Developmental Theory, Moral Development, and Gender and Cultural Influences

Last Updated: 26 Jan 2021
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Most people are confused about how humans grow, mature, and develop a unique personality. This research paper will discuss the two different theories of Kohlberg and Erikson pertaining to human’s personality, moral development, and their gender and cultural differences.

It will further explain the role of each stage of human development in shaping a certain aspect of their behavior, and how it changes over a period of time. Developmental Theory, Moral Development, and Gender and Cultural Influences Human beings start to develop from the time of their birth and will continuously change and develop until they reach the stage of adulthood.

There are many theories that attempt to explain how human beings develop their personalities and identities over a period of time. Looking at the different theoretical views in psychology, it can be very confusing and misleading in terms of how an individual matures and develops.

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However, these theories will further explain and somehow let people understand the whole process of maturation and development of an individual. Two developmental theories will be discussed in this paper, as well as their similarities and differences.

The paper also aims to present how these theories affect the development of an individual from birth to adulthood. The theories to be discussed are Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development and Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development.

Erikson's Model of Psychosocial Development

Erik Erikson is a developmental psychologist who believes that a person develops their personality in a series of stage and ages. Erikson’s theory describes the impact of social experience across the whole lifep. Erikson's model of psychosocial development is a very significant, highly regarded, and meaningful thought.

Erikson developed the eight stages of psychosocial development of an individual. In each stage, he believes that people experience problems and conflicts in life; thus, it serves as a turning point in a person’s development throughout his or her life stages. These problems are expected to develop or impede the psychological ability of an individual (Wagner, 2008). The first stage of Erikson’s developmental theory is the Trust vs. Mistrust. This occurs between births and when a child reaches one year old. It is said to be the most fundamental stage in life.

It is a stage where a child learns to trust the people around such as the mother or parents who are expected to be there and provide them with their vital needs like care, love, trust and food. Since an infant is absolutely dependent, developing trust is usually based on dependability and quality of the child’s caregivers.

If a child finally develops trust, he or she will now feel secure living in the world. On the other hand, if trust is not developed in this stage, a child may develop fear and a belief that he or she lives in an unpredictable and conflicting environment (Chelsi, 2006). The second stage occurs when a child becomes a toddler.

This stage is called Autonomy Vs Shame and Doubt. In this stage of development, early childhood is focused on enhancing a greater sense of personal control. For instance, when a child learns to control certain parts of his or her body like toilet training and learning how to walk, then he or she will have a sense of control.

This child will feel independent as well and develop a sense of autonomy to do something on his or her own. However, if the child fails to attain personal control, it will result in feelings of shame and doubt (Wolfe, 2007). Stage three of Erikson’s theory is called Initiative vs. Guilt.

This stage happens when a child becomes preschool already between the ages of four and five. In this stage, a child become more active and will play and explore a lot. It is also where a child develops a conscience and begins to understand what is right from wrong.

Support is extremely needed in this stage because if it is not present, feelings of guilt can develop and will be the source of conflict later in the child’s life (Wagner, 2008). Fourth stage in this theory is Industry vs. Inferiority. This stage occurs when a child reaches the age of 2-12 years old and when they attend early school.

Every child needs to feel that he or she has achieved something in every work he or she does, most especially in school. That is why school is very important in this stage of development. If a child constantly successfully achieves something with the use of his or her own skill or ability, there will be a greater chance that the child will feel proud and confident within him- or herself. On the other hand, if the child fails to achieve something, it may result in feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem in the child’s personality (Wagner, 2008). Identity vs. Confusion makes up the fifth stage of Erikson’s theory.

This stage takes place during the adolescence period of an individual. Adolescents will try to discover their identity and figure out their personality and where they should belong in the world. It is the stage wherein a child begins experimenting since it is a way to discover him- or herself. If the child was not able to discover and know him- or herself, then there will be role and identity confusion in them. Consequently, he or she will be confused with his or her function in the world and can cause dilemma later on in the next stages of life (Chelsi, 2006).

The sixth stage of this theory is Intimacy vs. Isolation

This happens during early adulthood between the ages of 18 and 40. It is a stage wherein a person explores personal relationship, specifically intimate relationships with other people. Thus, in this stage, people begin to date and find a partner to marry.

Those who are successful will achieve a sense of intimacy and security from their partner or other people, while failure to do so may result in isolation and feeling of loneliness and depression (Wagner, 2008). Stage seven occurs at the age of 40 to 65, and it is called Generativity vs. Stagnation. In this stage, an individual continues to build lives but focuses now with career and family.

This is where a person learns to care and be concerned for other people. Being active and participative in the world is what people feel if they succeed in this stage. However, having less self-worth is what people would feel if they fail to meet this stage successfully (Wagner, 2008). Lastly, the eighth stage in Erikson’s theory is called integrity vs. despair. This occurs in old age between ages fifty and up. It is a stage where people look back on their life and reflect on what happened.

There may be a feeling of satisfaction or regret. They will have a sense of integrity when they feel happy and fulfilled with what happened in their life, while they may feel despair and bitterness if they think that their life was just a waste. Life is full of learning new things and challenges that help people grow and develop. This theory of Erikson is truly helpful for understanding a child and adult’s development (Wagner, 2008). The six stages of Erikson’s theory is related to the gender differences of an individual, with the fifth stage (Identity vs.Confusion) being the more crucial.

This is because in this stage, it is said that people are try to seek their real personality and identity by choosing where they should belong and knowing their purpose in life (Streitmatter, 1993). Environmental, cultural, and ethnicity factors are present in the whole stage of a person’s development. These factors influence an individual over the period of time when a person matures and lives his or her life. Environment such as the family, school, and the whole society is always involved in the process.

In addition, a certain culture and ethnicity of a person may give a great influence as well in shaping an individual’s personality, which makes them a certain persona living and functioning in the world. There may be a culture that is acceptable to the norms of a specific group of people, but then that specific culture may not be common and not acceptable to the other, so it is very important to know also where a person originated so that a person may understand why some people has different beliefs, values, and behavior in life (Child Development, 2006).

Kohlberg’s Developmental Model of Moral Development Kohlberg’s theory is quite different from Erikson’s theory. His theory focuses on the moral development. It is divided into three levels with two different stages on each level, which gives a total of six different stages of moral development. Level one is the pre-conventional morality level, and it has two stages. The first stage is the obedience and punishment orientation. It is a stage wherein a child learns what is right and wrong actions and behavior.

Children also learn in this stage that for every action they make they will gain a certain consequences of it. For example, if a child does something good, then they will be rewarded. On the other hand, if a child does something bad, then they will know that there will be a certain punishment and consequences for their actions. The second stage under pre-conventional level is called individualism and exchange. At this stage, a child learns to be concerned not only for himself or herself but for other people as well.

Children start to learn reciprocity and stand in the position of doing something for other people if it is for his or her self-interest. Hence, the child will follow a certain rule if he or she knows that she or he will gain something from it. Children at this stage are very focused and concerned with fairness and equality. The justice here is “do unto others what as they do unto to you. ” Thus, if a person does something good to somebody, then he or she expects that the person will do something good to him or her as well.

The same thing happens if a person does something bad to somebody; he or she then can expect that the person will do something bad to him or her in return (Crain, 1985). Level two is conventional morality, and the third stage is good interpersonal relationships.

In this stage, children do something because they already know that it is good, and they will be able to have good relationship with family, classmates, friends, and neighbors. They now know the concepts of trust, care, love, and being concern with other people, giving them a good impression of themselves from other people’s perspective.

In this stage, children aim to please people around them, and intentions are basically all good, since they are very concerned with having a good image to portray in the society, and since they are expected to behave in a way that the society asks them to behave. Fourth stage is maintaining the social order. It is still quite related to the third stage, but in this stage, a person become fully concerned not only the people around them but the whole society and environment already.

Now in this stage, a person learns about obeying laws and respecting the people and the authority, and they focus on performing a certain duty so that there will be a social order in the society. People at this stage will be knowledgeable about the societal law, and they are automatically expected to abide such laws that are imposed into their society and environment (Crain, 1985). Next is level three, and it is called the post-conventional morality where the last two stages lies ahead. The fifth stage is social contract and individual rights.

During this stage, an individual believes and looks into his or her own moral values and principles in life and becomes aware that it should be also good for the society. People develop their own opinions, beliefs, and values in life in this stage.

They also understand that codes of conduct are relative to their social group. This varies from culture to culture and subgroup to subgroup. A person enters into an agreement with fellow human beings to treat them fairly and nicely and to respect authority when it is equally moral and deserved. Lastly, the sixth stage is called the universal principles.

This stage involves the universal ethical principles in an individual’s life. A person uses his or her conscience and their own ethical principles to decide what is right and wrong behavior and actions. Here people are motivated by their conscience that surpasses cultural, religious, or social convention rules (Uncgrad, 2007). Kohlberg’s theory and stages of moral development is said to affect the gender differences, environmental, cultural, and ethnic influences in ways. A research says that gender differences have no effect in the moral judgment of a person.

However, they discovered that female are more likely to mature than male in the adolescent stage, making female more advanced when it comes to moral reasoning. Research states that girls are generally about two years ahead of boys in cerebral cortical and social-cognitive functioning (Silberman & Snarey, 2007). On the other hand, factors such as the environment, culture, and ethnicity of a person have a great effect also in developing a person’s moral judgment since these are factors that are always present in an individual’s life.

For instance, when two different races such as Western people and Asian people are compared, the difference in culture and beliefs is very evident that it is only likely that they will have different moral judgment (Mulder, 1997). Both theories of Kohlberg and Erikson critically discuss and explain how a person builds their personality and moral development in the life p of an individual.

Understanding both different stages of Kohlberg and Erikson will also prevent people from having conflicts and dilemmas in facing and dealing with life since people already know the sources and origins of human’s personality and moral development.


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Quintana, S. M. , et al. (2006). Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Child Development: Contemporary Research and Future Directions. Child Development, 77 (5), 1129-1141.

Silberman M. A & Snarey J. (2007). Gender differences in moral development during early adolescence: The contribution of sex-related variations in maturation. Current Psychology, 12 (2), 163-171.

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Cite this Page

Developmental Theory, Moral Development, and Gender and Cultural Influences. (2016, Aug 04). Retrieved from

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