Psychosocial Theory: Definition, and Key Figures

Psychosocial theories attempt to explain the interaction between various psychological and social variables that influence human behavior. Theories of personality seek to establish the influence of social variables on individual’s character throughout their lifespan. Much credit goes to Erik Erikson and Sigmund Freud whose influence on the theory of personality remains unsurpassed. They theorized that human beings experience life through a series of stages. While the former explicates on the impact of social factors on the entire human life, the latter centers his arguments on psychosexual development and phases.

The most outstanding work on the theory of personality by Erikson focuses on the way human beings develop ego and identity (Cervone & Pervin, 2010). He theorized that ego identity is a sense of self-awareness that individuals develop due to social factors during the process of interaction. Cervone & Pervin (2010) point out that the ego identity is dynamic and changes with new experiences that characterize daily social interaction. Besides, Eriksson explains that individuals acquire competency, which reinforces their ego identity (Stevens, 1983). Nonetheless, if the stages and social interaction that typifies the stage are not well managed, an individual may develop a sense of inadequacy.

From infancy to adulthood, individuals experience eight stages all of which are typical of social and psychological conflict. The conflict therefore serves the purpose of either developing a specific personality trait or as an impediment to the development of the same (Cervone & Pervin, 2010). Eriksson’s first psychological phase entails trust and mistrust between infants aged below one year. They experience trust and mistrust clash. A child who is well nurtured develops trust and may become insecure if the caregivers fail to meet their needs (Stevens, 1983).

The second to third years of childhood mark psychological crises of autonomy and shame (Cervone & Pervin, 2010). This marks the second stage. The third stage occurs between the age of three and six years and is characterized by psychological conflict of initiative and guilt. Between the ages of 6 and 12 years, a child faces the crises of being industrious or inferior. Identity and social role conflict typifies the psychological crises of teenager and mark the fifth stage of psychosocial development. Up to forty years, an individual develops the need for intimacy but isolation creates the psychological crises. The seventh psychosocial stage entails ‘generativity’ and stagnation (Cervone & Pervin, 2010). People aged from 30 to 65 years experience this phase. Finally, integrity and despair marks the end of psychological crises by people aged above fifty years.

Sigmund Freud on the other hand explains the personality theory using major sexuality aspects of human development (Cervone & Pervin, 2010). His work was the platform upon which Eriksson theorized his phases. Nonetheless, Freud was concerned hugely on the psychosexuality and his five stages refer to psychosexual development. Oral phase marks the first stage of psychosexual development and it accrues the infants. Anal, phallic, latency and genital stages mark the development of personality until the puberty. Freud fails however to explain the development of human personality beyond puberty.

According to Cervone & Pervin (2010), much of Eriksson works reflect an expansion of Freudian theory. Unlike Freud, Eriksson recognizes the dynamism and social variables that change the way in which people interact with their social environment. Besides, Eriksson counters the Freudian notion that human development ends after adolescence and articulates that personality development occurs throughout human lifespan (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2004). Although the work of Eriksson remains iconic in the study of human personality development, James Marcia was critical of the theory through his empirical research conclusions. Marcia questions the psychosocial phase whereby there is sequential occurrence (Stevens, 1983). He says that different psychological stages occurs throughout one’s life and are not distinct or limited to a specific age.


Cervone, D. & Pervin, L. (2010). Personality: Theory and Research. 11th Edition. New York: McGraw Publishers. Print.

Kail, V. & Cavanaugh, C. (2004). Human development: A life-span view. Belmont, California: Thomson/Wadsworth Press. Print

Stevens, R. (1983). Erik Erikson: An Introduction. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Print.

Video Voice-over

Cite this paper

Select style


PsychologyWriting. (2023, September 6). Psychosocial Theory: Definition, and Key Figures. Retrieved from


PsychologyWriting. (2023, September 6). Psychosocial Theory: Definition, and Key Figures.

Work Cited

"Psychosocial Theory: Definition, and Key Figures." PsychologyWriting, 6 Sept. 2023,


PsychologyWriting. (2023) 'Psychosocial Theory: Definition, and Key Figures'. 6 September.


PsychologyWriting. 2023. "Psychosocial Theory: Definition, and Key Figures." September 6, 2023.

1. PsychologyWriting. "Psychosocial Theory: Definition, and Key Figures." September 6, 2023.


PsychologyWriting. "Psychosocial Theory: Definition, and Key Figures." September 6, 2023.