What is Perseveration?

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  • Written By: Y. Chen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2019
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A term that is often used in the field of psychology, perseveration describes the uncontrollable repetition of a word, phrase, or gesture due to an organic mental illness such as Prader-Willi Syndrome in children, or traumatic brain injury (TBI) in adults. Even when a stimulus in the environment has been removed or stopped, the individual may continue to display actions of perseveration. The word perseveration is related to the word "perserverance," which is the act or instance of repetition.

The inability of ceasing a particular action can range in type. In any of the cases, the individual enters or continues a train of thought that is narrowly focused; in a sense, having tunnel vision. This focus could be on anything from a simple idea to a complex problem. Even if the original problem solving strategy is not the working, the person may not be able to change planes of thinking, suggesting a disability in abstract reasoning. This condition is measurable with the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test.


Neurologists have found that individuals who display perseveration often suffer from developmental abnormalities or injury to the brain's frontal lobe. The extent of perseveration ranges from organic illness to brain injury and illicit drug use. Some of these neurological conditions include but are not limited to dementia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette's syndrome, and catatonia. While the word perseveration has been integrated into mainstream usage, the word itself is distinguished from similar ones such as obsession or compulsion. A person with perseveration may actually enjoy the repetitive activities he or she is engaging in. The term obsession or compulsion is used when such activities become both undesirable actions and unstoppable.

Depending on the magnitude of perseveration, corrective actions can be taken to prevent the condition from getting worse. Treatments range from behavioral and cognitive strategies to medication. During childhood when perseveration mostly affects teachers and peers, experts suggest using techniques in diversion and behavioral management to adjust the issue. Management techniques include changing the subject in a conversation, setting time limits, confirming the answer, or simply saying "I don't know" to put an end to persistent questioning. Experts also suggest that teachers and parents teach children the correct, acceptable social exchange patterns, in order to set a standard for future reference.


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Post 7

I have a son on the autism spectrum who perseverates on ceiling fans, having knowledge of the exact type of nearly hundreds of them. He has a blast watching the boatload of Youtube clips that are out there, and then when we need to go somewhere without an electronic link, he repeats word for word how that person on the clip had described their fan/s.

He also has a wonderful biomedical doctor. They always know exactly how to help them with these issues. Anything in the world of autism can help typical children as well.

Post 6

This was somewhat helpful. I have an adult relative who repeats the same conversation two or three times (within five minutes). He also seems OCD and I am looking for help for him. Any ideas?

Post 5

27501 - I have that same child. We had her tested and she has a very high IQ which is nice to know but I still can't get her out of the house in the morning (or when I do I can't then get her out of the car, etc. etc.).

Post 4

to anon19363 that's echolalia.

Post 3

I met a girl who wanders the street. she often repeats the last few words of the sentence she states. For example, They shouldn't be letting me do that letting me do that. She has had no job for greater than 10 years, has had her children taken from her and does not receive a single penny.

she has a difficult time processing what you tell her even though she is looking right at you.

Post 2

I'm not sure if my child really has perseveration if I read the description of it above. Behavior he does display is the locking into a task he is performing, eg. drawing a picture, building with his Meccano set or Lego blocks, etc.

It is often difficult to move him from one activity to another, eg. playing outside to come sit down for supper, once supper is done I battle to get him into the bath, but once he is in the bath it is anther struggle to get him out and dressed and to bed. Etc.

Maybe this is a common problem with kids, but his teachers at school has also complained that he takes a long time to

complete tasks as he seems very 'perfectionistic' in all he does.

The Occupational Therapist said he might have perseveration, as he often repeated an answer for a series of questions, even though it was incorrect. His teachers now want to know more on the subject in order to help him, but if this diagnosis is incorrect the remedy won't work either.

Any suggestions?

Post 1

I found this article about perseveration quite interesting and informative. If someone tells the same joke over and over again or says the same phrase many times within one conversation, is that perseveration?

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