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Erik Erickson is possibly the best known of Sigmund's Freud's many followers. He grew up in Europe and spent his young adult life under the direction of Freud. In 1933 when Hitler rose to power in Germany, Erikson emigrated to the United States and began teaching at Harvard University. His clinical work and studies were based on children, college students, victims of combat fatigue during World War two, civil rights workers, and American Indians. It was these studies which led Erikson to believe that Freud misjudged some important dimensions of human development. Throughout this essay, Erikson's psychosocial model will be explored, discussed and evaluated items of its concepts, theories and assumptions.
The theoretical underpinning will be discussed with reference to the nature versus nurture debate and also the continuity versus discontinuity argument. It will then be shown how Erikson has influenced the way psychologists view the importance of identity during adolescents. Firstly, however, Erikson's work will be put alongside that of Freud's to establish an understanding of the basis from which it came. Erikson's psychosocial model was heavily influenced by Freud, and shares a number of central ideas. For example, both Freud and Erikson agree that every individual is born with a number of basic instincts, that development occurs through stages, and that the order of these stages is influenced by biological maturation (Sigelman, and Shaffer 1992).
Erikson also believes, as did Freud, that personality has three components: the id, the ego, and the superego. Therefore it is fair to say that Erikson is a psychoanalytic theorist. However, Erikson does argue that social and cultural influences have a critical role in shaping human development, and less significance should be placed on the role of sexual urges. Freud did note however, that social agents such as parents should be regarded as important, but it is Erikson who highlights the forces within a much broader social environment, including peers, teachers and schools which are highly important according to Erikson.
Erikson, then, moves more towards the nurture side of the nature - nurture debate than did Freud, viewing nurture as equally important in development. This nurture outlook highlights the emphasis on environmental forces within Erikson's model. Experiences in life, changes achieved through learning, the influence of methods of child rearing, societal changes and culture all have an exceptionally important role on human development according to Erickson. In addition, Erikson's theory encompasses the whole of the human life-span, outlining the stages that occur, which will be looked at more closely later on. Erikson also regards the individual as having responsibility during each stage of development and that they also have the opportunity to achieve a positive and healthy resolution to the crisis experienced.
Erikson, therefore, puts less emphasis on the id and instead places more emphasis on the ego. In his view, human beings are rational creatures whos thoughts, feelings, and actions are largely controlled by the ego and it is the egos development in which he is interested in. Before we go any further it is important to look at Erikson's psychosocial model in more detail in order to understand the following evaluation. Erikson's model consists of eight stage of development, with each stage unfolding as the individual goes through the life cycle. Each stage consists of a crisis that must be confronted.
The term epigenetic principle was used by Erikson to describe the process that guides development through the life cycle. Within this it is urged that everything that grows has a blue print, each having a special time of ascendancy, until all of the parts have arisen to form a functional whole (Siglemann and Shaffer 1992). It has been attained that Erikson's psychosocial model consists of eight stages of development which continue throughout the life-span of an individual. This idea of discontinuity suggests that development occurs via a series of abrupt changes that develop from one stage to another.
Presumably Erikson believes that an individual experiences a rapid period of change and reorganisation before being elevated to a new and more advanced stage of development. Continuity theorists however, would argue that human development is a process that occurs in small steps, without sudden change. Physical growth and language development, for example, show smooth, gradual and continuous growth. But Erikson does not totally rule out this argument.
He suggests that experiences in the early stages have a bearing on the experiences in the later stages, this indicates that earlier and later development are connected in such away as to suggest continuity. Erikson also stresses the importance of environmental influences which would place the emphasises on continuous development, however, he also highlights the influential role of maturation in the growth sequence (as highlighted earlier). This suggests that Erikson did not ally himself with either extreme point of view. He recognised that some aspects of development are continuous, whereas others show stage-like characteristics. What Erikson has produced is a sequence of critical periods in the human life cycle.
However, he did not imply that the crisis was by any means catastrophic, but that they represent crucial developments in which a decisive turn, one way or another is unavoidable (Stevens 1983). Erikson's psychosocial model is very generalised and he himself acknowledged that no attempt was made to trace the differences in ego development between the sexes. Erikson justifies this decision by arguing that beyond childhood there are no consistent differences between the development of men and women. It has also been suggested that the model lacks rigour (Stevens 1983), as the behaviours and components are not easy to specify precisely and they are often unclear.
Some have criticised the overlapping of the stages, though this may reflect the way things really are rather than any inadequacy in the account. As mentioned during the introduction, Erikson's model was based on his clinical work and studies of people from all stages of life, which provided excellent access to intimate details of their life experiences. However, Erikson accepted the possibility that due to this, his theory could be class or culture bound and actively pursued...
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