Examine psychological research into adolescence


The theory of psychosocial development (Erikson, 1968)


The theory is partly based on psychoanalysis but it departs from Freud’s heavy emphasis on sexuality. According to the psychosocial theory of development the individual develops through a series of stages from birth to death.


It basically says that we go through 8 stages of social development.  In each stage there exists a conflict/battle that must be internally fought.







A case study that supports Erickson:


Espin et al. (1990) conducted a longitudinal case study that tested Erikson’s ideas. The researchers performed a content analysis of 71 letters from a Latin-American girl to her teacher over a period of nine years, between the ages of 13 and 22. It was a very traumatic period in her life because she and her parents were arrested for political reasons. The researchers analyzed the letters and found changes of themes in the letters in relation to age. Themes of identity appeared in the earlier letters, and increased from the ages of 13 to 18 years, but then declined. This confirms that issues of identity were prominent in this period, as predicted by Erikson. Themes of “intimacy” which appear in early adult life, according to Erikson’s theory, increased steadily through the next period but became predominant after the age of 19. It was a single case study so the results cannot be generalized.


A Challenge to Erickson's Theory:


Rutter et al. (1976)




To investigate the concept of developmental crisis in a representative sample of adolescents.




 All adolescents on the Isle of Wight (an Island off England...I had to look that up) aged between 14 and 15 (cohort) participated in the study (N=2,303). Data were collected with questionnaires and interviews from parents, teachers, and the adolescents.




Only a minority of the adolescents showed signs of crisis or conflict with parents and this was mostly related to psychiatric problems. This is not in line with predictions of the theory of psychosocial development. Only one fifth of the adolescents reported feeling miserable or depressed.




The fact that it was a cohort study, i.e. all adolescents born on the island in the same years, increases the validity of the results. The combination of interview and questionnaires with adolescents as well as parents and teachers gave credibility to the results because the data could be corroborated. There may be problems with the reliability of the self-reported data.


Evaluation of the theory of psychosocial development