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Developmental psychology seeks to answer two big questions about heredity and environment:. Nature refers to the process of biological maturation inheritance and maturation. One of the reasons why the development of human beings is so similar is because our common specifies heredity DNA guides all of us through many of the same developmental changes at about the same points in our lives. Nurture refers to the impact of the environment, which involves the process of learning through experiences. Stability implies personality traits present during present during infancy endure throughout the lifespan.

In contrast, change theorists argue that personalities are modified by interactions with family, experiences at school, and acculturation. This capacity for change is called plasticity. For example, Rutter discovered than somber babies living in understaffed orphanages often become cheerful and affectionate when placed in socially stimulating adoptive homes.

Developmental psychology as a discipline did not exist until after the industrial revolution when the need for an educated workforce led to the social construction of childhood as a distinct stage in a person's life. The notion of childhood originates in the Western world and this is why the early research derives from this location.

Initially developmental psychologists were interested in studying the mind of the child so that education and learning could be more effective. Developmental changes during adulthood is an even more recent area of study. This is mainly due to advances in medical science, enabling people to live to an old age.

Charles Darwin is credited with conducting the first systematic study of developmental psychology. In he published a short paper detailing the development of innate forms of communication based on scientific observations of his infant son, Doddy. However, the emergence of developmental psychology as a specific discipline can be traced back to when Wilhelm Preyer a German physiologist published a book entitled The Mind of the Child. In the book Preyer describes the development of his own daughter from birth to two and a half years.

Importantly, Preyer used rigorous scientific procedure throughout studying the many abilities of his daughter. In Preyer's publication was translated into English, by which time developmental psychology as a discipline was fully established with a further 47 empirical studies from Europe, North America and Britain also published to facilitate the dissemination of knowledge in the field. Erikson's biography lists more books. Various terms are used to describe Erikson's model, for example Erikson's biopsychosocial or bio-psycho-social theory bio refers to biological, which in this context means life ; Erikson's human development cycle or life cycle, and variations of these.

All refer to the same eight stages psychosocial theory, it being Erikson's most distinct work and remarkable model. The word 'psychosocial' is Erikson's term, effectively from the words psychological mind and social relationships. Erikson believed that his psychosocial principle is genetically inevitable in shaping human development.

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It occurs in all people. He also referred to his theory as 'epigenesis' and the 'epigenetic principle', which signified the concept's relevance to evolution past and future and genetics. Erikson explained his use of the word 'epigenesis' thus: " In Erikson's theory, Epigenetic therefore does not refer to individual genetic make-up and its influence on individual development.

This was not central to Erikson's ideas.


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Erikson, like Freud, was largely concerned with how personality and behaviour is influenced after birth - not before birth - and especially during childhood. In the 'nature v nurture' genes v experience debate, Erikson was firmly focused on nurture and experience. Like other seminal concepts, Erikson's model is simple and elegant, yet very sophisticated.


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The theory is a basis for broad or complex discussion and analysis of personality and behaviour, and also for understanding and for facilitating personal development - of self and others. This summary occasionally uses the terms 'positive' and 'negative' to identify the first or second factors in each crisis e. Healthy personality development is based on a sensible balance between 'positive' and 'negative' dispositions at each crisis stage. Erikson didn't use the words positive and negative in this sense.

He tended to use 'syntonic' and 'dystonic' to differentiate between the two sides of each crisis, which is why I occasionally use the more recognisable 'positive' and 'negative' terms, despite them being potentially misleading. You should also qualify your use of these terms if using them in relation to the crisis stages. Here's a broad introduction to the main features of Erikson's model. Various people have produced different interpretations like this grid below.

Erikson produced a few charts of his own too, from different perspectives, but he seems never to have produced a fully definitive matrix. To aid explanation and use of his theory he produced several perspectives in grid format, some of which he advocated be used as worksheets.

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He viewed his concept as an evolving work in progress. This summary attempts to show the main points of the Erikson psychosocial crisis theory of human development. More detail follows this overview. The colours are merely to help presentation and do not signify any relationships between factors. This chart attempts to capture and present concisely the major elements of Erikson's theory, drawn from various Erikson books, diagrams and other references, including Childhood and Society ; Identity and the Life Cycle ; The Life Cycle Completed: A Review , revised by Joan Erikson ; and Vital Involvement in Old Age Erikson's psychosocial theory is widely and highly regarded.

As with any concept there are critics, but generally Erikson's theory is considered fundamentally significant. Erikson was a psychoanalyst and also a humanitarian. So his theory is useful far beyond psychoanalysis - it's useful for any application involving personal awareness and development - of oneself or others. There is a strong, but not essential, Freudian element in Erikson's work and model. Fans of Freud will find the influence useful. People who disagree with Freud, and especially his psychosexual theory, can ignore the Freudian aspect and still find Erikson's ideas useful.

Erikson's theory stands alone and does not depend on Freud for its robustness and relevance. Aside from Freudian psychoanalysis, Erikson developed his theory mainly from his extensive practical field research, initially with Native American communities, and then also from his clinical therapy work attached to leading mental health centres and universities.

He actively pioneered psychoanalytical development from the late 's until the 's. Erikson was able to do this because of his strong interest and compassion for people, especially young people, and also because his research was carried out among human societies far removed from the more inward-looking world of the psychoanalyst's couch, which was essentially Freud's approach.

This helps Erikson's eight stages theory to be a tremendously powerful model: it is very accessible and obviously relevant to modern life, from several different perspectives, for understanding and explaining how personality and behaviour develops in people. As such Erikson's theory is useful for teaching, parenting, self-awareness, managing and coaching, dealing with conflict, and generally for understanding self and others. Both Erikson and his wife Joan, who collaborated as psychoanalysts and writers, were passionately interested in childhood development, and its effects on adult society.

Developmental Psychology

Eriksons' work is as relevant today as when he first outlined his original theory, in fact given the modern pressures on society, family and relationships - and the quest for personal development and fulfilment - his ideas are probably more relevant now than ever. Erikson's psychosocial theory basically asserts that people experience eight 'psychosocial crisis stages' which significantly affect each person's development and personality.

Joan Erikson described a 'ninth' stage after Erik's death, but the eight stage model is most commonly referenced and is regarded as the standard.

Joan Erikson's work on the 'ninth stage' appears in her revisions to The Life Cycle Completed: A Review, and will in the future be summarised on this page. Erikson's theory refers to 'psychosocial crisis' or psychosocial crises, being the plural. This term is an extension of Sigmund Freud's use of the word 'crisis', which represents internal emotional conflict.

You might also describe this sort of crisis as an internal struggle or challenge which a person must negotiate and deal with in order to grow and develop. Each stage involves a crisis of two opposing emotional forces. A helpful term used by Erikson for these opposing forces is 'contrary dispositions'. Each crisis stage relates to a corresponding life stage and its inherent challenges.

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Erikson used the words 'syntonic' for the first-listed 'positive' disposition in each crisis e. To signify the opposing or conflicting relationship between each pair of forces or dispositions Erikson connected them with the word 'versus', which he abbreviated to 'v'. Versus is Latin, meaning turned towards or against.

For example a healthy balance at crisis stage stage one Trust v Mistrust might be described as experiencing and growing through the crisis 'Trust' of people, life and one's future development and also experiencing and growing a suitable capacity for 'Mistrust' where appropriate, so as not to be hopelessly unrealistic or gullible, nor to be mistrustful of everything. Erikson called these successful balanced outcomes 'Basic Virtues' or 'Basic Strengths'. He identified one particular word to represent the fundamental strength gained at each stage, which appear commonly in Erikson's diagrams and written theory, and other explanations of his work.

Erikson also identified a second supporting 'strength' word at each stage, which along with the basic virtue emphasised the main healthy outcome at each stage, and helped convey simple meaning in summaries and charts. It's very useful however to gain a more detailed understanding of the meaning behind these words because although Erikson's choice these words is very clever, and the words are very symbolic, using just one or two words alone is not adequate for truly conveying the depth of the theory, and particularly the emotional and behavioural strengths that arise from healthy progression through each crisis.

Erikson was sparing in his use of the word 'achieve' in the context of successful outcomes, because it implied gaining something clear-cut and permanent. Psychosocial development is not clear-cut and is not irreversible: any previous crisis can effectively revisit anyone, albeit in a different guise, with successful or unsuccessful results. This perhaps helps explain how 'high achievers' can fall from grace, and how 'hopeless failures' can ultimately achieve great things. No-one should become complacent, and there is hope for us all. Later in his life Erikson was keen to warn against interpreting his theory into an 'achievement scale', in which the crisis stages represent single safe achievement or target of the extreme 'positive' option, secured once and for ever.

Erikson said in Identity and the Life Cycle :. He continued in rather complicated language, hence paraphrasing that at no stage can a 'goodness' be achieved which is impervious to new conflicts, and that to believe so is dangerous and inept.