A/n: So here's the research paper I was bitching about, minus of course, the website resources that fictionpress so kindly ate. This took three interviews and four hours to gather materials/write for. Who knows what grade I got, because frankly I don't give a rat's ass. I wrote the majority of this paper straight from memory with the resources to add approximations of the ages the stages occur in. I could have been a loot more detailed, but the cut-off was five pages and it was two a.m.

The three main theories of developmental psychology

In the field of developmental psychology, the transformation of a person from birth to death, or "womb to tomb" is explored. There are three psychologists famous for their exploration and theories that advanced this field. Jean Piaget 'discovered' the stages of cognition; Erik Erikson is responsible for the psychosocial stages of development. Kohlberg stages are nearly irrelevant to age; his moral stages involve the level of moral actions a person has ascended to. These theories have been applied to the real world within teaching and clinical psychology. The importance of the theories is in what they reveal about an individual; these theories can be used to reveal their moral code, the sophistication of their thinking, and their place in life in relation to their personality traits.

Psychosocial Theory of Development

Erik Erikson's theory is referred to as the psychosocial stages of development. It goes over the human lifespan. "Passing" through the stages can lead to certain personality traits, while "failing" leads to others. His theory involves the idea of identity and "finding yourself".

Stage one is referred to as Trust vs. Mistrust occurring during infancy. In this case, an infant is only aware of their basic needs and the success or failure of meeting these needs determines "passing" the stage. If an infant has their needs met consistently and within a reasonable time, they will develop a trust in the world, believing it to be within their narrow scope a stable place. If an infant's needs are not met, or are met with considerable delay, this stage is a "failure" and the infant distrusts the world; it is chaotic and unreliable. Emerging from this stage the world becomes a hopeless place, or one in which general expectations can and will be met.

Stage two, Autonomy vs. Shame, occurs during toddlerhood. It is at this time that a personality begins to emerge with the ability to walk and talk. At this point, the child begins to become independent, their behavior expanding from arbitrary actions as they gain a limited awareness of the world beyond the satisfaction of their basic needs. Success at this stage entails independent actions not being rebuffed by care takers, allowing the child to act with pride and will. Enabling the child to act too freely can lead to stubbornness, while restraining the child from acting independently or the child being limited from free actions through the slowness of development (in speaking, moving, etc.) can lead to being ashamed of their own actions and being weak-willed when given the chance for independence.

Stage three, Initiative vs. Guilt, occurs from the end of toddlerhood until the onset of school age (three to five years of age). At this point, it is common for a child to be attending a daycare or preschool, and if not, they are still experiencing more social interaction in other public settings. They have the physical and mental ability to carry on limited conversations should they choose to. If the child has the desire to interact but fear or doubt overcomes them, they will in turn feel guilt for their failure to attempt to do so. If the child willingly and freely interacts with others, taking the initiative to cause social interactions without help from others, and to react to social situations with limited reservations, they have succeeded in this stage. Success in stage three causes a child to develop a sense of purpose; if they do not experience initiative, they will later find it difficult to interact with others and it will be difficult to set tangible goals.

Stage four, Industry vs. Inferiority, occurs as a child would typically be entering elementary school until pre-adolescence (from six years of age until twelve years of age). The child's world has expanded beyond the home and the limitations have decreased. They are exposed to more people, and at this stage are expected to have tangible accomplishments (in reading, counting, writing, etc.); it is at this time that the child learns new knowledge and that the expectations of adults in their life increase. They have the awareness to compare their accomplishments to those of others. If they are not given enough obtainable expectations they feel inferiority and a sense of failure; if they meet expectations with effort, they will feel a sense of accomplishment and competence.

Stage five, Identity vs. Role Confusion, occurs during adolescence, in the teenage years (ages twelve to eighteen). At this point, for all intents and purposes, the child is independent of all outside forces, able to independently interact with the world without the support of a caregiver though the caregiver still plays a role in satisfying the basic needs of the child. At this point, the stages are no longer concerned with exploration of the world, but with the exploration of oneself. The stages now depend largely on the actions of the child and their attempts to find a place within society. If this stage is successful, the child will find a social niche; this is inherent to the solidifying of their sense of self. Success is exemplified by the making of social "cliques". Failure leads to role confusion, in which the child becomes insecure in their self-image, and this insecurity can lead to them being easily influenced by others.

Stage six, Intimacy vs. Isolation, occurs from the end of the teenage years to middle age (age eighteen to age thirty-five). This stage relies upon the success/failure of the previous stage. If a sense of self has been developed, the now-adult can begin to seek out intimacy in the form of deep platonic and romantic relationships, thereby by successfully completing stage six. However, if the sense of self is tenuous, it can lead to earlier and prematurely ending relationships or an avoidance of deep relationships. Stage six cannot be truly completed unless a sense of self has developed.

Stage seven, Generativity vs. Stagnation, occurs from middle age until seniority (age thirty-five to age sixty-five). In this stage, the goal is to create a feeling of accomplishment and of productivity rather than a feeling of futility being associated with actions. It is at this time typically, that the course of a career, whether raising a child or being employed, occurs. This stage is successful if the individual feels they have made a difference in the world; if this does not happen, they will turn inward and become more self-absorbed, concerned only with making a difference within their own life.

Stage eight, Integrity vs. Despair, has an outcome that is largely dependent on the success of all previous stages, as it occurs at the end of life, from the age of seniority onward (age sixty-five onward). In this time, the individual considers their past and their accomplishments. This stage is about reflection. If the individual considers their time well spent, they have feelings of contentment; if they feel that their actions and the outcome of their life were unsatisfactory, they succumb to feelings of resentment and despair.

Criticism and praise for Erikson's theory

Erikson's theory does have some merit behind it; it provides a general structure for the stages of life, however, there are many objections to the validity of his theory. Does each stage have the same importance to everyone? Probably not; every person's personality has different facets at each stage, a person could potentially fail in one stage and still be able to excel in another through forms of compensation. One line of reason is that his theory does not account for the changing of personality over the years, a person could for example, be shy and unwilling to take initiative in stage three and later in stage five gain confidence through the strengthening of their sense of self. If there is a failure in stage seven, and the sense of self is not discovered, the loose time frame can be considered utterly useless if an individual later confirms their identity in a time typical for the last stages. While Erikson's theory does have some merit, overall the time frame is not to be considered a firm guideline and the stages have the potential to be more flexible, a later stage potentially occurring before an earlier one.

Personal Application of Erikson's Theory of Psychosocial Development

Stage One

Q: How much time did it take for the child's needs to be met?

A: Three to four minutes, depending on the place and the need.

Q: How consistently were the basic needs of the child met?

A: Consistently, every time the child cried.

Stage Two

Q: As far as curiosity and exploring to go, how did you the caregiver act if it was within reasonable boundaries that would not cause the child harm?

A: The child was permitted to explore freely within the park and within the house under close supervision.

Stage Three

Q: Did the child exhibit unwillingness to test social boundaries by initiating social interaction?

A: The child was definitely willing to interact with strangeness; there was no visible shyness.

Stage Four

Q: During this time period (the time of stage four) did the child receive praise for things that were considered noteworthy to the best of your knowledge?

A: Yes, the child was praised for academic achievements.

Stage Five

Q: Did you solidify your sense of self as an adolescent?

A: Yes.

Q: In what ways did you find yourself during adolescence?

A: As a young adult I remembered wanting to stand out, so I wore crazy socks to school, mismatched and knee high. I had a feeling that I needed to put myself out there. I think as a teen I was very ready to become a self standing individual without having to do a long search.

Stage Six

Q: Did you seek to form serious platonic and romantic relationships with others?

A: Yes, I did seek to and successfully formed some relationships.

Stage Seven

Q: Do you feel that you are making a difference in the world?

A: Yes, I feel that I am making a small difference in the world, even if I am making miserable wages.

Q: Do these miserable wages make an overall difference in your satisfaction with life?

A: It makes it hard to make ends meet…

Q: Do they make a serious difference in your feelings of productivity? Do they lower your feelings of productivity within the world?

A: I still feel like I make a difference in the world…

Stage Eight

Q: Now, in this point of your life, are you satisfied with your life?

A: Yes.

Q: Are you thinking about what could have been?

A: I will have regrets, but I did my best, and I'm not going to get all depressed about it.

Kohlberg's Moral Stages

Kohlberg's theory explores the levels of morality, from before the mind's conception of society's standards to post societal ethics. He created a set of dilemmas used to gauge the moral level of an individual. In the dilemmas, there is no right or wrong answers; the most important aspect for gauging the level is analyzing the thought process and motives behind the decision (Crain 118-136). There are three "levels" within his model for the theory, "Pre-conventional morality", "Conventional morality", and "Post-conventional morality". There are six stages through the three levels.

Level One; Pre-conventional morality:

Stage One: Obedience and adherence to the rules is egocentric, solely based on a system of avoidance.

Stage Two: Obedience and adherence to the rules is still egocentric, the concept of personal gain and rewards has been incorporated.

Level Two; Conventional morality:

Stage Three: Obedience and adherence to rules in an attempt to receive social approval/acceptance. (Could be done without understanding, or caring about ethics of the rules.)

Stage Four: Obedience is caused by a desire to maintain social order. (Still could be done without caring about the morality of the rules, just about the desire to keep peace/maintain the status quo)/

Level Three; Post-Conventional morality:

Stage Five: Rules obeyed within limits; if it protects the rights of others, if it is considered unfair, it is disobeyed.

Stage Six: Regardless of all laws/rules, an individual follows an "inner" set of rules, considering all possible consequences of their behavior on others.

Criticism and praise for Kohlberg's theory

While the moral theory; and the logic behind the stages seem very sound, there is an intrinsic flaw in this theory. Or rather, there is an intrinsic fault in humanity. Analyzing the thought process and logic behind a decision is a very subjective and non-systematic method. Articulating the thought process requires someone with enough awareness to be able to communicate their thoughts. The situation in question must be able to have ambiguous solutions, and yet it must cover all aspects of the model. In short, it is not that the theory itself is unsound, but the method of gauging the stage a person is in. There must be a systematic way of objectively judging.

Personal Application of Kohlberg's Model of Morality

Level One; Pre-Conventional Morality

Stage One: Ex. Following rule of staying away from stovetop to avoid pain of burns.

Stage Two: Ex. Following rule of brushing teeth to get dessert after dinner.

Level Two; Conventional Morality

Stage Three: Ex. Staying clothed in public to be accepted by everyone.

Stage Four: Ex. Following rules like "No jaywalking" just because the rule exists, so as to not cause trouble.

Level Three; Post-Conventional Morality

Stage Five: Ex. Not following a biased rule (using a "white" water fountain rather than the "colored").

Stage Six: Ex. Following own morals no matter what; and this set of morals takes into consideration all possible consequences on other people, acting in everyone's interest free of personal sacrifice/gain.

Piaget's Cognitive Stages

Piaget set up the five cognitive stages using his naturalistic observations of children. He discovered consistent flaws and development of logic in children at a certain time period. In each of the four stages, the child gains some sort of cognitive ability that was previously absent.

The sensorimotor stage occurs from birth to toddlerhood. In this stage the infant learns about their surroundings, eventually gaining object permanence.

The preoperational stage occurs from the onset of toddlerhood and ends around the age of seven; the child begins grasping language, and there schema begins to be built upon as new information is accommodated, assimilating into the schema. In this stage, cognition is still egocentric; the child cannot view the world from another person's perspective.

The concrete operational stage occurs from about age seven until early adolescence. It is at this time that the first use of limited logic and somewhat abstract ideas occur. More information is accommodated into the pre-existing schema of the world. The theory of mind forms.

The formal operations stage is the final stage, occurring with the onset of adolescence. In this stage, logic and abstract ideas can be understood, critical thinking is possible.

Criticism and Praise for Piaget's Theory of Cognition

Piaget's theory appears to be sound. However, all the conclusions he drew were from non systematic observations of his own children and other children. It has been proven that his first estimation of ages during the stages was slightly inaccurate through the use of new technology. Many aspects of his theory, such as the order of the stages and what they entail are accurate.

Personal Application of Piaget's Theory

Stage One: Ex. Peek-a-boo is fun.

Stage Two: Ex. John has a brother named Jim. According to John, Jim does not have a brother. (Meyers, 422.)

Stage Three: Ex. A ball of clay and a roll of clay have the same amount of clay even though the were equal sizes before one ball was squashed flat in front of the child's eyes.

Stage Four: Ex. Algebra should make sense (letters represent a possible number).


Meyers, D.G. (2010). Myers' psychology for AP*. Worth Publishing.

Crain, W.C. (1985). Theories of development. Prentice-Hall.

Personal Application of Erikson stages one through four: N. T.

Personal Application of Erikson stage five: L. G.-J.

Personal Application of Erikson stages six through eight: N. T.

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