Comparing Erikson's vs Freud's Theories

Sigmund Freud's psychosexual theory and Erik Erikson's psychosocial theory are two well-known theories of development. While he was influenced by Freud's ideas, Erikson's theory differed in a number of important ways.

Like Freud, Erikson recognized the importance of the unconscious on development. He also believed that personality develops in a series of predetermined stages. Unlike Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages, Erikson’s theory describes the impact of social experience across the whole lifespan.

Let's compare and contrast these two theories by looking at some of the key similarities and differences at each stage.

Birth to 1 Year

Infant with mother
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The two theories of development both focus on the importance of early experiences, but there are notable differences between Freud's and Erikson's ideas. Freud centered on the importance of feeding, while Erikson was more concerned with how responsive caretakers are to a child's needs.

Freud's Theory

The first stage of psychosexual development is known as the oral stage. At this point in development, a child's primary source of pleasure is through the mouth via sucking, eating, and tasting.

Problems with this stage can result in what Freud referred to as an oral fixation.

Erikson's Theory

Trust vs. mistrust is the first stage in Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development. During this stage, children learn to either trust or mistrust their caregivers.

The care that adults provide determines whether children develop this sense of trust in the world around them. Children who do not receive adequate and dependable care may develop a sense of mistrust of others and the world.

Ages 1 to 3 Years

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While there are a number of differences between Erikson's and Freud's ideas, their theories both focus on how children develop a sense of independence and mastery.

Freud's Theory

The second stage of psychosexual development is known as the anal stage.​ In this stage, children gain a sense of mastery and competence by controlling bladder and bowel movements.

Children who succeed at this stage develop a sense of capability and productivity. Those who have problems at this stage may develop an anal fixation. As adults, they might be excessively orderly or messy.

Erikson's Theory

Autonomy versus shame and doubt is the second stage of psychosocial development. During this stage, children become more mobile. They develop self-sufficiency by controlling activities such as eating, toilet training, and talking.

Children who are supported in this stage become more confident and independent. Those who are criticized or overly controlled are left doubting themselves.

Ages 3 to 6 Years

Young kids playing together
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During the preschool and early elementary years, Freud's theory was much more concerned with the role of the libido while Erikson's theory was more focused on how children interact with parents and peers.

Freud's Theory

The third stage of psychosexual development is known as the phallic stage. In this stage, the libido's energy is focused on the genitals. Children become aware of their anatomical sex differences which leads boys to experience the Oedipus complex while girls experience the Electra complex.

By the end of this stage, they begin to identify with their same-sex parent.

Erikson's Theory

Erikson's third stage of psychosocial development is the initiative versus guilt stage. In this stage, children begin to take more control over their environment. They begin to interact with other children and develop their interpersonal skills.

Those who are successful at this stage develop a sense of purpose while those who struggle are left with feelings of guilt.

Ages 7 to 11 Years

Kids playing with friends
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Freud believed that this age served as more of a transitional period between childhood and adolescence. Erikson, on the other hand, believed that kids continue to forge a sense of independence and competence.

Freud's Theory

The fourth stage of psychosexual development is known as the latent period. In this stage, the libido's energy is suppressed and children focus more on other activities such as school, friends, and hobbies.

Freud believed this stage was important for developing social skills and self-confidence.

Erikson's Theory

Industry versus inferiority is the second stage of psychosocial development. Children develop a sense of competence by mastering new skills, like writing and reading on their own.

Kids who succeed at this stage develop pride in their accomplishments while those who struggle may be left feeling incompetent.

Adolescence

Teenagers taking selfies
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Adolescence played a critical role in both Freud's and Erikson's theories of development. In both theories, teens begin to forge their own sense of identity.

Freud's Theory

The fifth stage of psychosexual development is known as the genital stage. It is the time when adolescents begin to explore romantic relationships. According to Freud, the goal of this stage is to develop a sense of balance between all the areas of life.

Those who have successfully completed the earlier stages are now warm, caring, and well-adjusted.

Erikson's Theory

The fifth stage of Erikson's theory of psychosocial development is the identity versus role confusion stage. It occurs during adolescence, from about 12 to 18 years.

During this stage, adolescents develop a personal identity and a sense of self. Teens explore different roles, attitudes, and identities as they develop a sense of self.

With proper encouragement, children will emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self and what they want to accomplish. Those who struggle will remain confused about who they are and their place in society.

Adulthood

Happy adult couple
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Freud's theory focused exclusively on development between birth and the teen years, implying that personality is largely set in stone by early childhood.

Freud's Theory

Freud's theory largely focuses on the period between birth and adolescence, implying that personality is largely set in stone by early childhood. According to Freud, the genital stage lasts throughout adulthood. The goal is to develop a balance between all areas of life.

Erikson's Theory

Erikson, on the other hand, took a lifespan approach, believing that development continues even in old age. His theory includes the three additional stages that span adulthood:

A Word From Verywell

Freud's and Erikson's theories of development share a number of important similarities. Both stressed the importance of social experiences and recognized the role that childhood plays in shaping adult personality.

Unlike Freud's psychosexual approach, Erikson's psychosocial stage theory took a more expansive view of development, encompassing childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. While Freud believed that development was largely complete fairly early on, Erikson felt that it was a process that continued throughout the entire course of a person's life.

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Article Sources
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  2. Basic Trust Versus Mistrust. American Psychological Association. Dictionary of Psychology.

  3. Anal Stage. American Psychological Association. Dictionary of Psychology.

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  6. Initiative versus Guilt. American Psychological Association. Dictionary of Psychology.

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Additional Reading
  • Newman, BM & Newman, PR. Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning; 2017.
  • Schaffer, DR & Kipp, K. Developmental Psychology: Childhood & Adolescence. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; 2010.