1.6 Erikson's Psychosocial Theory

Pyschosocial theory, developed by German psychoanalyst Erik Erikson (1902-1994), emphasizes a person’s development over the entire span of their life. Psychosocial theory is composed of eight stages of interaction with the social environment, with each stage building upon the previous ones.1

Key Concepts from Erikson's Psychosocial Theory

Excerpt from LIS 516: Youth Development and Behavior in a Digital Age by Dr. Katie Davis and the University of Washington


Dr. Katie Davis, University of Washington

Although all of these stages occur throughout an individual’s life, Erikson argued that as we mature, we focus primarily on specific stages. Each stage is marked a “crisis,” or tension, that must be resolved before focusing on the next stage. The way youth resolve these tensions, and the attitudes, skills, and beliefs they develop at each stage, may determine their future development. The stages include:

  1. Trust vs. Mistrust (0–1 1/2 years)
  2. Autonomy vs. Shame (1 1/2–3 years)
  3. Initiative vs. Guilt (3–5 years)
  4. Industry vs. Inferiority (5-12 years)
  5. Identity vs. Role Confusion (12–18 years)
  6. Intimacy vs. Isolation (18–40 years)
  7. Generativity vs. Stagnation (40–65)
  8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair (65+)

(To learn more about each stage, visit Simply Psychology.)

Identity is the focus of the adolescent years. During this crucial transition from childhood to adulthood, a young person becomes more independent, finds their social niche, and starts to look at the future in terms of careers or relationships. However, teens may grapple with the challenges of both “fitting in” and exploring different identities. They may have trouble deciding who they are, their social role, or what they want to be. Overcoming this crisis means developing a clear understanding of their identity and freely sharing who they are with others.

Just for fun: Psychosocial Theory Animated


Alyssa O'Boyle, Ryanne Ehrman, & Jiarun He


What role can the library play in helping youth address such issues as an identity crisis?

1: Hetherington, E. M., Parke, R. D., & Locke, V. O. (2003). Child psychology: A contemporary viewpoint. Boston: McGraw-Hill.