Key Terms and Concepts

Erik Erikson (see Chapter 9) believed that people go through a series of identity crises, or turning points, that leave them vulnerable to major changes in how they see themselves. One such person was Fred, a man who experienced at least two such crises, and each led to significant turns in his life's course. His first identity crisis occurred during young adulthood, when, armed with an undergraduate degree hi English, Fred returned to his parents' home hoping to shape his identity hi the world of literature. His father reluctantly agreed to allow Fred 1 year to carve out a niche for himself as a writer. He warned his son of the necessity of finding a job, but he allowed Fred to convert the third-floor attic into a study.

Every morning, Fred clhnbed the two flights of steps and began his job as a writer. But nothing happened. After only 3 months of trying to become a creative writer, Fred realized that the quality of his work was poor. He blamed his parents, their home town, and literature itself for his failure to produce any worthwhile writing (Elms, 1981). He wasted time with nonproductive activities, sitting in the family library for long periods of time, remaining "absolutely motionless in a kind of catatonic stupor" (Skinner, 1976a, p. 287). Nevertheless, he felt obligated to continue the charade of pursuing a literary career for the one full year he and his father had agreed on. Fred eventually lost hope that he could make any contribution to literature. In later years, he referred to this nonproductive time as his "Dark Year." Erik Erikson would have called it a time of identity confusion—a thne for tryhig to discover who he was, where he was gohig, and how he was going to get there. The young man experiencing this "Dark Year" was B. F. Skinner, who later became one of the most influential psychologists hi the world but not until he experienced a second identity crisis, as we discuss in our biography of Skinner.

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