Virtue or pretense? Looking behind self-declared innocence in doping

Petroczi, Andrea, Aidman, Eugene V., Hussain, Iltaf, Deshmukh, Nawed, Nepusz, Tamas, Uvacsek, Martina, Toth, Miklos, Barker, James and Naughton, Declan P. (2010) Virtue or pretense? Looking behind self-declared innocence in doping. PLoS ONE, 5(5), e10457. ISSN (online) 1932-6203


BACKGROUND: Social science studies of doping practices in sport rely predominantly on self-reports. Studies of psychoactive drug use indicate that self-reporting is characterised by under-reporting. Likewise doping practice is likely to be equally under-reported, if not more so. This calls for more sophisticated methods for such reporting and for independent, objective validation of its results. The aims of this study were: i) to contrast self-reported doping use with objective results from chemical hair analysis and ii) to investigate the influence of the discrepancy on doping attitudes, social projection, descriptive norms and perceived pressure to use doping. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: A doping attitudes questionnaire was developed and combined with a response latency-based implicit association test and hair sample analysis for key doping substances in 14 athletes selected from a larger sample (N = 82) to form contrast comparison groups. Results indicate that patterns of group differences in social projection, explicit attitude about and perceived pressure to use doping, vary depending on whether the user and non-user groups are defined by self-report or objectively verified through hair analysis. Thus, self-confessed users scored higher on social projection, explicit attitude to doping and perceived pressure. However, when a doping substance was detected in the hair of an athlete who denied doping use, their self-report evidenced extreme social desirability (negative attitude, low projection and low perceived pressure) and contrasted sharply with a more positive estimate of their implicit doping attitude. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Hair analysis for performance enhancing substances has shown considerable potential in validating athletes' doping attitude estimations and admissions of use. Results not only confirm the need for improved self-report methodology for future research in socially-sensitive domains but also indicate where the improvements are likely to come from: as chemical validation remains expensive, a more realistic promise for large scale studies and online data collection efforts is held by measures of implicit social cognition.

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