The 8 Stages of Human Development

The theory of psychosocial development created by Erik Erikson is one of the best-known personality theories. The theory differs from many others in that it addresses development across the entire lifespan, from birth through death.

At each stage, the individual deals with a conflict that serves as a turning point in development. When the conflict is resolved successfully, the person is able to develop the psychosocial quality associated with that particular stage of development. Learn about each psychosocial stage, including the conflict confronted and the major events that occur during each point of development.

Stage 1: Trust Versus Mistrust

Trust versus Mistrust is the first psychosocial stage
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Trust versus mistrust is the earliest psychosocial stage that occurs during the first year or so of a child's life. During this critical phase of development, an infant is utterly dependent upon his or her caregivers. When parents or caregivers respond to a child's needs in a consistent and caring manner, the child then learns to trust the world and the people around him. 

Stage 2: Autonomy Versus Shame and Doubt

Autonomy versus doubt
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The second psychosocial stage involves the conflict between autonomy and shame or doubt. As the child enters the toddler years, gaining a greater sense of personal control becomes increasingly important. Tasks such as learning how to use the toilet, selecting foods, and choosing toys are ways that children gain a greater sense of independence.

Stage 3: Initiative Versus Guilt

Initiative versus guilt
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The third psychosocial stage is known as initiative versus guilt and occurs between the ages of about three and five. This stage is centered on developing a sense of self-initiative. Children who are allowed and encouraged to engage in self-directed play emerge with a sense of strong initiative, while those who are discouraged may begin to feel a sense of guilt over their self-initiated activities.

Stage 4: Industry Versus Inferiority

Industry versus inferiority
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During middle childhood between the ages of about six and eleven, children enter the psychosocial stage known as industry versus inferiority. As children engage in social interaction with friends and academic activities at school, they begin to develop a sense of pride and accomplishment in their work and abilities.

Children who are praised and encouraged develop a sense of competence. Those who are discouraged are left with a sense of inferiority.

Stage 5: Identity Versus Confusion

Identity versus confusion
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In the fifth psychosocial stage is centered on identity versus role confusion. At this point in development, the formation of a personal identity becomes critical. During adolescence, teens explore different behaviors, roles, and identities.

Erikson believed that this stage was particularly crucial and that forging a strong identity serves as a basis for finding future direction in life. Those who find a sense of identity feel secure, independent, and ready to face the future, while those who remain confused may feel lost, insecure, and unsure of their place in the world.

Stage 6: Intimacy Versus Isolation

Intimacy versus isolation
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The sixth psychosocial stage is centered on intimacy versus isolation is focuses on forming intimate, loving relationships with other people. Dating, marriage, family, and friendships are important during the intimacy versus isolation stage, which lasts from approximately age 19 to 40.

By successfully forming loving relationships with other people, individuals are able to experience love and enjoy intimacy. Those who fail to form lasting relationships may feel isolated and alone.

Stage 7: Generativity Versus Stagnation

Generativity versus stagnation
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Once adults enter the generativity versus stagnation stage that occurs during middle adulthood, the psychosocial conflict becomes centered on the need to create or nurture things that will outlast the individual.

Raising a family, working, and contributing to the community are all ways that people develop a sense of purpose. Those who fail to find ways to contribute may feel disconnected and useless.

Stage 8: Integrity Versus Despair

Integrity versus despair
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The final psychosocial stage is known as integrity versus despair and it begins around the age of 65 and lasts until death. During this period of time, the individual looks back on his or her life. The major question during this stage is, "Did I live a meaningful life?"

Those who have will feel a sense of peace, wisdom, and fulfillment, even when facing death. For those who look back on life with bitterness and regret, feelings of despair may result.

Criticisms of Psychosocial Theory

One major criticism of the psychosocial stage theory is that these stages do not necessarily follow a sequential order. People can experience these developmental changes and challenges at different points in their lives.

For example, the challenges of intimacy versus isolation are not just restricted to the period of early adulthood; these are issues that can affect people all throughout life and even well into old age. Challenges to identity can also take place well outside of the teen years. People are growing, changing, and learning at all stages of life.

A Word From Verywell

It is important to remember that Erikson's theory of psychosocial development represents just one theoretical framework to describe how development takes place. While research has shown support for some aspects of the stages, such as the importance of involvement in work, relationships, and community, this does not mean that every aspect of the theory is a fact.

However, these stages can be a helpful way to think about how people change through life and some of the typical challenges that they may face at different points in their lives.

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