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Perseveration, in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and speech–language pathology, is the repetition of a particular response (such as a word, phrase, or gesture) regardless of the absence or cessation of a stimulus. It is usually caused by a brain injury or other organic disorder.[1] Symptoms include "lacking ability to transition or switch ideas appropriately with the social context, as evidenced by the repetition of words or gestures after they have ceased to be socially relevant or appropriate",[2] or the "act or task of doing so",[3] and are not better described as stereotypy (a highly repetitive idiosyncratic behaviour).

In a broader sense, it is used for a wide range of functionless behaviours that arise from a failure of the brain to either inhibit prepotent responses or to allow its usual progress to a different behavior, and includes impairment in set shifting and task switching in social and other contexts.[4]

The primary definition of perseveration in biology and clinical psychiatry involves some form of response repetition or the inability to undertake set shifting (changing of goals, tasks or activities) as required, and is usually evidenced by behaviours such as words and gestures continuing to be repeated despite absence or cessation of a stimulus.[1][2][3][4]

More broadly in clinical psychology, it describes mental or physical behaviours which are not excessive in terms of quantity but are apparently both functionless and involve a narrow range of behaviours.

Etymologically, the term derives from "persevere", meaning "to continue determinedly", from Latin "perseverare", meaning "to persist": persistent behaviour directed toward an identifiable goal is called "perseverance", but when not directed toward such a goal is called "perseveration". In general English, "perseveration" refers to insistent or redundant repetition, not necessarily in a clinical context.[5]

Associated conditions and manifestations[edit]

Perseveration of thought indicates an inability to switch ideas or responses.[6] An example of perseveration is, during a conversation, if an issue has been fully explored and discussed to a point of resolution, it is not uncommon for something to trigger the reinvestigation of the matter. This can happen at any time during a conversation.[citation needed]

Physical brain injury, trauma or damage

  • Perseveration is particularly common with those who have had traumatic brain injury.
  • Perseveration is sometimes a feature of frontal lobe lesions,[6] and of other conditions involving dysfunction or dysregulation within the frontal lobe. This is especially true when the lateral orbitofrontal cortex or inferior prefrontal convexity (Brodmann areas 47/12) are affected.[7]
  • Perseveration is also sometimes seen as a symptom of aphasia.

Other neurological conditions

Confounds (conditions with similar appearing symptoms)

  • Perseveration may be confused with habitual behaviours in a number of other conditions and disorders, such as obsessive–compulsive disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), body dysmorphic disorder, trichotillomania, and habit problems.[14] However, in animal experiments, it is possible to distinguish cognitive perseveration from repetition due to a motor disorder. For example, under low doses of amphetamine an animal will perseverate in maintaining an arbitrary object preference even when different motor responses are required to maintain that preference.[15]


  • Several researchers have tried to connect perseveration with a lack of memory inhibition (the idea that the person might be repeating a certain answer because they have not been able to forget a past question and move on to the current subject); however, this connection could not be found, or was small.[16][17]


  1. ^ a b Helm-Estabrooks N (2004). "The problem of perseveration". Semin Speech Lang. 25 (4): 289–90. doi:10.1055/s-2004-837241. PMID 15599818.
  2. ^ a b "Perseveration". Psych Central.com. Archived from the original on 2012-10-16.
  3. ^ a b "Perseveration - Define Perseveration at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.com. Archived from the original on 2012-08-14.
  4. ^ a b Dictionary of Biological Psychology - p.595
  5. ^ "Perseverate | Define Perseverate at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.reference.com. Archived from the original on 2014-01-30. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
  6. ^ a b "Psychiatric Glossary of Terms in Psychiatry". priory.com. Archived from the original on 2013-01-07.
  7. ^ Iversen, Susan D.; Mishkin, Mortimer (1970). "Perseverative interference in monkeys following selective lesions of the inferior prefrontal convexity". Experimental Brain Research. 11 (4): 376–86. doi:10.1007/BF00237911. PMID 4993199. S2CID 11685677.
  8. ^ http://academic.oup.com/brain/article-pdf/130/3/816/778818/awl347.pdf [bare URL PDF]
  9. ^ a b Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children And Adults: Adhd, Bipolar... - Webb, p.50-51]: Notes prior research into "hyperfocus" in ADHD, identifies it with "flow" in gifted children, observes that what is called hyperfocus in such cases "seems to be a less medical-sounding description of perseveration. Thus the apparent ability to concentrate in certain limited situations does not exclude the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD."
  10. ^ Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, Barkley R. - p.61-62 "One track Mind"
  11. ^ Meaux, Julie B. (2000). "Stop, look, and listen: the challenge for children with ADHD". Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing. 23 (1): 1–13. doi:10.1080/01460860050121394. PMID 11011659. S2CID 19944681.
  12. ^ Miranda, Monica Carolina; Barbosa, Thais; Muszkat, Mauro; Rodrigues, Camila Cruz; Sinnes, Elaine Girão; Coelho, Luzia Flavia S; Rizzuti, Sueli; Palma, Sonia Maria Mota; Bueno, Orlando Francisco Amodeo (2012). "Performance patterns in Conners' CPT among children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and dyslexia". Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria. 70 (2): 91–6. doi:10.1590/S0004-282X2012000200004. PMID 22311211.
  13. ^ Gyula, Demeter; Mihály, Racsmány; Katalin, Csigó; András, Harsányi; Attila, Németh; László, Döme (2013). "Ép rövid távú memória és károsodott végrehajtó funkciók kényszerbetegségben" [Intact short-term memory and impaired executive functions in obsessive compulsive disorder]. Ideggyógyászati Szemle (in Hungarian). 66 (1–2): 35–41. PMID 23607228. Archived from the original on 2015-07-04.
  14. ^ Pediatric Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder~differential at eMedicine
  15. ^ Ridley, R.M.; et al. (1981). "An involvement of dopamine in higher order choice mechanisms in the monkey". Psychopharmacology. 72 (2): 173–177. doi:10.1007/bf00431652. PMID 6782607. S2CID 33346412.
  16. ^ Zelazo PD, Müller U, Frye D, et al. (2003). "The development of executive function in early childhood". Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 68 (3): vii–137. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5834.2003.06803010.x. PMID 14723273.
  17. ^ Sharon, Tanya; DeLoache, Judy S. (2003). "The role of perseveration in children's symbolic understanding and skill". Developmental Science. 6 (3): 289–96. doi:10.1111/1467-7687.00285. S2CID 332017.

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of perseverate at Wiktionary