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Running Head: Eriksons Seventh Stage of Psychosocial Development: Generativity versus Stagnation


Eriksons Seventh Stage of Psychosocial Development: Generativity versus Stagnation

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Abstract: This paper gives special attention to the adult stage of generativity vs. stagnation. A review of recent research provides new concepts that can be added to Erikson's chart of development in the form of 7 psychosocial conflicts that give breadth to the central crisis of generativity vs. stagnation. They are inclusivity vs. exclusivity, pride vs. embarrassment, responsibility vs. ambivalence, career productivity vs. inadequacy, parenthood vs. self-absorption, being needed vs. alienation, and honesty vs. denial. Each conflict is connected to one of Erikson's other stages of development. Given this framework, case studies of leaders could provide further knowledge about generativity as the intersection of society and the human life cycle.

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Erik Erikson's theory of human development posits 8 stages of life. Psychosocial development as articulated by Erik Erikson describes eight developmental stages through which a healthily developing human should pass from infancy to late adulthood. In each stage the person confronts, and hopefully masters, new challenges. Each stage builds on the successful completion of earlier stages. The challenges of stages not successfully completed may be expected to reappear as problems in the future.

Erikson said we develop in psychosocial stages. Erikson emphasized developmental change throughout the human life span. In Erikson’s theory, eight stages of development unfold as we go through the life span. Each stage consists of a crisis that must be faced. According to Erikson, this crisis is not a catastrophe but a turning point of increased vulnerability and enhanced potential. The more an individual resolves the crises successfully, the healthier development will be. Trust versus mistrust is Erikson’s first psychosocial stage, which is experienced in the first year of life. A sense of trust requires a feeling of physical comfort and a minimal amount of fear and apprehension about the future. Trust in infancy sets the stage for a lifelong expectation that the world will be a good and pleasant place to live.

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Autonomy versus shame and doubt is Erikson’s second stage of development, occurring in late infancy and toddler hood (1-3 years). After gaining trust in their caregivers, infants begin to discover that their behavior is their own. They start to assert their sense of independence, or autonomy. They realize their will. If infants are restrained too much or punished too harshly, they are likely to develop a sense of shame and doubt. Initiative versus guilt is Erikson’s third stage of development, occurring during the preschool years. As preschool children encounter a widening social world, they are challenged more than when they were infants. Active, purposeful behavior is needed to cope with these challenges. Children are asked to assume responsibility for their bodies, their behavior, their toys, and their pets. Developing a sense of responsibility increases initiative. Uncomfortable guilt feelings may arise, though, if the child is irresponsible and is made to feel too anxious. Erikson has a positive outlook on this stage. He believes that most guilt is quickly compensated for by a sense of accomplishment.

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Industry versus Inferiority is Erikson's fourth developmental stage, which takes place from age 6 to 11, involves the shift from whimsical play to a desire for achievement and completion. A child learns that he receives praise and recognition for doing well in school and completing tasks and also realizes he can fail at these tasks as well. Identity versus Identity Confusion is Erikson's fifth developmental stage, wherein adolescents begin to seek their true identities and a sense of self. The central question of this stage is of course, "Who am I?” Intimacy versus isolation is Erikson’s sixth developmental stage, which individuals experience during the early adulthood years. At this time, individuals face the developmental task of forming intimate relationships with others. Erikson describes intimacy as finding oneself yet losing oneself in another. If the young adult forms healthy friendships and an intimate relationship with another individual, intimacy will be achieved; if not, isolation will result. Generativity versus stagnation is Erikson’s seventh developmental stage, which individuals experience during middle adulthood. A chief concern is to assist the younger generation in developing and leading useful lives- this is what Erikson means by generativity. The feeling of having done nothing to help the next generation is stagnation.

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Integrity versus despair is Erikson’s eighth and final developmental stage, which individuals experience during late adulthood. In the later year of life, we look back and evaluate what we have done with our lives. Through many different routes, the older person may have developed a positive outlook in most of all of the previous stages of development. If so, the retrospective glances will reveal a picture of a life well spent, and the person will feel a sense of satisfaction-integrity will be achieved. If the older adult resolved many of the earlier stages negatively, the retrospective glances likely will yield doubt or gloom- the despair Erikson talks about. Erikson does not believe that the proper solution to a stage crisis is always completely positive. Some exposure or commitment to the negative end of the person’s bipolar conflict is sometimes inevitable- you cannot trust all people under all circumstances and survive, for example. Nonetheless, in the healthy solution to a stage crisis, the positive resolution dominates.

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Hoare, C.H. (2005). Erikson’s general and adult developmental revisions of Freudian thought: “Outward, forward, upward”. Journal of Adult Development, 12, 19-31.

Erikson, E.H. (1982). The Life Cycle Completed: A Review. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Marcia, J. E., (1966), Development and validation of ego identity status, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 3, pp. 551-58

Sheehy, Gail (1976) Passages: Predictable Crises of Adult Life. New York: E. P. Dutton.

Stevens, Richard (1983) Erik Erikson: An Introduction. New York: St. Martin's.

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