Differences Between Erikson & Piaget

By Mark Filipowich
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Jean Piaget (1896-1980) and Erik Erikson (1902-1994) were psychologists with surprisingly parallel careers. Both Piaget and Erikson were European scholars who were taught in the Freudian tradition of psychoanalysis; both would eventually reject Freud's model of the mind; and both would make important strides in charting the development of children. There are, however, some key distinction between these two thinkers.

Biography of Jean Piaget

Piaget was born in Switzerland and, unlike many psychologists in the 20th century, he never left Europe for America, even during Nazi occupation. Piaget wrote his first scientific paper at the age of ten on the albino sparrow. His interest in mollusks earned him an impressive reputation at the end of high school. As a young man, he studied natural sciences and published two philosophical essays. Although Piaget hated philosophy, these essays did provide some insight into his theories of development. Piaget became interested in psychoanalysis and moved to France to study psychology. With the question, "How does knowledge grow?" Piaget began his landmark research into childhood cognitive development.

Piaget's Theory

According to Piaget, children in the earliest stages of life, from birth to 2 years, exist in a sensory-motor stage, where they learn to move and operate their bodies as well as begin to understand simple symbols. In this early stage, children are curious about their environment and begin to learn how to interpret it in sensible ways. The next stage is called preoperational thought and lasts from the ages of 2 until 7. In this stage, children develop stable concepts, mental reasoning and imagination. What is distinct and important about Piaget's views is that he considered imagination and play to be crucial to enable every child to develop his own sense of self and to foster healthy learning habits.

Biography of Erik Erikson

Erik Erikson's mother was a Jewish woman who became pregnant with him from an affair out of wedlock. Erikson's own "identity crisis" became an inspiration for much of his life's work. By sheer providence, he met the psychologist Anna Freud in Vienna in the late 1920s and turned his interests to psychoanalysis. Erikson fled Germany in 1933 as the Nazi party grew in power and bravado. In America, Erikson took a position with Harvard Medical School. He aimed to map out the psychological stages of a person, as Freud had done for children to adolescents. However, Erikson's stages did not rely so heavily on Freud's levels of consciousness, and they covered the entire lifespan of a person.

Erikson's Theory

Erickson proposed nine stages of life, the earlier of which overlap with Piaget's. Erikson's first stage, infancy, lasts from birth until 18 months and involves a child learning to trust the world and the people in it. Early childhood -- lasting until about the third year of life -- requires individuals to learn their own bodies, skills and existence. During the play age, from 3 until 5, a child learns to create imaginative play situations and imagine new roles. In the school age, from 6 to 12, children gain confidence in their abilities and gain a sense of industry. From ages 12 to 18, the child experiences adolescence, during which she develops an autonomous identity. The remaining four stages of Erikson's theory pertain to adulthood and are not directly comparable to any of Piaget's interests.

About the Author

Mark Filipowich is a freelance writer in London, Ontario. He began writing in 2006 and also serves as an editor for various print and online publications. Filipowich holds a B.A. in English and psychology from the University of Western Ontario, where he contributed to the campus newspaper, "The Gazette."