Erickson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development: Hope, Will, Purpose, and Competence

Erickson’s stages of psychosocial development, developed by the German-American developmental psychologist Erik, are a series of eight different stages which Erikson believed that any mentally healthy human beings pass through as they age from infancy into late adulthood. These psychosocial developmental stages are sometimes used in conjunction with the more typical developmental stages of child-to-adult psychology, although Erikson’s psychosocial stages are more specific than the overreaching categories of regular development.

Erikson’s psychosocial developmental stages are broken into challenges which must be confronted in order to pass into the next psychosocial stage of development. Ideally, these psychosocial challenges will be successfully completed in order as a person ages from infancy until their late adulthood years. However, it is not necessarily required for each psychosocial stage to be mastered or completed in order for someone to advance onto the next psychosocial stage. For example, someone who is in the young adult stage of ‘Love’ will still advance onto the adulthood stage of ‘Care,’ regardless of whether or not the challenge of Intimacy vs. Isolation has been successfully confronted. When a challenge is not successfully confronted, it is believed that they will reappear again to be confronted in the future.

There are eight different stages in Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development. Each stage is broken down into four components: virtues, psycho social crises which occur during this stage, significant relationships in this stage, and the overarching existential question during this stage.These stages, which are typically referred to by their Virtues, are: Hopes, Will, Purpose, Competence, Fidelity, Love, Care and Wisdom. The first four stages focus on infancy through early adolescence, or from birth to approximately 12 years of age.


Erikson 1.1 hope

The first stage in Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development is called Hopes, which refers to the virtue of Hopes which can develop during this stage. The Hopes stage, which covers the years from birth to around 2 years of age, is defined by the conflict of Trust vs. Mistrust. This stage focuses on the basic needs of an infant which must be met by parents or other caretakers; the interaction which occurs because of these needs leads to the conflict of trust versus mistrust. Because an infant must rely on other people to fulfill their basic needs, the concept of the world, and other people, being trustworthy to the infant will be significantly affected by whether or not their needs are being met. Infants who are not properly cared for, or whose guardians are lacking in one or more area of infant care, may develop mistrust of other people and of the world in general.


The second stage of Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development is called Will, which refers to the virtue of Will which develops during this stage. The Will stage, which occurs during the ages of two to four years, is defined by the conflict of autonomy versus shame and doubt. During this stage, children–who are beginning to gain control over their motor abilities–will first explore the world around them. This exploration can help the child develop a sense of autonomy separate from their parents if their parents are encouraging and patient with their child’s early explorations. Children often develop their first hobbies and interest in this stage, such as beginning to enjoy certain types of music, becoming interesting in nature and animals, and so on. As is the case with exploration, exploration and encouragement will help foster a sense of autonomy–while a lack of encouragement or heavy restriction can cause shame and doubt in a child and in their own self-confidence.


Erikson 1.2

The third stage in Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development is called Purpose, which refers to the virtue of purpose which develops during this stage. This stage covers the ages of four to five years and is centered around the conflict of initiative versus guilt. During this stage, children are obtaining the beginnings of an education. They learn basic skills and information, such as “if something is round, it will roll,” as well as numbers and the alphabet. During this stage, children will begin to develop their own initiative, which means that they will want to start and finish their own actions for their own purpose. For example, a child may desire to go outside in order to play on their favorite swing, and so on. This initiative has several benefits, as it helps children increase their confidence as well as test their own self limits. For example, a child may discover that they are unable to reach glasswater when they initiate the action themselves and fail.When children are encouraged to take their own initiative, they usually develop a sense of self purpose; however, when children are discouraged from doing so, they will usually develop guilt over not being able to initiate their own activities.


The fourth stage in Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development is competence, which refers to the virtue of competence which develops during this stage. The competence stage, which covers the ages of five to twelve years old, centers around the conflict of industry versus inferiority. During this stage, children become much more aware of themselves as individuals and are able to grasp much more difficult concepts, such as morality, personal values, and culture. Children also develop the ability to complete much more complex skills such as understanding space and time, reading, writing, etc. Children in this stage often begin developing hobbies and skills which, when encouraged, can develop a sense of ‘industry’ in the child. For example, a child who writes stories and is encouraged will develop a sense of self-confidence about their skill, which will encourage them to continue writing, thus promoting their sense of industry. On the other hand, a child who is not encouraged or is discouraged from writing will develop a sense of inferiority about their skill and likely about themselves as well. This stage of psychosocial development is essential for the healthy development of a person’s confidence in their own competence and abilities.

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