Psychological Theories of Personality Development

Topic: Developmental Psychology
Words: 837 Pages: 3

Advancements in psychology and the emergence of new social sciences brought more attention to human intrinsic personal development. During the 19th century, Karl F. Muenzinger tried to present psychology as a separate branch of social science. He believed that psychology constituted physiology, biology, and critical empiricism (Wertheimer and Puente, 2020). However, personality studies were still complex due to a lack of information and research. Later, in the early 20th century, psychoanalyst Erik Erikson suggested a new view of young people’s development (Maree, 2021). He believed that children’s maturation processes should be viewed not only from mechanical and biological perspectives but also from a humanistic approach. Then, James Marcia proposed his theory of personal identity. In contrast, he believed adolescents develop their individuality by exploring the social environment. This essay will discuss and compare both theories and how they reflect the author’s own experience.

Erikson’s Psychosocial Theory

Erikson’s theory comprises eight stages of personality development. The first stage is described as trust and mistrust. Infants learn to trust people, and issues of mistrust may stem from this period (Maree, 2021). The next stage is defined by him as autonomy and shame. In this stage, children aspire to physical independency and learn to manage their bodies (Maree, 2021). In the stage of initiative and guilt, children learn to act first and explore their abilities. They also develop a feeling of direction and motivation to achieve goals (Alberts and Durrheim, 2018). The fourth stage, which includes early school years, is described as industry versus inferiority. Children learn to accomplish complex tasks and receive approval from their social circle. Then, the stage of identity and role confusion takes place (Sternberg and Williams, 2010). Adolescents develop a healthy sense of self at this time, and failing to do so may result in role confusion (Maree, 2021). Early adulthood is described as intimacy and isolation, and it explores how adults establish intimate connections. Next, people undergo a stage of generativity versus stagnation (Maree, 2021). People learn to provide support for other people without expecting it in return (Sternberg and Williams, 2010). They search for a deeper meaning in their lives during that stage (Sternberg and Williams, 2010). Lastly, the Ego integrity and despair stage explains how humans reflect on their experiences and accept mortality (Maree, 2021). Erikson’s stages of personality development give insight into human life and its peculiarities.

Marcia’s Identity Theory

J. Marcia’s theory, on the other hand, demanded a more empirical approach to the understanding of the stages. He proposed that humans can be separated into identity statuses based on their exposure to various social circumstances (Montgomery, 2020). It allowed him to classify personalities into four distinct entities. As stated by Montgomery (2020), they are “foreclosure, diffusion, moratorium, and achievement” (p. 5). Foreclosure defines people who accept a specific outcome without learning alternative options (Montgomery, 2020). Such people experience extreme pressure from their peers or parents (Montgomery, 2020). Diffusion is ascribed to persons who neither accepted dominant views nor explored their own. Moratorium refers to those who investigated several options but failed to settle on one (Montgomery, 2020). Finally, achievement suggests people who thoroughly evaluate numerous identities and choose the most suitable (Montgomery, 2020). In conclusion, Marcia’s theory focuses on the selection process and the social circumstances that define them.

Comparisons of Theories

Erikson’s and Marcia’s theories approach human identity differently but share some views. Erikson’s system consists of eight stages and reflects a whole lifespan of a person. In comparison, Marcia’s theory has only four definitions that comprise human behavior. Similar to Erikson, Marcia believed that events in a human’s life contribute to the identity crisis. However, he emphasized social interactions and commitment (Montgomery, 2020). On the other hand, Erikson thought that personality development is primarily determined by phases in human life and that childhood is critical in the formation of an identity. (Maree, 2021). On the whole, they both accepted the importance of life events. Marcia emphasized personal commitment and four types of identities, while Erikson believed that development consists of eight stages.

My Own Experience

Erikson’s and Marcia’s theories reflect my own experience too. Firstly, I need to mention that, according to Erikson, I should be at the stage of intimacy and isolation. I am currently in my early adulthood and trying to establish deep connections with people. As I passed through the steps of childhood and adolescence, I learned that childhood traumas and mistrust might cause identity issues. I agree with Erikson and believe that identity crisis may stem from the early stages of life. In addition, I can support Marcia’s ideas since I have particular behavior patterns in different social situations. Their theories explained why each phase of life matters and how the lack of certain parts can lead to an identity crisis.

Erikson’s and Marcia’s theories contributed immensely to identity studies. Erikson’s psychosocial stages describe the processes people experience as they mature and develop personalities. Marcia’s theory reflects how humans adapt to circumstances and evaluate options. Finally, their theories helped me comprehend my own experience.


Alberts, C., & Durrheim, K. (2018). Future direction of identity research in a context of political struggle: A critical appraisal of Erikson. Identity, 18(4), 295-305.

Maree, J. G. (2021). The psychosocial development theory of Erik Erikson: critical overview. Early Child Development and Care, 191(7-8), 1107–1121.

Montgomery, M. J. (2020). Identity development theories. The Encyclopedia of Child and Adolescent Development, 1–12.

Sternberg, R. J., & Williams, W. M. (2010). Educational psychology. Pearson.

Wertheimer, M., & Puente, A. E. (2020). A brief history of psychology. Routledge.

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