Beyond self-report in doping : validating declared substance use in sport with hair sample analysis

Aidman, E., Petroczi, A., Hussain, I., Deshmukh, N., Nepusz, T., Uvacsek, M., Toth, M., Barker, J. and Naughton, D. (2010) Beyond self-report in doping : validating declared substance use in sport with hair sample analysis. In: 2010 ASICS Conference of Science and Medicine in Sport : Hot Topics in the Tropics; 03 - 06 Nov 2010, Australia. (Unpublished)


Background: Studies of psychoactive drug use indicate that self-reporting is characterised by under-reporting. Self-reporting of doping practices is likely to be equally under-estimating – if not more so. This calls for more sophisticated methods for such estimation 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. Method: A doping attitudes questionnaire (Petroczi & Aidman, 2009) was combined with a response latency-based implicit association test (Petroczi, Aidman & Nepusz, 2009) and hair sample analysis for key doping substances in 14 athletes selected from a larger sample (N = 82) to form contrast comparison groups. Results: 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: Hair sample 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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