Deutsch: Wiederholende Verhaltensweisen / Español: Conductas repetitivas / Português: Comportamentos repetitivos / Français: Comportements répétitifs / Italiano: Comportamenti ripetitivi

Repetitive behaviors in psychology refer to actions that are performed repeatedly and often in a similar manner. These behaviors can manifest in various forms, such as motor movements, verbal expressions, or ritualistic activities, and are commonly observed in certain psychological conditions.


In the context of psychology, repetitive behaviors are often associated with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and Tourette syndrome. These behaviors can include actions like hand-flapping, rocking, repeating words or phrases, and arranging objects in a particular order. They can be divided into two broad categories: stereotypies and compulsions.

  • Stereotypies are repetitive, non-functional movements or sounds. They are often seen in individuals with developmental disorders such as ASD. Examples include hand-flapping, rocking back and forth, and echolalia (repeating words or phrases).

  • Compulsions are repetitive behaviors performed in response to obsessive thoughts, often to reduce anxiety. These are characteristic of OCD and include actions like excessive hand washing, checking locks, and counting objects.

Repetitive behaviors can serve various functions. For some individuals, they provide sensory stimulation or help manage stress and anxiety. For others, these behaviors might be a way to establish a sense of control or predictability in their environment. However, when these behaviors become excessive or interfere with daily functioning, they may require clinical attention.

Application Areas

Repetitive behaviors are observed in several psychological contexts:

  1. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Individuals with ASD often exhibit repetitive behaviors such as lining up toys, repeating phrases, or hand-flapping.
  2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Compulsions are a hallmark of OCD, where individuals feel driven to perform certain actions to alleviate obsessive thoughts.
  3. Tourette Syndrome: Characterized by repetitive motor and vocal tics.
  4. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Some individuals with GAD may engage in repetitive behaviors as a coping mechanism to reduce anxiety.

Well-Known Examples

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: Children with ASD may engage in repetitive play, such as spinning wheels on a toy car instead of playing with it conventionally.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: An individual might repeatedly wash their hands to the point of causing skin damage, driven by a fear of germs.
  • Tourette Syndrome: A person may have repetitive tics, such as blinking or throat clearing, that occur involuntarily.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Repetitive checking behaviors, like repeatedly ensuring that a door is locked, can be a manifestation of anxiety.

Treatment and Risks

Managing repetitive behaviors often involves a combination of therapies:

  • Behavioral Therapy: Techniques such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are effective in reducing repetitive behaviors in individuals with ASD.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Particularly useful for OCD, CBT helps individuals challenge and change their obsessive thoughts and related compulsive behaviors.
  • Medications: In some cases, medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help reduce the frequency and intensity of repetitive behaviors.
  • Occupational Therapy: Helps individuals develop alternative strategies to cope with the need for repetitive actions.

The risks associated with repetitive behaviors include social isolation, physical harm (e.g., skin damage from excessive washing), and significant interference with daily life. Untreated, these behaviors can exacerbate the underlying psychological conditions and reduce the individual's quality of life.

Similar Terms

  • Stereotypies: Repetitive, non-functional movements or sounds often seen in developmental disorders.
  • Compulsions: Repetitive behaviors performed to alleviate anxiety, typically in OCD.
  • Tics: Sudden, repetitive movements or sounds that occur involuntarily, characteristic of Tourette syndrome.
  • Rituals: Structured, repetitive activities that can be part of OCD or cultural practices.


Repetitive behaviors in psychology encompass a range of actions from simple movements to complex rituals, often linked to conditions such as autism, OCD, and Tourette syndrome. Understanding the underlying causes and implementing appropriate therapies can help manage these behaviors, improving the individual's quality of life.