The psychosocial development of an individual is a complex process, but every person experiences it. In psychological science, several theories have been created to systemize this development. The most prominent ones are the ones by Erik Erikson and James Marcia. While Erikson’s theory is the more fundamental one, with Marcia’s theory having been based on it, it is less variable and universal, while Marcia’s theory is better applicable to different cases.
In his theory of psychological development, Erikson discussed two processes: crisis and commitment. Identity crisis, in his works, is a period when individuals make decisions about whom to become and how to interact with family, peers, and community via commitments (Kunnen et al., 2019). To make the right decision, individuals commit to the exploration of their personal beliefs and aims. This search happens not once but many times during a lifetime. Thus, Erikson presented human development as a sequence of life crises.
During this sequence, each crisis has to be overcome to continue development. Erikson described eight stages of crisis in total: Infancy, Early childhood, Play age, School age, Adolescence, Young Adulthood, Adulthood, and Old age (Knight, 2017). The stages contain the life dilemmas: Trust versus Mistrust, Autonomy versus Shame, Initiative versus Guilt, Industry versus Inferiority, Identity versus Role confusion, Intimacy versus Isolation, and more (Karas et al., 2018). Thus, Erikson’s psychosocial developmental theory attempted to describe the full duration of human life and the connection between the psychological and social aspects of life.
Erikson considered adolescence to be the crucial stage for developing ego identity. The fifth dilemma, Identity versus Role confusion, takes place in adolescence. Fully adolescent people were considered to be in a moratorium, which is a sub-stage between adolescence and adulthood. During this time, a person still has their skills from childhood, which cease to be useful, yet has to learn the skills and competencies of adult life (Karas et al., 2018). Therefore, this stage is the most important one during psychosocial development.
Marcia has further developed Erikson’s study of identity. According to Marcia, identity was a “self-structure, composed of human beliefs, ideology, goals, and values” (Karas et al., 2018, p. 8). Marcia based identity structure on two key categories: exploration and commitment. Exploration is the state of seeking alternatives in the individual’s environment while paying attention to relationships and individual resources. Commitment is a “decision or choice made in an identity-relevant area” (Karas et al., 2018, p. 8). The commitment represents the choice of an individual to follow in their life, necessitating responsibility for it. Commitments are a person’s instrument to meet the numerous requirements of their life (Karas et al., 2018, p. 8). Thus, while Marcia uses Erikson’s term, he gives it a different, more detailed, and broader meaning.
Like Erikson, Marcia considers the dilemma of Identity versus Role confusion, which Erikson placed in the Adolescence stage, to be the most important. According to Marcia, the dilemma can lead to four possible states, called identity statuses, and based on the presence or absence of commitment and exploration. The identity statuses are as follows: achievement (high exploration and strong commitments); diffusion (no exploration and weak commitments); moratorium (high exploration and weak commitments); and foreclosure (no exploration and strong commitments) (Karas et al., 2018). With the moratorium, Marcia again uses a term Erikson previously used, but with a different meaning. According to Marcia’s approach to identity acquisition, one tries to analyze their situation by evaluating identity alternatives before making decisions on commitments based on beliefs and aims (Titrek et al., 2019). With this thesis, Marcia is, again, close to Erikson’s theory.
Thus, Marcia’s theory is based on Erikson’s theory, including details such as the special importance of the Identity versus Role confusion dilemma. With the abandonment of stages and clearer definitions of the employed terms such as moratorium and commitment, it is a progressive development. Marcia views identity development as less standardized and more complex without attempting to create a separate dilemma for each life stage, allowing the theory to be more applicable to different cases. Thus, Marcia’s theory is more universal than Erikson’s, despite having been based on it.
Like any other individual, the author of the essay has experienced stage development as per Erikson’s theory. The Infancy stage has been forgotten, but according to Basic Trust reappears in the Adolescence stage, which is possible, as Knight (2017) states, it prevailed during Infancy. The author has experienced shame and doubt during early childhood, Guilt during play age, Industriousness during school age, and Isolation during young adulthood, which the author currently experiences. During the previous stage of adolescence, out of the two options presented by Erikson, Identity cohesion was closer to the author’s personal experience. Generally, while the author’s psychosocial development stages mostly correspond to Erikson’s theory, there are notable differences. For example, neither shame and doubt nor autonomy is closely associated with the author’s early childhood, while role confusion is characteristic of the current stage, young adulthood, and not adolescence. Thus, Erikson’s theory, while significant in the identification of the general tendencies of psychosocial development, is not universal, and the more general theory of Marcia is more applicable to different cases.
The research on psychosocial development has a long history. The two most prominent theories are one by Erikson and the one by Marcia. Despite having been based on Erikson’s theory, Marcia’s theory is more universal and is better applicable to individual cases. This position has been evidenced by the author’s personal experience, which, while close to Erikson’s theory, has several contradictions to it.
Karaś, D., Topolewska-Siedzik, E., & Negru-Subtirica, O. (2018). Contemporary views on personal identity formation. Studia Psychologica, 18(1), 5–25.
Knight, Z. G. (2017). A proposed model of psychodynamic psychotherapy linked to Erik Erikson’s eight stages of psychosocial development. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 24(5), 1047–1058.
Kunnen, E. S., De Ruiter, N. M. P., Jeronimus, B. F., & van der Gaag, M. A. E. (Eds.). (2019). Psychosocial development in adolescence: insights from the dynamic systems approach (1st ed.). Routledge.
Titrek, P. D. O., Sezen-Gultekin, A. P. D. G., & Ahmadov, A. P. D. F. (2019). (5th International conference on lifelong education and leadership for ALL-ICLEL 2019. ICLEL Publication.