Erik Erickson

Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson was one of the early contributors to the idea of development from the late teens through the twenties during the 1960’s.  Unlike G. Stanley Hall, Erikson did not specify age in his publications (Arnett, 2000).  While he does not name this stage, Erikson believed that it is was a time for young adults to find a unique niche in some section of their society that fits their individual needs (Erikson, 1968, p. 156), specifically this was referred to as a psychosocial moratorium.

Erik Erikson has 8 psychosocial stages:

  • Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust
  • Stage 2: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
  • Stage 3: Initiative vs. Guilt
  • Stage 4: Industry vs. Inferiority
  • Stage 5: Identity vs. Confusion
  • Stage 6: Intimacy vs. Isolation
  • Stage 7: Generatively vs. Stagnation
  • Stage 8: Integrity vs. Despair

Out of all of the psychosocial stages Erikson proposes, the stages that most pertain to this time period are the 5th and 6th stage: Identity vs. Confusion and Intimacy vs. Isolation respectively.  The Identity vs. Confusion stage is a time during adolescence when the individual is trying to discover their identity and independence from their parents.  With proper encouragement the person can move on from this stage with a sense of control, self and independence (Erikson, 1968, p.132-133; Cherry). Once individuals experience the stage of Identity vs. Confusion, they enter the 6th stage of Intimacy vs. Isolation.  This is a period of time for the exploration of relationships.  Erikson felt that in order to move to the 7th step, which occurred as one became an adult, one had to be able to form and maintain committed relationships. If youth are unsure about their identities, they will be reluctant to form interpersonal relationships (Erikson, 1968, p. 135-136). If youth do not experience intimate relationships, it is likely that they will feel a sense of isolation.

During psychosocial moratorium, adolescences are able to explore their identities without taking on adult responsibilities.  This is a latency period between adolescence and adulthood. Adulthood was defined as the point in time in which the individual is ready to be a parent.  The characteristics associated with the people in this latency life stage include the inability to form intimate relationships and having not yet reached the psychosocial readiness required for adulthood.  Erikson mentions that most societies where these moratoriums exists allow it to happen.  Things like apprenticships and prolonged schooling are accepted and even expected by the society.  This is also a time for the person to explore.  Often the person has adventures that coincide with societies values.  During this time period it is common that a person puts off having a job because they are waiting to find one that is not only promising financially, but that would allow them to use their unique talents and give them satisfaction.  This is a time of paradox for the young individual.  On the one hand they wish to have free will when making decisions, but will act in a way that his or her parents find shamelessly in order to avoid coming across as shameless to his or her peers (Erikson, 1968, p. 129).

This shows Erikson’s finding which is mirrored in Jeffery Jensen Arnett’s beliefs mentioned later, that during this stage of life peers become extremely important to the individual, at times become more influential than their parents.  Another characteristic of this time period is the idea of identity confusion.  A person in this stage is stuck between the identity they had as a young child and the one they will have as an adult.  According to Erikson, love experienced in this stage is not based on sexual needs but instead on the person’s need to be able to define their identity by seeing it reflected in their partner (Erikson, 1968, p. 157).  This is also congruent with Arnett’s belief that relationships during this transitional time period are a way for the individual to further explore their identity.

Without realizing it, Erikson established the foundation for emerging adulthood, by postulating that there is a stage in-between adolescence and adulthood, and by laying the foundation for many of the characteristics that Jeffery Jenson Arnett proposes belong in the period of Emerging Adulthood.

Created by:  Lisa Feeley, Amanda Halliburton and Bethany Mastrorilli



Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55(5), 469-480. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.5.469

Cherry, K.K.P. (n.d.). Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Retrieved from

Erikson, E. H. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: Norton.

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