Trust vs. Mistrust: A Stage of Psychosocial Development

Stage 1 of Psychosocial Development

Mother and child
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The trust versus mistrust stage is the first stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. This stage occurs between birth and approximately 18 months of age. According to Erikson, the trust versus mistrust stage is the most important period in a person’s life.

A Quick Overview of the Trust vs. Mistrust Stage

  • Psychosocial Conflict: Trust vs. Mistrust
  • Major Question: "Can I trust the people around me?"
  • Basic Virtue: Hope
  • Important Event(s): Feeding

So What Happens During This Stage of Development?

It is in this initial stage of development that children learn whether or not they can trust the world. As you might have already guessed, it is the care they receive from their parents and other adults that is critical to forming this trust.

Because an infant is entirely dependent upon his or her caregivers, the quality of care that the child receives plays an important role in the shaping of the child’s personality. During this stage, children learn whether or not they can trust the people around them. When a baby cries, does his caregiver attend to his needs? When he is frightened, will someone comfort him? When he is hungry, does he receive nourishment from his caregivers?

An infant's ability to communicate his or her needs are limited, so crying carries an important message. When a baby cries, there is some need that should be met with a response from caregivers, whether it involves providing food, safety, a fresh diaper, or a comforting cuddle.

By responding quickly and appropriately to an infant's cries, a foundation of trust is established.

When these needs are consistently met, the child will learn that he can trust the people who are caring for him. If, however, these needs are not consistently met, the child will begin to mistrust the people around him.

If a child successfully develops trust, he will feel safe and secure in the world. Caregivers who are inconsistent, emotionally unavailable, or rejecting contribute to feelings of mistrust in the children they care for. Failure to develop trust will result in fear and a belief that the world is inconsistent and unpredictable.

Erikson believed these early patterns of trust or mistrust help control, or at least exert, a powerful influence over that individual's interactions with others for the remainder of his life. Those who learn to trust caregivers in infancy will be more likely to form trusting relationships with others throughout the course of their lives, Erikson believed.


Erikson, E. "Childhood & Society." W.W. Norton & Company. 1993

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