Societys Influence

Although inborn capacities are important in personality development, the ego emerges from and is largely shaped by society. Erikson s emphasis on social and historical factors was in contrast with Freud's mostly biological viewpomt. To Erikson, the ego exists as potential at birth, but it must emerge from within a cultural environment. Different societies, with then variations hi child-rearing practices, tend to shape personalities that fit the needs and values of their culture. For example, Erikson (1963) found that prolonged and permissive nursing of infants of the Sioux nation (sometimes for as long as 4 or 5 years) resulted hi what Freud would call "oral" personalities: that is, people who gam great pleasure through functions of the mouth. The Sioux place great value on generosity, and Erikson believed that the reassurance resulting from unlimited breast feedhig lays the foundation for the virtue of generosity. However, Sioux parents quickly suppress bithig, a practice that may contribute to the child's fortitude and ferocity. On the other hand people of the Yurok nation set strict regulations concerning elimination of urine and feces, practices that tend to develop "anality," or compulsive neatness, stubbornness, and miserliness, hi European American societies, orality and anality are often considered undesirable traits or neurotic symptoms. Erikson (1963), however, argued that orality among the Sioux hunters and anality among the Yurok fishermen are adaptive characteristics that help both the individual and the culture. The fact that European American culture views orality and anality as deviant traits merely displays its own ethnocentric view of other societies. Erikson (1968, 1974) argued that historically all tribes or nations, including the United States, have developed what he called a pseudospecies: that is, an illusion perpetrated and perpetuated by a particular society that it is somehow chosen to be the human species. In past centuries, this belief has aided the survival of the tribe, but with modern means of world annihilation, such a prejudiced perception (as demonstrated by Nazi Germany) threatens the survival of every nation.

One of Erikson's prhicipal contributions to personality theory was his extension of the Freudian early stages of development to include school age, youth, adulthood and old age. Before looking more closely at Erikson's theory of ego development, we discuss his view of how personality develops from one stage to the next.

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