Personal And Social Identity: David Elkind And Erik Erikson's Theories

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The study of Society and Culture enhances the development of social and cultural literacy, primarily focusing on the interactions between persons, societies, cultures, environments and time. Founded upon conceptually based topics, a variety of cross-disciplinary concepts are drawn upon, utilizing a series of social and developmental theories in the teachings of personal and social identity. In an attempt to better understand the development of identity and social self, numerous theorists have constructed explanations to account for these processes of socialisation, as well as the coming of age for individuals in a variety of social and cultural settings.

This essay will assess the relevance of David Elkind and Erik Erikson's proposed theories concerning contemporary society, primarily through the encompassment of varied and conflicting aspects of society. The relevance and appropriateness of these theories will determine their inclusion within the Society and Culture syllabus.

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Erik Erikson was a stage theorist who was well-known for his expansion upon Sigmund Freud's pre-existing theory of psychosexual development, further elaborating on previous knowledge and modifying this into eight stages. Erikson's theory was founded upon the belief that resolution was absolute for development to occur, allowing for individuals to become successful and complete persons. Erikson's theory categorises the lifespan into eight stages, each consisting of two conflicting or opposing ideas that require resolution when resolved successfully, contribute to feelings of confidence and satisfaction. This resolution inevitably results in the development of the social self and allows people to become contributing members of society. The failure to resolve controversy at any stage poses the opposite effect, causing feelings of dissatisfaction and inadequacy that may interfere during future stages.

The social self can be defined as a conscious experience in which one becomes aware of their personal identity, which is distinct from others. The foundations of Erikson's theory suggest that development of the physical and social self is a continual process, built upon through constant adaptations and adjustments to the ever-changing circumstances that compose our lives. The psychological crises in each stage purely depend on the physiological and physical capabilities that occur simultaneously throughout one's lifetime. For example, during the first stage of infancy, one couldn't be expected to establish their own beliefs, values and attitudes before gaining a sense of independence, separating their mental state from others. This approach provides reasoning as to how one can achieve a full sense of self throughout their lifetime.

In a broader sense, Erikson's theory is both inclusive and relevant to contemporary society, although concerns are surrounding the restriction in age within this theory, suggesting that social and physical development occurs simultaneously with a person's age. This theory demonstrates a lack of understanding of the variation in key socialization agents that pose influence on an individual's circumstances of living. There's also much controversy surrounding Erikson's research being predominantly male-based, lacking inclusiveness of the biological differences that can affect the development of women both socially and physically. Furthermore, this theory lacks consideration towards many aspects of contemporary society, primarily the use of media and contemporary communication technologies. Factors as such continue to play a prominent role in contemporary society, which this theory fails to account for in many instances. This indicates a lack of relevance in the application to contemporary society and suggests that aspects of this theory may require adjustment to fit the ever-changing circumstances of present times.


David Elkind is an American child Psychologist, notorious for his contributions to psychology, specifically concerning adolescence. Elkind's original conceptualization involved a variety of concepts that were believed to emerge during the early stages of adolescence, including 'personal fable' and the 'imaginary audience'. His theory was founded upon the belief that adolescence is a sophisticated demographic stage, not merely just a period of transition, where individuals are often preoccupied with themselves, heavily anticipating other people's responses and thoughts about themselves. Within the context of this theory, egocentrism is defined as the difficulty or inability to distinguish between the mental occupations of the self and those of other people. There's been much debate surrounding the implications of adolescent egocentrism within educational settings, recognising this as a multi-faceted aspect, rather than a single dimension of development.

Very limited, but thorough academic research has been conducted to assess the validity of the two theoretical models that compose of Elkind's theories; the personal fable and the imaginary audience. A study was conducted, involving 2,390 participants that varied between 11 to 21 years old. This was used to assess the variables by which this theory is measured, which were believed to lack validity and possess ideation patterns that hadn't yet been explored. This served to highlight key problems that surrounded these constructs and assessed the role they play in adolescent development. The findings from this study concluded that the emergence of egocentrism possesses a powerful influence on behaviour each time an individual enters into a new environmental context of dramatically new life-situation. This transition could be considered especially significant in an educational context, which plays a major role during adolescence. Studies as such prompt more updated reviews, analysis and the potential application of his contributions in studying adolescents within the present, and more contemporary society. Whether this theory applies accurately to adolescents in the present society is controversial, leading some to believe that this theory is simply outdated. Elkind's theory of adolescent egocentrism lacks enough depth to account for the development of one's entire physical and social self. Furthermore, academic studies and encompassment of more modernised research could allow for this theory to be expanded upon in a way that poses more relevance to contemporary society.


Elkind’s theory demonstrates poor application to contemporary, demonstrating poor validity in its structure, and lacking the necessary depth to be included within the syllabus. The theory offers valuable concepts that could pose some sort of relevance to contemporary society, but the research behind Elkind’s theory suggests a lack of consideration towards the variations of persons, societies, cultures and environments that influence the primary focus of his theory, adolescents. Thus suggesting, if this theory were to be expanded upon to appropriately apply in contemporary society, and demonstrate the development of the physical and social self more prominently, it could be included within the syllabus in the future.

Erikson's theory successfully accounts for the development of physical and social self, possessing some relevance to contemporary society. Whilst there are recognised flaws, incorporating this theory within the syllabus would provide the opportunity for students to critique and interpret this theory for themselves, expanding on their knowledge, about the complexities of the development of one's physical and social self. Additionally, this theory could be used to exemplify how developmental theories may need to be expanded upon to meet the criteria of contemporary society, and cater to the variety in societies and cultures existing today.

Out of best interest for the syllabus, it would be advised that NESA includes Erik Erikson's theory of psychosocial development within the teachings of Society and Culture, however, it would be advised that Elkind's theory of adolescent egocentrism should be excluded until further notice or reassessment. These amendments to the syllabus have been suggested to integrate theories that best apply with contemporary society, as well as the subject matter.


A thorough assessment of these two theories has led to the suggestion that Erik Erikson's theory is not only deemed appropriate but possesses great relevance and purpose within the teachings of the development of the physical and social self. The inclusion of this theory within the syllabus would be beneficial to both the students' knowledge as well as the subject matter. On the other hand, David Elkind's theory didn't obtain the necessary depth and validity required to be deemed as appropriate to not only the Society and Culture syllabus but the application to contemporary society. This minor amendment to the syllabus will serve an array of benefits to not only the students but the subject matter itself.

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Personal And Social Identity: David Elkind And Erik Erikson’s Theories. (2021, September 02). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 22, 2024, from
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Personal And Social Identity: David Elkind And Erik Erikson’s Theories. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Jul. 2024].
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