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December 4, 2013, last updated January 7, 2015

By L. Carr, Contributing Columnist

When it comes to changing your path or altering your
ideas, are you difficult to budge? Do people find it hard to
change your mind or persuade you to do things
differently? If you’re self-willed, opinionated and
uncompromising you’ll also likely to be called stubborn -
unreasonably or perversely unyielding, according to the
Merriam-Webster dictionary. You refuse to change your
ideas or stop doing something, and instead carry on doing
what you’re doing in a persistent and obstinate manner,
whether your actions are benefiting you or not.

Here is the stubborn problem – stubbornness can often
result in biting off your nose to spite your face; you refuse
to change for the sake of refusing, even when your actions
damage you or cause harm to your relationships.

If your stubbornness is having a negative impact on your
life, it’s time to look at why you act the way you do, and
how you can turn your character trait into something more
positive. But are you, as an obstinate non-conformist,
likely to blame your personality? You could stubbornly
point out to your detractors that there is very little you can
do about the problem. In fact, it could be true that your
stubbornness has less to do with your personality and
more with your biological makeup.

Biological Roots to Stubbornness

Scientists recently found biological reasons for typical teen
stubbornness – stubborn, aggressive, my-way-or-the-
highway teen traits are actually caused by underdeveloped
neural processes and are not simply conjured up by teens
to annoy parents.

Researchers at the Harvard University's McLean Hospital
Cognitive Neuroimaging and Neuropsychology Laboratory
in 2007 found that part of the reason for stubbornness, as
well as other character processes, was that teenagers’
brains process information differently to adult brains. The
scientists used magnetic resonance imaging to map the
areas of the brain involved in behavioral traits such as

If you’re stubborn and you’re not sure why – and you’re
also older than a teen – it could be down to a mental
health condition, the cause of which can be biological.

Stubbornness and the Biological Causes of Mental Health

Stubbornness is a symptom of various psychological and
mental health conditions. Conditions like certain
personality disorders or obsessive compulsive disorder
("OCD") may be caused by biological factors. For example,
sufferers with obsessive compulsive disorder stubbornly
stick to patterns of behavior even at the risk of damaging
their health or causing psychological hardship.

OCD may have biological causes. Researchers from the
Ansary Stem Cell Institute and the Department of
Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in 2010 found
mice that were missing a specific gene developed
obsessive compulsive-like symptoms.

People with personality disorders, according to the UK’s
National Health Service, may display stubborn refusal to
change their views and behavior, particularly behavior that
is unusual, disturbing or shocking.

Paranoid personality disorder manifests itself in odd and
eccentric behavior, including a stubborn distrust of others.
Personality disorders are associated with genetic and
family factors.

Alzheimer’s disease, sufferers often become moodier
and more stubborn than normal, and will react irritably
when corrected or challenged. In the early stages of
Alzheimer’s it is frustrating and worrying to make mistakes
and to forget things, hence the denial that something is
wrong and the refusal to admit to mistakes. Many experts
believe Alzheimer’s disease is linked to biological factors
such as age and genetic family history, which cause parts
of the brain to waste away.

How Stubbornness Affects Your Body

According to this evidence, your biology makes you
stubborn but could it work the other way around –
stubbornness has a biological effect?

For example, a 2006 study from the University of Virginia
Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville looked at whether
stubbornness has a role in kids’ constipation.

It turns out constipated children are in fact more stubborn
than kids without constipation. But it isn’t clear which
comes first – does stubbornness cause a refusal to follow
bathroom routines, resulting in constipation, or does
constipation result in discomfort and cause stubbornness
to occur?

And, if constipation and stubbornness are linked, it could
be the case that men, who suffer more from constipation
than women, are more susceptible to being stubborn --
even when it's not is our best interests. (Read more about  
men and constipation.)

Biological Versus Psychological Roots of Stubbornness

If you’re an adult with a fully developed set of neural
transmitters, who doesn’t suffer from a personality
disorder or other health condition, how likely is it you can
blame your stubbornness on your biology?

Stubbornness develops during childhood due to certain
parenting styles, according to some experts. Self-focused
parenting reduced aggressive and stubborn behaviors in
six-year-olds, according to a 2013 study from Islamic Azad
University, Tehran, Iran. The researchers looked at 66
children and their mothers who completed questionnaires
to measure their children’s stubbornness before and after
parenting intervention.

Here's the bad news. If you're stubborn, you're unlikely to

Once learned, stubbornness is not likely to change – hardly
surprising, seeing as the character trait is defined by
obstinate views and behavior. The Baltimore Longitudinal
Study on Aging by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae
concluded that five main personality traits – including
agreeableness and openness to experience – remained
relatively stable with age, in particular after the age of 30.

Are There Any Advantages to Being Stubborn?

Many successful people describe themselves as stubborn--
with a twist. They're likely to cast their stubborness as
determination or perseverance. For exmaple, the actress
Anna Pacquin says that "Stubborn people get themselves
into a lot of trouble. But they also get things done."

“There's a fine line between stubbornness and the positive
side of that, which is dogged determination,” according to
former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

But is it ever right to praise stubbornness? Stubbornness,
whether it is a biological or psychological trait, can be a
positive attribute if you look at it in this way –
stubbornness fosters perseverance, toughness, mental
strength, and determination – all key traits for anyone
wanting to get ahead in the world.

If you can’t change your stubborn personality, then by all
means use it to your advantage. In a dog-eat-dog world,
the person who sticks with their plan --so long as it's a
good plan --- can thrive while others have long since given

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Are you like the dog who always pulls against the leash? Stubbornness may
be biologically based.
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