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Perovskite solar cells have shown an impressive efficiency improvement over the past ~ 10 years achieving ~ 23% to date. However, the lifetime and instability of device characteristics are real issues to understand and solve before scaling up and commercialisation of these devices. Researchers have attempted to understand the hysteresis behaviour of current–voltage (I–V) curves in terms of mechanisms such as migration of several ions across the device and the effects of electronic defects during measurements. This review contributes to this scientific debate by presenting similar behaviour observed and reported for devices based on inorganic semiconductors. In established inorganic semiconductor thin film solar cells, both short lifetime and hysteresis have been observed, described and understood in terms of effects of numerous electronic defect levels. Therefore, the situation may be very similar and it is important to identify and reduce defects to remove this un-desirable behaviour from perovskite solar cells. After considering the wealth of experimental results reported in the literature, the conclusion made is the dominating mechanism of I–V hysteresis is due to electronic defects available within the device structure. Suggestions have been made for potential researchers to experimentally investigate the phenomenon in order to finally put an end to this debate. As the defect levels and their concentrations are reduced, the initial efficiency, stability and the lifetime of perovskite solar cells should improve further, beyond the current situation.