Development is the series of age-related changes that happen over the course of a life span. Several famous psychologists, including Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget, and Lawrence Kohlberg, describe development as a series of stages. A stage is a period in development in which people exhibit typical behavior patterns and establish particular capacities. The various stage theories share three assumptions:
- People pass through stages in a specific order, with each stage building on capacities developed in the previous stage.
- Stages are related to age.
- Development is discontinuous, with qualitatively different capacities emerging in each stage.
Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Personality
The Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud first described personality development as a series of stages. Of these stages, Freud believed that early childhood was the most important. He believed that personality developed by about the age of five.
Freud’s theory of personality development is described in more detail on pages 268-–273 of Chapter 13, “Personality.”
Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development
Like Freud, Erik Erikson believed in the importance of early childhood. However, Erikson believed that personality development happens over the entire course of a person’s life. In the early 1960s, Erikson proposed a theory that describes eight distinct stages of development. According to Erikson, in each stage people face new challenges, and the stage’s outcome depends on how people handle these challenges. Erikson named the stages according to these possible outcomes:Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust
In the first year after birth, babies depend completely on adults for basic needs such as food, comfort, and warmth. If the caretakers meet these needs reliably, the babies become attached and develop a sense of security. Otherwise, they may develop a mistrustful, insecure attitude.Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
Between the ages of one and three, toddlers start to gain independence and learn skills such as toilet training, feeding themselves, and dressing themselves. Depending on how they face these challenges, toddlers can develop a sense of autonomy or a sense of doubt and shame about themselves.