Technology and Psychosocial Development (Part 1)
As psychologists leading the Technology Wellness Center (TWC), our opinions on technology are always filtered through the lens of various psychological theories. In this series of blogs we are going to introduce you to the theory of psychosocial development, as developed by Erik Erikson who studied with Anna Freud. In each blog, we will examine the theory and how we think technology could detrimentally impact each stage of psychosocial development.
Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development is one of the most well known theories of personality development.
According to Erikson and his theory of psychosocial development, a child’s environment or social experiences are vital to providing a sense of progression, adjustment, and a source of self-awareness and identity for the child. In other words, the social environment helps shape our ego identity. Ego identity is defined as our beliefs, ideals, and values that help shape and instruct our behavior. We develop this sense of ego identity through the challenges of our social interactions. Erikson believed that self-identity begins forming in infancy, with critical development occurring during adolescence. However, Erikson also believed that ego identity continues developing into adulthood.
Ego identity is extremely important to who we are as individuals because it gives us an integrated and unified sense of self that persists and continues to grow as we age. Along with the development of ego identity, Erikson believed that a sense of competence motivates behaviors and actions. Hence, each of Erikson’s stages involves becoming competent in an area of life.
Erickson hypothesized that an individual should pass successfully through eight stages of psychosocial development from infancy to adulthood. At each stage there is a challenge that the person must tackle and hopefully master. If an individual is successful in managing the conflict, then they emerge from the stage with a psychological strength that will assist them throughout their life. This mastery is sometimes called “ego strength.” If an individual is unsuccessful in mastering the conflict then the individual may not develop the essential skills needed for a strong sense of identity and self. This failure can lead to a sense of inadequacy. Therefore, a person will either develop the skill or fail to develop the skill. While successful mastery of a challenge or stage is not required to move to the next stage, it is required to develop the skill.
The table below identifies each stage of Erikson’s theory.
|1||Birth to 18 months||Trust vs. Mistrust||Hope|
|2||2 – 3 years||Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt||Will|
|3||3 – 5 years||Initiative vs. Guilt||Purpose|
|4||5 – 11 years||Industry vs. Inferiority||Competence|
|5||Adolescence||Identity vs. Confusion||Fidelity|
|6||Early Adulthood||Intimacy vs. Isolation||Love|
|7||Middle Age||Generativity vs. Stagnation||Care|
|8||Old Age||Integrity vs. Despair||Wisdom|
Stage 1: Trust vs. Mistrust (0 – 18 months)
The first stage, known as ‘Trust versus Mistrust’ occurs from birth to 18 months and is considered the most fundamental stage in life. The basic focus in this stage is about drive and hope. Infants are absolutely dependent on their caregivers for everything, including food, love, warmth, safety, and nurturing. The quality and the dependability of their caregivers help the infant develop trust or mistrust. If the caregiver fails to provide the care and love to the child or are inconsistent, emotionally unavailable, or rejecting, the infant will come to believe that he or she cannot trust or depend upon adults in his or her life. Development of mistrust will lead to frustration, fear, suspicion, withdrawal, and a lack of confidence. This will eventually result in a belief that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.
On the other hand, if a child successfully develops trust, he or she will feel safe and secure in the world. Given that no child develops a sense of absolute trust or absolute doubt, Erikson believed that the conflict was to develop a balance between the two opposing sides. When the right balance is struck, then the child acquires hope. Erikson defined hope as an openness to experience tempered by some wariness that danger might be present.
How does technology use impact this stage? The TWC does not believe that technology use at this early age will necessarily lead to mistrust or failure at this stage; however, excessive technology use can interfere with the parents or primary caregivers providing the warmth, nurturance, and love necessary for infants to master this stage. We have seen parents hold their infants in their laps while letting the infant “play” on the iPad and seen children between the ages of one and two play with cell phones and tablets while sitting for extended periods of time in their strollers. These uses of technology interfere with the caregivers’ social interaction with the infant. Infants need social interaction, which involves undivided attention and physical touch, to successfully master this stage of development. Consistent and reliable caregiving is absolutely necessary during this stage.
Tips for parents with Stage 1 children (infancy to 2-years-old):
- Children should not watch television or play on tablets, cellphones, or other electronic devices.
- While playing with your child, make frequent eye contact.
- When you need to put your child in their car seat, stroller, or bouncy chair play soft music.
- Talk often while you are playing with your child or even if your child is in a restraining chair or stroller and you are doing other tasks. Children who hear more words spoken have larger vocabularies later in childhood.
In the next blog, we will focus on Stages 2 and 3.