2011. Vol.2, No.7, 721-726
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.27110
Correlations between Impulsivity and Technical Performance in
Handball Female Athletes
Guilherme M. Lage1, Lívia G. Gallo1, Gabriela J. M. Cassiano1, Ingrid L. B. Lobo1,
Marcus V. Vieira2, João V. Salgado3, Daniel Fuentes4, Leandro F. Malloy-Diniz5
1College of Health Sciences, Universidade FUMEC, Belo Horizonte, Brazil;
2Helena Antipoff Fundation, Ibirité, Brazil;
3Institute of Biological Sciences, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil;
4Psychiatry Institute, Universidade de São Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brazil;
5Faculty of Philosophy and Human Sciences, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
Received July 13th, 2011; revised August 24th, 2011; accepted September 27th, 2011.
A complex and dynamic environment where impulsivity probably interferes in the human behavior is the sport
context. The aim of this exploratory study was to investigate the possible relationship between impulsivity and
technical performance in handball athletes. Eleven junior female athletes on a handball team were submitted to a
neuropsychological assessment of impulsivity using Conner’s CPT-II and the Iowa Gambling Task. In 11
matches, participants’ handball performance was analyzed. We adopted the resampling statistical approach to
correlate the measures of technical performance with the neuropsychological measures. IGT net score was posi-
tively correlated with technical faults. Omission errors on the CPT-II were positively correlated with the number
of fouls suffered, the number of fouls committed, and the number of offensive fouls. Commission errors on the
CPT-II were negatively correlated with rebounds with defense ball possession. Our results support the idea of
relationships between impulsivity and technical performance in specific match situations.
Keywords: Impulsivity, Sports, Handball, Motor Behavior, Attention, Decision Making, Response Inhibition
Impulsivity is a behavioral pattern characterized by several
types of manifestations. For instance, Barratt (Patton, Stanford,
& Barrat, 1995) proposed the existence of three classes of im-
pulsivity: motor (acting without thinking), attentional (lack of
focus on the task at hand), and non-planning (focus on the pre-
sent without accounting for the consequences of the future out-
The impulsive behavior is a core symptom in a large number
of psychiatric disorders but, nonetheless, there is also a growing
interest in the role of impulsivity among healthy populations
engaging in different activities (Stanford, Mathias, Dougherty,
Lake, Anderson, & Patton, 2009). For example, a complex and
dynamic environment where impulsiveness probably inter-
feres in the human behavior is the sportive context. Previous
research in this area has focused on demonstrating the relation-
ship between impulsivity and the involvement in particular
types of sports. Svebak and Kerr (1989), for example, com-
pared the impulsiveness of athletes involved in sports defined
as “endurance sports” (i.e., those involving sustained activity)
and “explosive sports” (i.e., those involve short, intense bursts
of activity). They found that athletes who engaged in explosive
sports (e.g., football) scored higher on impulsivity measures
than endurance participants (e.g., marathon runners).
Impulsivity may be an important factor in motor performance
interference in open-skill sports (e.g., soccer, basketball and
handball). Due to constant changes in the environment (e.g.,
alterations in opponents positioning), the player is forced to
inhibit pre-planned responses, anticipate actions and coordinate
corporal segments based on the complex and dynamic flow of
sensorial information. Previous studies using motor laboratory
tasks have shown that motor control is affected by the degree of
the subject’s impulsivity (Enticott, Ogloff, & Bradshaw, 2006;
Lemke, Fischer, Wendorff, Fritzer, Rupp, & Tetzlaff, 2005).
For instance, healthy individuals with higher impulsivity scores
present shorter relative time to achieve the peak velocity than
the low-impulsives in manual aiming movements (Lemke et al.,
2005). In addition, high-impulsive subjects tend to inhibit their
responses at a slower pace than low-impulsive subjects (Lijffit,
Bekker, Quik, Bakker, Kenemans, & Verbaten, 2004). High-
impulsive subjects also present higher reaction time than low-
impulsives in conditions of low compatibility stimulus-re-
sponse (Expósito & AndrésPueyo, 1997) and are less accurate
than low-impulsives in tapping at a specified rate (Barrat, 1981).
In spite of some controversial findings (cf. Dickman, 1993), the
general pattern over the course of these studies has indicated
that high-impulsive subjects are faster in their responses but
less accurate than their less impulsive counterparts (Lage,
Malloy-Diniz, Neves, Moraes, & Corrêa, in press).
Although generally viewed as counterproductive (Stanford et
al., 2009), it is possible that impulsivity had a positive role on
motor behavior in some specific circumstances. This may be
true in cases in which there is limited time available to: 1) rec-
ognize the opponent’s action; 2) process a decision; and 3)
organize the motor system to initiate a response. In such situa-
tions, it is probable that some degree of impulsivity helps the
player to achieve his/her goal successfully. An explanation for
this hypothesis might be based on the concept of functional
impulsivity characterized by a tendency or ability to think, act
and speak rapidly (Dickman, 1990, Reeve, 2007). Recently,
Lage et al. (in press) found that in situations in which the tem-
poral and spatial demands to the motor system were high, the
impulsivity had a functional, adaptive effect on manual motor
G. M. LAGE ET AL.
Although several evidences suggest an influence of impul-
sivity on motor control, to our knowledge, there are no studies
investigating this relation in the context of competitive sports.
Therefore, we aimed to investigate the relationships between
different impulsivity dimensions and technical performance in
an open-skill sport. Handball was chosen because it is a fast and
dynamic game that is played in a confined area where a high
degree of temporal and spatial pressure is involved. The very
intense physical contact among players often creates moments
of forceful behaviors, and the close proximity of coaches, offi-
cials and spectators to the court may represent an increased
Although our approach was mainly exploratory, on the basis
of previous evidence found in laboratory studies, an association
between impulsivity dimensions and technical performance was
predicted. In match situations in which both speed and accuracy
are categorically involved (e.g., when a shot on goal is taken),
motor impulsivity should be a factor of possible interference. In
match conditions that require high decisional demand (e.g.,
when the player holds the ball and has a second or two to de-
cide what to do next), non-planning impulsivity may be related
to the quality of motor response. In situations in which the at-
tentional demands are high (e.g., a direct confrontation with the
opponent), attentional impulsivity might be related to the
player’s level of success.
Twenty-two junior female athletes (between 17 and 18 years
of age; mean age = 17.45 ± 0.5 years) from a three-time state
champion handball team were invited to participate in this
study. All of them were court players. Seven players decided to
not participate, resulting in a sample of fifteen athletes. On
average, participants had 6 ± 1.8 years of handballs experience.
The local ethics review committee approved the study protocol.
All participants and their parents (only for the 17-year-old par-
ticipants) signed informed consent forms before participating in
The neuropsychological assessment has been described
elsewhere (see in Malloy-Diniz et al., 2007). Briefly, we used
Conner’s Continuous Performance Task (CPT-II; omission and
commission errors as measures of attentional and motor impul-
sivity) and the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT; the net score was
used as a measure of non-planning, decision-making, -related
impulsivity). Unlike CPT-II scores, high scores on the IGT
indicate a low level of impulsivity (Lage, Malloy-Diniz, Matos,
Bastos, Abrantes, & Corrêa, 2010).
Handball Technical Performance Evaluation. To scrutinize
the technical performance of the 15 court players, some pa-
rameters of a handball scout were used (Vieira, Greco, & Cha-
gas, 1990). The performance parameters investigated were
divided into technical faults, throwing and other measures.
The technical faults of each player were analyzed based on
the number of times any of the following occurred: 1) passing
error; 2) reception error; 3) touching the ball with the foot; 4)
double dribble; 5) loss of ball possession; 6) entering the goal
area; 7) carrying the ball for more than three steps; 8) holding
the ball for more than three seconds; and 9) offensive foul.
The technical performance related to the throwing was ana-
lyzed through the number of: 1) shots scored (goals); 2) shots
missed (ball was out of the court or ball hit the goalpost or
crossbar); 3) shots caught by the goalkeeper; 4) shots that
resulted in rebounds with defense ball possession (goalkeeper
rebounded and ball possession was returned to the defense); 5)
shots that resulted in rebounds with attack ball possession
(goalkeeper rebounded and the ball possession stayed with the
attack); 6) shots blocked with defense ball possession (shot
blocked and the defense stayed with the ball possession); and
7) shots blocked with attack ball possession (shot blocked and
the ball returned to the attack players). Other performance
measures analyzed were: 1) gaining possession of the ball
(“stolen” the ball of opponent); 2) passive play; 3) fouls
committed; and 4) fouls suffered. In each match, all of these
technical aspects were analyzed for each player throughout
the handball scout.
Eleven matches in the regional championship (during the
first semester of 2007) were analyzed. During the same period
(first semester of 2007, before the championship), the CPT-II
and IGT were administered to all players. Two trained physical
education professionals were responsible for watching and
filling the scouts during the matches. A third experimenter
filmed the matches in case of doubt in the posterior analyses.
Two trained neuropsychologists administered the neuropsy-
chological tests (tests were applied individually in a quiet room.
See detailed procedures in Malloy-Diniz, 2007). The order of
CPT-II and IGT application was randomized among partici-
pants. The entire procedure was blinded since the neuronpsy-
chologists did not watch the matches and the physical edu-
cation professionals did not have access to neuropsychological
Before the contest, we conducted a pilot study that consisted
of the analysis of three handball matches. The purpose of the
study was to analyze the coefficient of concordance among the
three physical education professionals. Kendall’s W test indi-
cated a significant degree of concordance (W = .9193, p < .0001)
on the filling of the scout.
After the championship, the match analysis showed that three
players did not play any of the 11 matches. One athlete played
for only a very short time during matches (mean of 11.25 min-
utes). Thus, we decide to exclude this player from the final
analysis. Therefore, the final sample was composed of 11 ath-
letes who played a mean of 7.58 (SD = 2.7) matches with a
mean time on court of 33.24 (SD = 10.6) minutes.
Due to the small sample size of this study we adopted the re-
sampling statistical approach (Stergiou, 2004), more specifi-
cally, a correlation with random data permutation (see the pro-
cedures in Edginton & Onghena, 2007: p.178). We correlated
the measures of technical performance (the mean for each
player during the 11 matches) with the neuropsychological
measures (scores obtained in each test). The number of re-
samples of the original data was equal to 1000, and the level of
significance adopted in all analyses was .05. The software used
was RT4win (Edginton & Onghena, 2007).
Neuropsychological data of each player are presented in Ta-
G. M. LAGE ET AL. 723
Technical performance data of each player are presented in
Table 2. The technical fault of “holding the ball for more than
three seconds” was not analyzed because this variable was con-
stant (zero) during all matches for all players.
Correlations between Technical Faults and
The correlations between technical faults and neuropsy-
chological measures are shown in Table 3. A significant nega-
Neuropsychological data of ea ch p layer.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
OE 12 7 13 12 11 5 17 16 15 6 8
COE 35 7 21 11 18 21 11 21 26 3 17
Net Score -2 46 –20 4 19 12 10 19 –14 –20 0
Note: Neuropsychological measures: OE = omission errors on the CPT-II; COE = commission errors on the CPT-II; Net Score = total score on the IGT.
Technical performance data of ea c h player.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Matches 4 11 10 5 4 11 4 8 10 10 6
MTC 16.3 41.2 46.3 40.5 34.7 42.2 21.6 30.6 38.3 36.2 40.1
PE 4 2 13 15 4 12 19 0 8 7 3
RE 1 1 4 3 3 1 10 2 3 4 0
TBF 0 0 2 1 1 1 3 0 1 2 2
DD 0 0 3 1 2 0 1 0 0 0 0
LBP 0 1 0 4 0 1 1 0 0 0 0
EGA 0 0 3 1 0 1 1 1 2 0 0
CBTS 0 0 10 0 0 2 0 1 3 0 0
OF 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
SS 8 2 45 65 16 12 54 4 13 35 6
SM 4 0 9 12 1 2 15 0 4 5 0
SC 3 2 14 16 13 6 19 1 6 9 2
SRDP 0 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 0 0
SRAP 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
SBDP 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
SBAP 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
GBP 9 2 18 6 6 7 26 1 6 20 4
PASSIV 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
FC 17 6 60 35 13 7 42 2 17 28 6
FS 24 7 52 19 24 7 37 6 16 27 9
Note: Number of matches played = Matches. Mean time on court (minutes) = MTC. The technical performance measures: passing errors (PE); reception errors (RE);
touching the ball with the foot (TBF); double dribble (DD); loss of ball possession (LBP); enter the goal area (EGA); carrying the ball for more than three steps (CBTS);
offensive foul (OF); shots scored (SS); shots missed (SM); shots caught by the goalkeeper (SC); shots that result in rebounds with defense ball possession (SRDP); shots
that result in rebounds with attack ball possession (SRAP); shots blocked with defense ball possession (SBPD); shots blocked with attack ball possession (SBAP); gaining
possession of the ball (GPB); passive play (PASSIV); fouls committed (FC); and (4) fouls suffered (FS).
G. M. LAGE ET AL.
Correlations between technic a l f a u l t s a n d n e u r opsychological measures.
PE RE TBF DD LBP EGA CBTS OF
OE r = –.44 .03 –.47 –.29 .01 .14 .20 –.61*
p = .18 .92 .14 .38 .95 .65 .57 .04
COE r = –.13 .07 –.37 –.50 .38 –.39 –.55 –.18
p = .69 .83 .24 .13 .25 .22 .08 .53
Net Score r = .11 .28 .04 .28 –.34 .63* .69* .64*
p = .74 .36 .90 .37 .32 .02 .02 .02
Note: *significant correlation (p ≤ .05). The technical performance measures: passing errors (PE); reception errors (RE); touching the ball with the foot (TBF); double
dribble (DD); loss of ball possession (LBP); enter the goal area (EGA); carrying the ball for more than three steps (CBTS); offensive foul (OF). Neuropsychological meas-
ures: omission errors on CPT-II (OE); commission errors on CPT-II (COE); total score from IGT (Netscore). The r values refer to original data and the p values refer to the
tive correlation (r = –.61, p = .04) was found between offensive
fouls (OF) and omission errors (OE) on the CPT-II. In other
words, the number of fouls made in attack was inversely corre-
lated with the players’ level of attentional impulsivity. Fur-
thermore a positive correlation was found between the IGT net
score and the following foul measures: 1) entering the goal area
(EGA) (r = .63, p = .02); 2) carrying the ball for more than
three steps (CBTS) (r = .69, p = .02); and 3) offensive foul (OF)
(r = .64, p = .02). Since high IGT net scores indicate low levels
of non-planning impulsivity, a lower level of this kind of im-
pulsivity was related to a higher number of offensive fouls.
Other correlations were not significant (Table 3).
Correlations between Throwing Performance and
The analysis of technical performance related to the throwing
and neuropsychological measures (Table 4) showed a signifi-
cant positive correlation between shots that resulted in rebounds
with defense ball possession (SRDP) and commission errors
(COE) on CPT-II (r = .67, p = .03). This finding shows that
higher levels of motor impulsivity were related to a higher
number of balls defended by the goalkeeper that resulted in
rebounds with defense ball possession. Other correlations were
not significant (Table 4).
Correlat ions betwee n O t h er Perform ance Measure s
and Neuropsychological Measures
Omission error scores on the CPT-II were negatively corre-
lated with the following performance measures: 1) gaining
possession of the ball (GPB) (r = –.63, p = .03); 2) fouls com-
mitted (FC) (r = –.63, p = .04); and 3) fouls suffered (FS) (r =
−.63, p = .02). In other words, higher levels of attentional im-
pulsivity were related to fewer fouls (committed or suffered)
and fewer “stolen” balls (represented by the gaining possession
of the ball measure). Other correlations were not significant
The aim of this exploratory study was to investigate the pos-
sible relationships between impulsivity dimensions and techni-
cal performance on an open-skill sport. To the best of our
knowledge, this is the first study to investigate the possible
relationship between impulsivity and this specific facet of
sports—the technical skills. Three types of results were identi-
fied: non-planning impulsivity was positively correlated with
measures related to technical faults; attentional impulsivity was
positively correlated with measures related to fouls; motor im-
pulsivity was negatively correlated with a measure of throwing:
rebounds with defense ball possession. The magnitude of all
significant correlations was moderate (0.61 - 0.69).
Non-planning impulsivity, as measured on the IGT, was
positively correlated with the following measures of technical
faults: 1) entering the goal area; 2) carrying the ball for more
than three steps; and 3) offensive foul measures. At first sight,
these findings seem paradoxical because low non-planning
impulsivity was correlated with a higher number of technical
faults. It has been shown that non-planning impulsivity has a
dysfunctional role in decision-making so that impulsive indi-
viduals make risky decisions. In doing so, they choose immedi-
ate rewards despite potential long-term negative consequences
(Möller, Barrat, Dougherty, Schmitz, & Swann, 2001). Deci-
sion-making consists of multiple operations, including option
evaluation, actions and outcome monitoring. These operations
involve slow, conscious and effortful reflections about possible
consequences (Bechara & Van der Linden, 2005). This is a
remarkable feature in open-skill sports characterized by a high
level of uncertainty that forces the player to use complex cogni-
tive skills under temporal pressure (Ripoll, Kerlirzin, Stein, &
Reine, 1995). Hence, it is possible that players with low
non-planning impulsivity emphasize the accuracy of motor
responses, thereby causing a temporal cost in situations in
which the speed of information processing is an essential fea-
ture. In other words, players with low non-planning impulsivity
would have decreased technical performance in match situa-
tions in which they needed to think and respond quickly.
This assumption is corroborated by Dickman and Meyer
(1988), who found a relationship between impulsivity and op-
timality of performance. High-impulsive subjects exhibited
decreased performance when accuracy was rewarded more than
speed, whereas low-impulsive subjects presented a disadvan-
tage when speed was rewarded more than accuracy. In this
sense, individuals at both extremes of the impulsivity contin-
uum are at a disadvantage under specific circumstances. How-
ever, further studies are needed to confirm that functional im-
pulsivity has a positive role in open-skill sports in which com-
plex decision-making under temporal and/or spatial pressure is
G. M. LAGE ET AL. 725
Correlations between performanc e i n th r ow i n g and neuropsycho l og i c al measures.
Measures of performance in throwing
SS SM SC SRDP SRAP SBDP SBAP
OE r = –.31 –.57 -.33 .12 –.49 .18 –.33
p = .38 .07 .32 .77 .09 .55 .36
COE r = –.14 –.08 –.28 .67* .13 .22 –.37
p = .67 .81 .38 .03 .80 .50 .16
Net Score r = –.08 –.04 –.02 –.26 .13 –.14 .72
p = .81 .98 .92 .35 .53 .65 .08
Note: *significant correlation (p ≤ .05). technical performance measures: 1) shots scored (SS); 2) shots missed (SM); 3) shots caught by the goalkeeper (SC); 4) shots that
result in rebounds with defense ball possession (SRDP); 5) shots that result in rebounds with attack ball possession (SRAP); 6) shots blocked with defense ball possession
(SBPD); and 7) shots blocked with attack ball possession (SBAP). Neuropsychological measures: omission errors on the CPT-II (OE); commission errors on the CPT-II
(COE); total score from IGT (net score). The r values refer to original data and the p values refer to the 1000 resampling.
Correlations between performance measures and neurop sy ch ol ogical measures.
Other performance measures
GPB PAS FC FS
OE r = –.63* .28 –.63* –.62*
p = .03 .41 .04 .02
COE r = –.11 –.13 –.29 –.52
p = .73 .66 .37 .10
Net Score r = .18 .05 .28 .27
p = .59 .84 .39 .41
Note: *significant correlation (p ≤ .05). Technical performance measures: 1) gaining possession of the ball (GPB); 2) passive play (PASSIV); 3) fouls committed (FC); and
4) fouls suffered (FS). Neuropsychological measures: OE = omission errors on the CPT-II; COE = commission errors on the CPT-II; net score = total score on the IGT.
The r values refer to original data and the p values refer to the 1000 resampling.
required. One possible way to investigate this directly is to
administer the Functional Impulsivity Scale (Dickman, 1990) to
The attentional impulsivity analyses revealed a negative cor-
relation between the omission errors on the CPT-II and several
situations in which the player had some kind of contact with the
opponent. High numbers of fouls suffered (committed or offen-
sive) were related to low attentional impulsivity. One could say
that these findings also seem intuitively paradoxical. However,
because a person with a high level of attentional impulsivity
presents an inability to focus on a task (Malloy-Diniz et al.,
2007)—perhaps resulting from a greater susceptibility to ch-
anges in arousal (Stanford et al., 2009)—it is possible that he or
she has more restricted participation during matches due to his
or her higher distractibility. This type of behavior would ex-
plain the inverse correlation found between attentional im-
pulsivity and fouls, as highly impulsive players are those less
involved in contact situations. Taking into account the limita-
tions of correlational studies and the lack of previous research
with similar characteristics, this assumption should be viewed
Attentional impulsivity also showed a negative correlation
with the gaining possession of the ball measure. Here, the re-
sults seem intuitive: low levels of attentional impulsivity were
related to higher numbers of “stolen” balls. In this case, players
who were more focused on their tasks probably had more suc-
cess in this technical fundament.
A positive correlation was found between rebounds with de-
fense ball possession and motor impulsivity. Here, it is possible
that 1) a trend to specify stereotyped motor responses or 2) a
propensity to respond rapidly, thereby emphasizing the speed to
the detriment had some influence in this finding. Spinella (2005)
found that motor impulsivity is related to deficits in self-inhi-
bition. It is possible that an inability to inhibit pre-potent motor
responses, observed in high-impulsive subjects (Möller et al.,
2001), creates more a stereotyped pattern of throwing that fa-
cilitates the action of the goalkeepers. Another explanation is
related to the speed-accuracy trade-off phenomenon (Schmidt
& Lee, 2005). This phenomenon is associated to the human
tendency to decrease the accuracy of a motor response when its
speed is increased. Literature about impulsivity shows that
high-impulsive subjects are faster in their responses but less
accurate than their less impulsive counterparts (Lage et al., in
press). Therefore, it is possible that high-impulsive players
presented faster throwing, but with a decreased accuracy when
compared to the low-impulsives, characteristic that facilitates
the action of the goalkeepers.
In short, this study is the first to produce evidence of a rela-
tionship between impulsivity and technical performance in an
open-skill sport. As a consequence, this study may open a
G. M. LAGE ET AL.
promising way of investigating the impact of impulsivity in a
specific context of sportive performance. However, it is impor-
tant to remember that the need for a resampling statistical ap-
proach only allowed us to draw assumptions about the sample
at hand, rather than about the population as a whole (Stergiou,
2004). Furthermore, the descriptive analysis does not prove any
causal relationship between impulsivity and performance. Due
to these limitations, our results should be interpreted with cau-
tion. Further studies with a sample size that permits the separa-
tion of high impulsivity athletes from low impulsivity athletes
are needed in order to compare the technical performance be-
tween the two groups. Similar investigations with other open-
skill sports are also suggested.
This work was supported by FAPEMIG, FUNADESP and
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