety of perspectives, to which previously they were incapable of. (Patient Teaching, 1990).

Through Piaget's studies, he concluded that children are active thinkers that are continually striving to obtain a better understanding of the world in which they live through cognitive development. (Siegler & Ellis, 1996). Through these developmental stages, a child will evolve from an extremely egocentric view to a perceptual understanding of themselves and the world in which they and others exist. (Siegler & Ellis, 1996).

Piaget's theories on childhood differ greatly from Erikson's, as Piaget's theories are based on cognition rather than social factors as illustrated by Erikson. Piaget's theories of mental development weaken Erikson's theory, for through Piaget's studies it is proven that children develop these set cognitive abilities during specific age periods. Thus, a healthy mind develops and learns in a specific order. However, with the proper introduction of stimuli, one's mind may develop faster or more efficient than others. Erikson focuses more on social factors that influence development and further believes that there are numerous possible outcomes that can occur during stages of development which are based on the social interactions of the child.

In conclusion, cognitive development and its stages are relevant and an established pattern in which both children and adults learn and evolve. However, Erikson's theories on social encounters are also extremely relevant to how one develops and views the world. Basically, the pattern or cognitive stages in which one learns is present in every individual; however, social factors, encounters whether positive or negative, have a massive influence on how an individual will learn and perceive the 'actual' world in which they live.

Bradley, R., Corwyn, R., Burchinal, M., McAdoo, H., & Garcia Coll, C. (2001). The Home Environments of Children in the United States Part II: Relations with Behavioral Development through Age Thirteen. Child Development, 72(6), 1868. Retrieved November 7, 2008, from Academic Search Premier Database.
Egocentrism (1998). A Dictionary of Sociology. The Oxford University Press. Retrieved
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Heffner, D. C. (n.d.). Psychology 101: Chapter 3: Personality Development. Retrieved
November 2, 2008, from All Psych Online: The Virtual Psychology Classroom:
McDonald, L. & Stuart-Hamilton, I. (2002). Egocentrism in Older Adults: Piaget's three
Mountains Task Revisited, Educational Gerontology, 28, 35-44.
Piaget's Cognitive Stages, (1990). Retrieved November 8, 2008 from University of Hawaii Honolulu Community College Website:
Siegler, R., Ellis, S., (1996). Piaget on Childhood. Psychological Science. 7, (211-215). American Psychological Society.
Van Wagner, K. (2006, October 24). Psychology. Retrieved November 2, 2008, from

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