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Erik Erikson was a psychologist who did most of his work in the post-Freudian era, in the 1930s to the 1950s. He was a student of Freud, and was greatly influenced by the latter's theories of personality development. However, unlike his predecessor, Erikson gave a great deal of importance to the social environment in a person's psychological development.
Thus his theory is generally called a psychosocial theory of personality development. Erikson's theory posits that every human being passes through several distinct and qualitatively different stages in life, frombirth to death. According to him, the stages are universal, and the ages at which one is said to have passed from one to another stage are also fairly universal. However, it must be kept in mind that Erikson did not have much knowledge of cultures and societies other than his own, and thus the universality of his theory can and must be questioned.
The key idea in Erikson's theory is that the individual faces a conflict at each stage, which may or may not be successfully resolved within that stage. For example, he called the first stage 'Trust vs Mistrust'. If the quality of care is good in infancy, the child learns to trust the world to meet her needs. If not, trust remains an unresolved issue throughout succeeding stages of development.
According to Erikson, although there is a predominant issue at each stage, the stages are not watertight. Issues of one stage overlap with issues of another; how one has dealt with earlier issues determines how one will resolve later issues. Most important, there is a connection between present patterns of thinking and feeling, and earlier unresolved or resolved developmental issues. But Erikson also said that developmental blocks at any stage can be resolved at any point.
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