MCAT Content / Formation Of Identity / Theories Of Identity Development

Theories of Identity Development

Topic: Formation Of Identity

Many researchers and theorists have attempted to divide the formation of identity and personality into a series of concrete, universal stages including Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, and Lawrence Kohlberg.

Sigmund Freud was a Viennese physician who developed his psychosexual theory of development through his work with emotionally troubled adults. Now considered controversial and mostly outdated, his approach is based on the idea that parents play a crucial role in managing their children’s’s sexual and aggressive drives during the first few years of life to foster their proper development.

For Freud, childhood experiences shape our personalities and behavior as adults. Freud viewed development as discontinuous; he believed that each of us must pass through a series of stages during childhood and that if we lack proper nurturing and parenting during a stage, we may become stuck in, or fixated on, that stage. According to Freud, children’s pleasure-seeking urges (governed by the id) are focused on a different area of the body, called an erogenous zone, at each of the five stages of development (Psychosexual Stages of Development): oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital.

  • Oral (0-1 years of age): During this stage, the mouth is the pleasure center for development. Freud believed this is why infants are born with a sucking reflex and desire their mother’s’s breast.
  • Anal (1-3 years of age): During this stage, toddlers and preschool-aged children begin to experiment with urine and feces. The control they learn to exert over their bodily functions is manifested in toilet-training.
  • Phallic (3-6 years of age): During this stage, preschoolers take pleasure in their genitals and, according to Freud, begin to struggle with sexual desires toward the opposite sex parent (boys to mothers and girls to fathers). For boys, this is called the Oedipus complex, involving a boy’s’s desire for his mother and his urge to replace his father, who is seen as a rival for the mother’s’s attention. At the same time, the boy is afraid his father will punish him for his feelings, so he experiences castration anxiety. The Electra complex, later proposed by Freud’s’s protégé Carl Jung, involves a girl’s’s desire for her father’s’s attention and wish to take her mother’s’s place.
  • Latency (6-12 years of age): During this stage, sexual instincts subside, and children begin to further develop the conscience.
  • Genital (12+ years of age): During this stage, sexual impulses reemerge. If other stages have been successfully met, adolescents engage in appropriate sexual behavior, which may lead to marriage and childbirth.

Erik Erikson was a stage theorist who took Freud’s’s controversial theory of psychosexual development and modified it as a psychosocial theory. Erikson’s’s Stages of Psychosocial Development are based on (and expand upon) Freud’s’s psychosexual theory. Erikson proposed that we are motivated by the need to achieve competence in certain areas of our lives. According to psychosocial theory, we experience eight stages of development over our lifespan, from infancy through late adulthood.

Trust vs Mistrust: From birth to 12 months of age, infants must learn that adults can be trusted.

Autonomy vs Shame/Doubt: As toddlers (ages 1–3 years) begin to explore their world, they learn that they can control their actions and act on their environment to get results.

Initiative vs Guilt: Once children reach the preschool stage (ages 3–6 years), they are capable of initiating activities and asserting control over their world through social interactions and play.

Industry vs Inferiority: During the elementary school stage (ages 6–12), children face the task of industry vs inferiority. Children begin to compare themselves with their peers to see how they measure up. They either develop a sense of pride and accomplishment in their schoolwork, sports, social activities, and family life, or they feel inferior and inadequate because they feel that they don’t measure up.

Identity vs Role Confusion: In adolescence (ages 12–18), children face the task of identity vs role confusion. According to Erikson, an adolescent’s main task is developing a sense of self. Adolescents struggle with questions such as “Who am I?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” Along the way, most adolescents try on many different selves to see which ones fit; they explore various roles and ideas, set goals, and attempt to discover their “adult” selves.

Intimacy vs Isolation: People in early adulthood (20s through early 40s) are concerned with intimacy vs isolation. After we have developed a sense of self in adolescence, we are ready to share our life with others.

Generativity vs Stagnation: When people reach their 40s, they enter the time known as middle adulthood, which extends to the mid-60s. The social task of middle adulthood is generativity vs stagnation. Generativity involves finding your life’s’s work and contributing to the development of others through activities such as volunteering, mentoring, and raising children.

Integrity vs Despair: From the mid-60s to the end of life, we are in the period of development known as late adulthood. Erikson’s’s task at this stage is called integrity vs despair. He said that people in late adulthood reflect on their lives and feel either a sense of satisfaction or a sense of failure.

Though Erikson’s psychosocial stages account for the interactions between self and the social environment, Lev Vygotsky proposed a theory that goes further in explicitly recognizing the involvement of social and cultural factors in development. The most important element of his theory is that learning takes place through interactions with others that promote the acquisition of culturally valued behaviors and beliefs. Vygotsky’s work inspired the sociocultural approach to identity, which emphasizes socialization and the learning experiences that facilitate identity formation.

Lawrence Kohlberg expanded on the earlier work of cognitive theorist Jean Piaget to explain the moral development of children. Kohlberg believed that moral development, like cognitive development, follows a series of stages.

After presenting people with various moral dilemmas, Kohlberg reviewed people’s’s responses and placed them in different stages of moral reasoning. According to Kohlberg, an individual progresses from the capacity for pre-conventional morality (before age 9) to the capacity for conventional morality (early adolescence), and toward attaining post-conventional morality (once Piaget’s’s idea of formal operational thought is attained), which only a few fully achieve. Each level of morality contains two stages, which provide the basis for moral development in various contexts.

Level 1: Preconventional: Throughout the preconventional level, a child’s’s sense of morality is externally controlled. Children accept and believe the rules of authority figures, such as parents and teachers.

Level 2: Conventional: Throughout the conventional level, a child’s’s sense of morality is tied to personal and societal relationships. Children continue to accept the rules of authority figures, but this is now due to their belief that this is necessary to ensure positive relationships and societal order.

Level 3: Postconventional: Throughout the post-conventional level, a person’s’s sense of morality is defined in terms of more abstract principles and values. People now believe that some laws are unjust and should be changed or eliminated. This level is marked by a growing realization that individuals are separate entities from society and that individuals may disobey rules inconsistent with their principles.

 

Practice Questions

 

Khan Academy 

Tickle me Nim. Do primates speak language?

Counting systems and the Pirahã tribe

 

MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Section Bank P/S Section Question 33

Sample Test P/S Section Passage 5 Question 21

Practice Exam 1 P/S Section Passage 6 Question 33

Practice Exam 2 P/S Section Passage 7 Question 37

Practice Exam 2 P/S Section Passage 7 Question 38

Practice Exam 4 P/S Section Question 26

 

Key Points

• The five stages of Freud’s’s psychosexual theory of development include the oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages.

• According to his theory, each stage of psychosexual development must be met successfully for proper development; if we lack proper nurturing and parenting during a stage, we may become stuck in, or fixated on, that stage.

• Erik Erikson (1902–1994) was a stage theorist who took Freud’s’s controversial psychosexual theory and modified it into an eight-stage psychosocial theory of development.

• During each of Erikson’s’s eight development stages, two conflicting ideas must be resolved successfully in order for a person to become a confident, contributing member of society. Failure to master these tasks leads to feelings of inadequacy.

• Erikson’s’s eight stages of psychosocial development include trust vs mistrust, autonomy vs shame/doubt, initiative vs guilt, industry vs inferiority, identity vs role confusion, intimacy vs isolation, generativity vs stagnation, and integrity vs despair.

• Lev Vygotsky proposed a theory that recognized the involvement of social and cultural factors in development. The most important element of his theory is that learning takes place through interactions with others that promote the acquisition of culturally valued behaviors and beliefs.

• Lawrence Kohlberg expanded on the earlier work of cognitive theorist Jean Piaget to explain the moral development of children, which he believed follows a series of stages.

• Kohlberg defined three levels of moral development: preconventional, conventional, and postconventional. Each level has two distinct stages.

• During the preconventional level, a child’s’s sense of morality is externally controlled. Children accept and believe the rules of authority figures, such as parents and teachers, and they judge an action based on its consequences.

• During the conventional level, an individual’s’s sense of morality is tied to personal and societal relationships. Children continue to accept the rules of authority figures, but this is now because they believe that this is necessary to ensure positive relationships and societal order.

• During the postconventional level, a person’s’s sense of morality is defined in terms of more abstract principles and values. People now believe that some laws are unjust and should be changed or eliminated.


Key Terms

Sigmund Freud: His theory of psychosexual development is based on the idea that parents play a crucial role in managing their children’s’s sexual and aggressive drives during the first few years of life to foster their proper development

conscience: A personification of the moral sense of right and wrong, usually in the form of a person, a being, or merely a voice that gives moral lessons and advice

psychosexual: of or relating to the psychological aspect and aspects of sexuality

Erik Erikson: His psychosocial stages of development focus on the resolution of different crises to become a successful, complete person

Lawrence Kohlberg: his theory of moral development states that we progress through three levels of moral thinking that build on our cognitive development

morality: recognition of the distinction between good and evil or between right and wrong; respect for and obedience to the rules of right conduct; the mental disposition or characteristic of behaving in a manner intended to produce good results

Lev Vygotsky: believed that social interaction plays a critical role in children’s learning

sociocultural: combining social and cultural factors



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