Benefits of sports participation for executive function in disabled athletes

Francesco Di Russo, Alessandro Bultrini, Stefano Brunelli, Anna Sofia Delussu, Lorenzo Polidori, Francesco Taddei, Marco Traballesi, Donatella Spinelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigated the effect of sports activity on physically-disabled individuals using behavioral and electrophysiological techniques. Visual go/no-go discriminative and simple response tasks were used. Participants included 17 disabled athletes, 9 from open-skill (wheelchair basketball) and eight from closed-skill (swimming) sports, and 18 healthy non-athletes. Reaction times of the disabled athletes were slower than those of healthy non-athletes on both tasks (7% and 13% difference, respectively). Intra-individual variations in reaction times, switch cost, and number of false alarms, were higher in the swimmers, but comparable to healthy non-athletes, in the basketball group. Event-related potentials (ERPs) early components P1, N1, and P2 had longer latencies in the disabled athletes. The late P3 component had longer latency and smaller amplitude in the disabled athletes only in the discriminative response task. The N2 component, which reflected inhibition/execution processing in the discriminative response task, was delayed and reduced in the swimmer group, but was comparable to healthy subjects in the basketball group. Our results show that (1) the ERP components related to perceptual processing, and late components related to executive processing, were impaired in disabled subjects; and (2) open-skill sports such as basketball may partially compensate for executive control impairment by fostering the stability of motor responses and favoring response flexibility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2309-2319
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1 2010


  • cortical plasticity
  • deafferentation
  • event-related potential
  • physical disability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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