Understanding the psychology of doping

The project

This ongoing World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) funded project is using interviews to investigate athletes’ awareness of the detrimental outcomes of doping, and their use of moral disengagement to justify and externalise blame for doping. Moral disengagement reflects a person’s willingness to conditionally endorse negative behaviour through the use of any of eight psychosocial mechanisms that minimize negative emotional reactions (e.g., guilt, shame) normally experienced when disobeying rules and regulations. Interviews are currently being conducted with bodybuilders from each of the nine government office regions of England..

What did the research set out to achieve?

The primary aim of this project is to increase knowledge of potential causes of doping (drug influenced) behaviour. This will be achieved by conducting the first large-scale qualitative investigation of a series of eight psychosocial mechanisms that assist in behaviour such as doping. The detailed investigation of these mechanisms in athletes who have engaged in doping, will provide important information for coach and athlete education programs aimed at reducing the likelihood of doping in athletes.

What impact will it have on the Olympics, sports industry?

This research has the potential to inform future research and interventions that may lead to reduction in doping at future games. At the very least it will help inform the mechanisms through which athletes rationalise doping behaviour to themselves and others. The findings of this research are also relevant to sport in general, as well as the society at large as doping exists in most sports as well as in the general public.

The research team

Dr Ian Boardley is leading the project and the research associate collecting the study data is Andrew Dewar.