Open Access Methodology

Capturing doping attitudes by self-report declarations and implicit assessment: A methodology study

Andrea Petróczi12*, Eugene V Aidman3 and Tamás Nepusz14

Author Affiliations

1 Kingston University, Faculty of Science, School of Life Sciences, Penrhyn Road, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, KT1 2EE, UK

2 The University of Sheffield, Department of Psychology, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK

3 University of Adelaide, School of Psychology, North Terrace Campus, Level 4, Hughes Building, SA 5005, Australia

4 Research Institute for Particle and Nuclear Physics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Computational Neuroscience Group, Budapest, 1121, Konkoly Thege Miklós út 29-33, Hungary

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Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 2008, 3:9  doi:10.1186/1747-597X-3-9

Published: 21 April 2008



Understanding athletes' attitudes and behavioural intentions towards performance enhancement is critical to informing anti-doping intervention strategies. Capturing the complexity of these attitudes beyond verbal declarations requires indirect methods. This pilot study was aimed at developing and validating a method to assess implicit doping attitudes using an Implicit Associations Test (IAT) approach.


The conventional IAT evaluation task (categorising 'good' and 'bad' words) was combined with a novel 'doping' versus 'nutrition supplements' category pair to create a performance-enhancement related IAT protocol (PE-IAT). The difference between average response times to 'good-doping' and 'bad-doping' combinations represents an estimate of implicit attitude towards doping in relation to nutritional supplements. 111 sports and exercise science undergraduates completed the PE-IAT, the Performance Enhancement Attitude Scale (PEAS) and answered questions regarding their beliefs about doping.


Longer response times were observed in the mixed category discrimination trials where categories 'good' and 'doping' shared the same response key (compared to 'bad-doping' combination on the same key) indicating a less favourable evaluation of doping substances. The PE-IAT measure did not correlate significantly with the declared doping attitudes (r = .181, p = .142), indicating a predictable partial dissociation. Action-oriented self-report expressed stronger associations with PE-IAT: participants who declared they would consider using doping showed significantly less implicit negativity towards banned substances (U = 109.00, p = .047). Similarly, those who reported more lenient explicit attitudes towards doping or expressly supported legalizing it, showed less implicit negativity towards doping in the sample, although neither observed differences reached statistical significance (t = 1.300, p = .198, and U = 231.00, p = .319, respectively). Known-group validation strategy yielded mixed results: while competitive sport participants scored significantly lower than non-competitive ones on the PEAS (t = -2.71, p = .008), the two groups did not differ on PE-IAT (t = -.093, p = .926).


The results suggest a potential of the PE-IAT method to capture undeclared attitudes to doping and predict behaviour, which can support targeted anti-doping intervention and related research. The initial evidence of validity is promising but also indicates a need for improvement to the protocol and stimulus material.