A Comparison and Contrast of Freud and Erickson’s Developmental Theories

A Comparison and Contrast of Freud and Erickson’s Developmental Theories

The issue of human development has been a pertinent one within the human society. In this respect, there are several developmental theories that have been forwarded by some of the world’s most renowned psychologists. The two main psychoanalytic theories of concern are Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory and Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory. Sigmund Freud was a supporter of Erikson’s psychosocial theory and thus his theory is similar to the latter’s albeit several differences. The two psychologists both believed that a human’s development occurs in a series of predetermined stages. However, unlike the psychosexual theory by Freud the psychosocial theory mainly describes the impact that social experience has on a given individual across his or her lifespan (Flannagan, 1999).

In accordance with the psychosexual theory, the first stage is described as the oral stage where the infant mainly interacts with the society with the mouth. During this stage, the infant is sorely dependent upon the caretakers and hence develops a sense of trust and comfort through the stimulation of the oral organ. Freud describes the second stage as the anal stage. During this period, the main concern is the training of an infant’s bladder and bowel movements. The success of the stage is based on how caregivers successfully manage to train the child into using the toilet. Freud describes the next stage as the phallic stage (Jarvis, & Chandler, 2001). During this, the principal center of attention of the libido is on the genitals. The child starts developing the Oedipus complex whereby the male child wants to possess the mother, thereby viewing the father as a rival to be dethrones. The girl child on the other hand develops the Electra complex, which is the polar converse of the Oedipus complex.

The fourth stage is described as the latent period in accordance to Freud’s theory. During this stage, the child’s libido is contained and the energy directed into other activities such as sports and the acquisition of intellectual skills. Freud describes the last stage in development as the genital stage where the child develops sexual interests towards the opposite sex. Additionally, the child outgrows his or her personal interests and develops a sense of concern for communal wellbeing within the society. The main measure of success for this stage is noted in the balance between the various aspects of life.

Erikson describes his first developmental stage as the trust vs. mistrust stage. In this stage, the infant is highly dependent on the consistency of its caregivers for survival and derives trust and the feelings of trust, comfort and safety from a trust association. The second stage is autonomy vs. shame and doubt (Hayes, 1999). During this stage, Erickson believed a child develops a greater sense of control through training towards achieving feelings of control and independence. The third stage is the initiative vs. guilt stage. During this stage, the children start to assert their authority and control over their areas of influence through play and other social interactions.

The fourth stage is Industry vs. Inferiority where the child is mainly concerned with the acquisition of new skills, leading to a sense of self-gratification after successful acquisition of new skills and abilities. However, Erickson notes that this is highly dependent upon parents and teachers encouragement and support to the young ones (Jarvis, & Chandler, 2001). The fifth stage is described as the Identity vs. Role Confusion stage. During this stage, children are believed to be in the processes of discovering their own identity. A completion of this stage leads to one having a sense of independence and control. The next stage is the intimacy vs. isolation stage where an individual starts to explore and pursue personal relationships.

Erickson was of the view that the success of the subsequent stage was highly dependent upon the success of the previous one. With this in mind, the development of a strong sense of identity is necessary in the development of a strong intimate relationship. In the Generativity vs. Stagnation stage, an individual develops a sense of career and family. The last stage according to Erickson is the integrity vs. despair stage where the individual in mainly focused in reflecting back on his/her accomplishments. During this stage, the individual there is a prevalent manifestation of nostalgia (Hayes, 1999).

Freud’s developmental theory is mainly based upon two primary ideas. The first idea is that what an individual becomes is mainly determined by early experiences. This means that ones adulthood is entirely determined by childhood experiences. The second aspect is that the story of development is based on how an individual handles anti-social impulses in ways that are socially acceptable. I dislike this theory as it has many inherent flaws that act as weaknesses. First, it is difficult to test the credibility of the assertions given that the evidence gathered is not favorable. This is because, certain events are difficult to measure as they are unobservable. Students with differing needs and abilities may find it hard to use since it fails to consider such elements.

Erickson’s theory on the other hand is also based upon two main themes. The first is an accrued observation that the experiences an individual has in life increases with time. The other theme is that failure is cumulative. This means that a deviance in any one of the preceding stages will be more pronounced if more actions are made in life. I agree with the first point but accord reservations to the second one (Hayes, 1999). It is true that ones horrendous experiences in the past could interfere with future social life. However, there are instances where certain strengths of the human spirit can be ignited to overcome the created deficits. This theory is helpful to children with differing needs and abilities as it outlines the effects that certain failures in reaching certain milestones and therefore acts as a preparation phase.

Similarities noted in both theories are noted in accordance to the developmental stages. In the first stages, both recognize that an infant is highly dependent for its survival and derives trust and the feelings of trust, comfort and safety from the caregivers. In the second stages, both evidence similarities in that they both based on the issue of toilet training as a vital process towards successful growth (Jarvis, & Chandler, 2001). The third stage notes similarities in that the young individuals try to assert their influence and possession towards other individuals; according to Freud it is only toward the parent of the opposite sex while according to Erickson, this was directed towards all their areas of influence. In the fourth stages, children develop a sense of self-gratification after the masterly of new skills and abilities. Therefore, the only difference between the theories is that Erickson’s psychosocial theory contains three more stages over Freud’s theory.

In conclusion, we find that Erickson’s theory has highly been influenced by Freud’s developmental theory. The two theories are of the stand that human development occurs in a series of predetermined stages. The main differences are that while Freud’s theory is mainly delved on the psychosexual changes, Erickson’s theory describes the effects of social experiences on an individual during his or her lifespan (Flannagan, 1999). Another notable contrast is noted in the fact that Erickson’s theory includes an additional three stages as opposed to Freud’s five stages of development. Erickson’s developmental theory outlines the effects of succeeding or failing in a given stage. This serves as the main reason why the stages are conferred with contrasting names differentiated by the term “vs.”





Flannagan, C. (1999). Applying Child Psychology to Early Child Development. Cheltenham, Australia: Nelson Thornes Limited.

Hayes, N. (1999). Access to Psychology. London, UK: Hodder & Stoughton Educational.

Jarvis, M. & Chandler, E. (2001). Angles on Psychology. Cheltenham, Australia: Nelson Thornes Limited.

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