Chapter 3:
Psychosocial Theory
Psychosocial Theory
• Chapter Objectives
– To define the general concept of theory and
explain how one makes use of theory to
increase understanding
– To define the six basic concepts of
psychosocial theory
– To demonstrate how the concepts of
psychosocial theory contribute to an analysis
of basic processes that foster or inhibit
development over the life span
– To evaluate psychosocial theory, pointing out
its strengths and weaknesses
Psychosocial Theory
• What Is a Theory?
– A logical system of concepts that helps
explain observations and contributes to the
development of a body of knowledge
– Three questions to ask
• Which phenomena is the theory trying to explain?
• What assumptions does the theory make?
• What does the theory predict?
Psychosocial Theory
• Theories of Human Development Should
Provide Explanations to Four Questions
– What are the mechanisms that account for
growth from conception through old age, and
to what extent do these mechanisms vary
across the life span?
– What factors underlie stability and change
across the life span?
Psychosocial Theory
• Theories of Human Development Should
Provide Explanations to Four Questions (cont.)
– How do physical, cognitive, emotional, and
social functions interact? How do these
interactions account for mixtures of thoughts,
feelings, health states, and social
relationships?
– How does the social context affect individual
development?
Psychosocial Theory
• Rationale for Emphasizing Psychosocial Theory
– Addresses growth across the life span,
identifying and differentiating central issues
from infancy to old age
– Assumes that individuals have the capacity to
contribute to their own psychological
development
– Takes into consideration the active
contribution of culture to individual growth
Psychosocial Theory
• Basic Concepts of Psychosocial Theory
– “Psycho” = individual
– “Social” = societal influences
– Therefore, Psychosocial theory represents
human development as a product of the
interaction between individual needs and
abilities and societal expectations and
demands
– Psychosocial evolution was a term keyed by
Julian Huxley and it refers to those abilities
that have allowed us to gather knowledge
from our ancestors and transmit it to our
ascendants
Psychosocial Theory
• Six Organizing Concepts of Psychosocial Theory
– Stages of Development
– Developmental Tasks
– Psychosocial Crisis
– The Central Process For Resolving The
Psychosocial Crisis
– A Radiating Network of Significant
Relationships
– Coping Behavior
Psychosocial Theory
Figure 3.4 The Six Basic Concepts of Psychosocial Theory
Psychosocial Theory
• Stages of Development
– A period of life that is characterized by a
specific underlying structure of each stage
– Erikson proposed 8 stages
– Epigenetic Principle - a biological plan for
growth allows each function to emerge
systematically until the individual has fully
developed
Psychosocial Theory
Figure 3.1 Erikson’s Model of the Psychosocial Stages of Development
Psychosocial Theory
Figure 3.2 The Eleven Stages of the Life Span
Psychosocial Theory
• Developmental Tasks
– A set of skills and competencies that
contribute to increased mastery over one’s
environment and that define what is healthy,
normal development at each age in a
particular society
– Society has age-graded expectations
– Sensitive periods: periods of development
when an individual is most ready to acquire a
new ability
– Developmental tasks may reflect gains in
physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and/or
emotional skills and may elaborate upon selfconcept
Psychosocial Theory
Psychosocial Theory
• Psychosocial Crises
– At each stage individuals are confronted with
a problem or crisis that requires the
integration of personal needs and skills and
social demands
– This crisis is also called a psychosocial ego
conflict
– From these conflicts new ego skills are
produced
– These conflicts do not only occur once in a
lifespan, they may reoccur in a different stage,
therefore producing new ego skills
Psychosocial Theory
• Psychosocial Crises (cont.)
– A crisis might have a negative connotation but
in this aspect it is considered a normal set of
stressors and coping strategies
– When an individual is trying to resolve a
Psychosocial crises he/she is in a state of
tension
– The crises are shown as polarities or
opposites
– Both polar ends foster development;
experience with trust and mistrust lays the
ground work for resolution of the psychosocial
crises
Psychosocial Theory
• Psychosocial Crises (cont.)
– Tension, conflict, and resolution are
necessary elements for development
throughout the lifespan and are a result of
cultural pressures and expectations
Psychosocial Theory
Psychosocial Theory
• The Central Processes for Resolving the
Psychosocial Crises
– Social System is what Erikson called the
demands exerted on a person by all elements
that make-up the social world
– Central processes link individual’s needs with
the requirements of the culture at each life
stage
– Central processes for adjusting to or coping
with the transitions of development throughout
life provide both personal and societal
mechanisms for taking in new info. and
reorganizing existing information
Psychosocial Theory
Psychosocial Theory
• Radius of Significant Relationships
– In infancy and childhood, individual’s
significant relationships are with parents
– Eventually these relationships extend beyond
immediate family to include neighbors,
teachers, peers, co-workers, etc.
– Most demands made upon individuals are
associated with relationships the individual
considers close or significant
– In childhood the circle of relationships is
small; over the lifespan the radius of the circle
expands; eventually in adulthood the radius
condenses to a few significant relationships
Psychosocial Theory
• Radius of Significant Relationships (cont.)
– An individual’s willingness to engage in an
ever-changing network of relationships is part
of the epigenetic plan
Psychosocial Theory
Figure 3.3 The Radius of Significant Relationships
Psychosocial Theory
• Coping
– Conscious, adaptive efforts that people use to
manage stressful events or situations, and the
emotions associated with these stressors
– Actively coping and resolving a psychosocial
crisis arises in development of a virtue or
prime adaptive ego qualities
– The development of these virtues effect
development of future virtues throughout the
lifespan
Psychosocial Theory
Psychosocial Theory
• Core Pathologies
– Maladaptive coping with psychosocial crises
leads to the development of core pathologies
– Like virtues or prime adaptive ego qualities,
core pathologies guide individuals behavior
– Development of core pathologies restricts
further development in life due to the negative
emphasis of the world and restriction of future
behaviors
Psychosocial Theory
Psychosocial Theory
• Case Study: Erik Erikson
– Thought Questions
• Why did Erikson feel like a ‘stranger in his own
culture?”
• What are the biological, psychological, and societal
factors that contributed to Erikson’s identity crises?
• What factors from childhood appear to be
influencing his experiences as an adolescent?
• Who are the significant figures in Erikson’s life (the
radius of significant others who influence his sense
of how he should behave and who he should strive
to become)?
Psychosocial Theory
• Case Study: Erik Erikson (cont.)
– Thought Questions (cont.)
• What factors might have contributed to Erikson’s
ability to cope with the challenges of this period of
his life, eventually finding a direction and meaning
to which he could commit his talent and energy?
• Based on Erikson’s account of his childhood and
adolescence, how might his life experiences and
his cultural context have influenced the nature and
focus of his psychosocial theory?
Psychosocial Theory
Psychosocial Theory
• A Recap of Psychosocial Theory
– Which phenomena is the theory trying to
explain?
– What assumptions does the theory make?
– What does the theory practice?
Psychosocial Theory
Figure 3.6 The Mechanism for Positive and Negative Psychosocial
Development