Behavior across the Lifespan

According to Erikson’s theory, a person goes through various stages of psychosocial development in the life and at each stage he or she faces a specific psychosocial dilemma, also known as ‘crisis’. Each crisis has to be resolved in order to achieve a balance between a person and society. Successful resolution of the crisis at each stage leads to a healthy and satisfying life, whereas failure to resolve the crisis during any stage upsets the balance, hampers personal growth and development and makes it difficult to deal with subsequent crises in the later stages (Shaffer, 2008). This paper describes the first three stages of Erikson’s theory and identifies and analyzes some movie characters which go through each of these stages.

Stage One (0 to 18 months): Trust versus Mistrust.

As an infant, the child is completely dependent on its parents for food, comfort and all basic needs. The child’s perception of the world is limited to its interaction with his or her parents. If parents give the adequate care with love and warmth, a sense of trust is established in the baby because of which they become attached to their parents. If the parents are cold and indifferent towards the child and do not meet the child’s basic needs, mistrust is caused. Basic mistrust can cause insecurity in later life (Coon, 2009).

An example of this stage is the baby Tarzan in the Disney movie ‘Tarzan’. The baby receives a lot of love and care from his gorilla mother, Cala. She fulfills all his basic needs as an infant providing him with food, love, protection, warmth and touching. Thus Tarzan grows up with a sense of trust in his mother.

Stage Two (2 to 3 years): Autonomy versus Shame and Doubt.

In stage two, children gain motor skills and try to do things themselves. If the parents encourage their clumsy attempts, this develops a sense of independence and autonomy in the child. But if the parents are overprotective or ridicule the child’s efforts, it may develop feelings of shame or doubt about his or her abilities (Coon, 2009).

When Tarzan is in this stage, he tries to act like gorilla, but he is not able to keep up with them. This causes him to doubt himself. Then he tries harder and eventually masters everything which gives him confidence in himself.

Stage Three (3 to 5 years): Initiative versus Guilt.

In this stage children take initiative, make plans and do tasks. If parents give children the freedom to use imagination in their games, to ask questions and choose activities, the initiative in children is reinforced. If children are criticized or discouraged from asking questions or during play, they develop guilt about their activities (Coon, 2009).

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In the movie “The Lion King” Simba takes his friend Nala to a forbidden place and is attacked by hyenas. This shows that he is taking initiative in play, planning activities. When questioned, he says he wanted to be brave like his father. But his father admonished him saying that he put his and Nala’s life in danger. In face of his father’s criticism, Simba feels guilty about his activities.


I agree with Erikson’s theory as it focuses on social interactions rather than only on the sexual ones, as in Freud’s theory. Social interactions play very important role in the development of personality. Erikson’s theory talks of development throughout life, from birth to old age, which sounds plausible because a person keeps having different experiences throughout life, which alter and shape his personality. Erikson also says that at each stage a crisis needs to be resolved to achieve balance and to move on. Achieving balance implies finding a suitable mid-point somewhere between the two alternatives. For example, although an infant learns to trust, everybody cannot be trusted and some amount of mistrust is also required. Children need to learn initiative on the third stage, but they also need to be familiar with guilt, which means feeling bad after doing something wrong. This is something that will keep their behavior honest and upright. Erikson’s theory explains the psychosocial development of humans in a convincing manner.

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