Erikson’s theory suggests that personality evolves in a preset order through eight distinct stages of psychosocial development, ranging from infancy to adulthood, and progression at appropriate biological age results in a healthy personality. Skinner developed the behavioral theory of learning, suggesting that it is a process of conditioning in a response to environment and stimulus such as reward and punishment, with majority of human behavior being formulated in this manner. Meanwhile, Piaget developed theory of cognitive development suggesting that children move through stages of mental development, with a focus on knowledge and intelligence. The chosen theory is Erikson applied to the character of Peter Parker from Spider Man films/comics.
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Erikson’s theory does not cover conception, but Parker was born to healthy parents into a whole family without any known complications during pregnancy or birth. Erikson’s first three stages of trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame, and initiative vs. guilt occur in the first stages of life. Peter grew up to loving, intelligent, and encouraging parents and family. They were scientists and provided Peter with the environment to grow, learn, and explore. However, when Peter is four years old, his parents die in a mysterious plane crash, and although he could not yet process the events, it reflected on him as a psychological disturbance. In the initiative vs. guilt stage, when his uncle and aunt took him in, they sought to protect him and nurture him at a stage when kids show initiation and autonomy, independent decision-making as well as asking many questions (Erskine 13-14). Since this was stifled in the form of overwhelming protection, Peter as a child developed guilt and this contributed to his slow social interaction and some lack of self-control, albeit his family still did instill him with a sense of virtue and conscience which form at this stage as well.
During the middle childhood stage, Peter spent under the care of his uncle and aunt. They did not have much but they provided for the boy as much as they could, caring for him deeply. Erikson’s stage industry vs. inferiority where a child seeks to demonstrate competency that society may value and develops a sense of self-confidence if initiative and ability to achieve goals is encouraged (Shlafer et al. 102). Peter was smart and his family encouraged him to do well in studies which put him at the top of his class, but he continued to struggle socially.
Finally, upon reaching adolescence, Peter entered what Erikson labels as the identity vs. role confusion stage. As the adolescent becomes independent, they begin to form a unique identity and gradually transition into the role they would occupy as an adult. The person tries to find out who they are, through sexual and occupational identities (Schwartz and Petrova 110). It is at this stage that many teenagers see issues with mental health, and experience various problems in coping with these issues due to external factors as well as potentially role confusion. As seen in figure 1 below, these are the top problems identified among adolescents. Peter is in love with his popular neighbor Mary Jane, but as the geek of the class stands no chance with her. He wants to become a scientist in the footsteps of his father. However, Peter’s uncle dies in a robbery gone wrong (in which Peter blames himself), which places the protagonist who was already struggling with his newfound powers into role confusion. He feels guilt for his uncle’s death, having the chance to stop the robber earlier, and feels unsure about his place in society, as either Peter Parker or Spiderman.
Erskine, Richard. “Child Development in Integrative Psychotherapy: Erik Erikson’s First Three Stages.” International Journal of Integrative Psychology, vol. 10, 2019, pp. 11–34, Web.
Horowitz, Juliana, M., and Nikki Graf. “Most U.S. Teens See Anxiety and Depression as a Major Problem Among Their Peers.” Pew Research Center, Web.
Schwartz, Seth J., and Mariya Petrova. “Fostering Healthy Identity Development in Adolescence.” Nature Human Behaviour, vol. 2, no. 2, 2018, pp. 110–111.
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Shlafer, Rebecca J., et al. “Parental Incarceration during Middle Childhood and Adolescence.” Handbook on Children with Incarcerated Parents, 2019, pp. 101–116.