Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Psychology


Psychosocial maturity is the domain of my research, specifically that of school-age children in the People's Republic of China. All researchers' metatheories define the particular theory and models they choose for their research. I, as a citizen of the People's Republic of China, have chosen a dialectical perspective. Mao's (1952) theory of contradiction has been adopted as a general conceptual framework within which Erikson's (1950) life cycle model of psychosocial development has been applied as a more specific theoretical guideline. Viney's (1983a) content analysis methodology has been used as a research tool.

Erikson claims that psychosocial development is a staged epigenetic process through eight specific stages and these stages and their corresponding crises are universal, although their contents may differ in different cultural contexts. I have reviewed both the conceptual and empirical studies of Erikson's assumptions and found no relevant Chinese studies. To test the universality and feasibility of Erikson's model in China, 360 students, from six primary and six high schools in Shanghai participated in individual, open-end interviews. Also, about one thousand students, including those interviewed, took part in a peer rating procedure based on Greenberger's (1974) concept of psychosocial maturity. The content analysis scales (Viney & Westbrook, 1979; Viney & Tych, 1985) were applied to the resulting responses. Data were analysed using within sample comparisons, but the scores of the Chinese sample were also compared with those of a similar sample of Australian school-age children and adolescents.

The main hypothesis, testing whether Erikson's developmental model would prove appropriate for the Chinese sample, was supported. Resolution of industry versus inferiority, the fourth stage task appropriate for school-age children, was found to be the main focus of all the research participants. Balancing identity versus identity diffusion, the sixth stage task appropriate for adolescence, was found to be emerging among high school students. A high level of trust existed for all school grades, however, Grade 1 consistently scored higher than other grades for all aspects of psychosocial maturity. Both Chinese and Australian samples were found to have some difficulty with the second stage task, a crisis of autonomy versus constraint. No significant differences were found between the two samples of children in terms of their overall level of psychosocial maturity, although Chinese children seemed to have a clearer sense of identity but less sense of industry and affinity. The Chinese sample showed no significant gender difference, nor was any significant effect found for socioeconomic status. The general attitudes of the children towards school and their school achievement were not associated with their psychosocial maturity. High levels of maturity were associated with many reports of positive interpersonal relationships and senses of independence and self control. There was a greater range of maturity among children in primary school than those in high school. Children who were the only child in the family proved to be more autonomous and diligent, but had a less secure sense of identity than children with two or more siblings, although their overall psychosocial maturity levels were similar.

I have discussed these findings from the dialectical perspective. I have evaluated my approach, and made comments on the strengths and limitations of this research together with some suggestions for future research in this area. The dialectical orientation, especially its contradiction perspective, has proved a heuristic and fruitful paradigm for research in development psychology. Erikson's psychosocial development model also has shown itself to be worth further reformulations and empirical testing, especially within the People's Republic of China. The methodology of the content analysis scales seems useful in assessing psychosocial maturity and has proved to be feasible using the Chinese language.