Erikson’s theory is useful because it addresses both personality stability and personality change. To some degree, personality is stable, because childhood experiences influence people even as adults. However, personality also changes and develops over the life span as people face new challenges. The problem with Erikson’s theory, as with many stage theories of development, is that he describes only a typical pattern. The theory doesn’t acknowledge the many differences among individuals.
|Stage||Conflict Faced||Typical Age Range||Major Challenge(s)|
|1||Trust vs. mistrust||First year of life||Having basic needs met, attaching to people|
|2||Autonomy vs. shame and doubt||1–3 years||Gaining independence|
|3||Initiative vs. guilt||3–6 years||Acting in a socially responsible way|
|4||Industry vs. inferiority||6–12 years||Competing with peers, preparing for adult roles|
|5||Identity vs. role confusion||Adolescence||Determining one’s identity|
|6||Intimacy vs. isolation||Early adulthood||Developing intimate relationships|
|7||Generativity vs. self-absorption||Middle adulthood||Being productive|
|8||Integrity vs. despair||Old age||Evaluating one’s life|
While conducting intelligence tests on children, Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget began to investigate how children think. According to Piaget, children’s thought processes change as they mature physically and interact with the world around them. Piaget believed children develop schema, or mental models, to represent the world. As children learn, they expand and modify their schema through the processes of assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is the broadening of an existing schema to include new information. Accommodation is the modification of a schema as new information is incorporated.
Example: Suppose a young boy knows his pet parrot is a bird. When he sees a robin outside and calls it a bird too, he exhibits assimilation, since he broadened his bird schema to include characteristics of both parrots and robins. His bird schema might be “all things that fly.” Now suppose a bat flaps out at him one night and he shrieks, “Bird!” If he learns it was a bat that startled him, he’ll have to modify his bird schema to “things that fly and have feathers.” In modifying his definition, he enacts accommodation.
Piaget proposed that children go through four stages of cognitive development:Stage 1: Sensorimotor Period
In this stage, which lasts from birth to roughly two years, children learn by using their senses and moving around. By the end of the sensorimotor period, children become capable of symbolic thought, which means they can represent objects in terms of mental symbols. More important, children achieve object permanence in this stage. Object permanence is the ability to recognize that an object can exist even when it’s no longer perceived or in one’s sight.
Stage 2: Preoperational Period
Example: If a three-month-old baby sees a ball, she’ll probably be fascinated by it. But if someone hides the ball, the baby won’t show any interest in looking for it. For a very young child, out of sight is literally out of mind. When the baby is older and has acquired object permanence, she will start to look for things that are hidden because she will know that things can exist even when they can’t be seen.
This stage lasts from about two to seven years of age. During this stage, children get better at symbolic thought, but they can’t yet reason. According to Piaget, children aren’t capable of conservation during this stage. Conservation is the ability to recognize that measurable physical features of objects, such as length, area, and volume, can be the same even when objects appear different.
Example: Suppose a researcher gives a three-year-old girl two full bottles of juice. The girl will agree that they both contain the same amount of juice. But if the researcher pours the contents of one bottle into a short, fat tumbler, the girl will then say that the bottle has more. She doesn’t realize that the same volume of juice is conserved in the tumbler.
Piaget argued that children are not capable of conservation during the preoperational stage because of three weaknesses in the way they think. He called these weaknesses centration, irreversibility, and egocentrism:
From the age of seven to about eleven, children become capable of performing mental operations or working through problems and ideas in their minds. However, they can perform operations only on tangible objects and real events. Children also achieve conservation, reversibility, and decentration during this stage:
Furthermore, children become less egocentric during this stage as they start to consider simultaneously different ways of looking at a problem.Stage 4: Formal Operational Period
In this stage, which begins around eleven years of age and continues through adulthood, children become capable of applying mental operations to abstract concepts. They can imagine and reason about hypothetical situations. From this point on, people start to think in abstract, systematic, and logical ways.
Although Piaget made important contributions to the research on cognitive development, his theory has come under attack for several reasons:
|1||Sensorimotor||First two years of life||Object permanence, symbolic thought|
|2||Preoperational||2–7 years||Centration, irreversibility, egocentrism, and animism|
|3||Concrete operational||7–11 years||Reversibility, decentration, decrease in egocentrism, conservation|
|4||Formal operational||11 through adulthood||Abstract thought|
Lawrence Kohlberg focused on moral reasoning, or why people think the way they do about right and wrong. Influenced by Piaget, who believed that moral reasoning depends on the level of cognitive development, Kohlberg proposed that people pass through three levels of moral development. He divided each level into two stages.Level 1: The Preconventional Level
At this level, children ascribe great importance to the authority of adults. For children in the first stage of this level, an action is wrong if it’s punished, whereas in the second stage, an action is right if it’s rewarded.Level 2: The Conventional Level
In the next level, children value rules, which they follow in order to get approval from others. In the first stage of this level, children want the approval only of people who are close to them. In the second stage, children become more concerned with the rules of the broader society.Level 3: The Postconventional Level
In the final level, people become more flexible and consider what’s personally important to them. In the first stage of this level, people still want to follow society’s rules, but they don’t see those rules as absolute. In the second stage, people figure out right and wrong for themselves, based on abstract ethical principles. Only a small proportion of people reach this last stage of moral reasoning.
Research supports key parts of Kohlberg’s theory. People do tend to progress in order through Kohlberg’s stages, and cognitive and moral development do affect each other. However, critics of Kohlberg’s theory have two main concerns:
|Level||Stage||What Determines Right and Wrong|
|1.||Preconventional||1||Punishment by adults|
|2||Reward by adults|
|2.||Conventional||3||Rules set by close people|
|4||Rules set by society|
|3.||Postconventional||5||Rules set by society, judged by what’s personally important|
|6||Rules based on abstract ethical principles|