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Inside athletes' minds: Preliminary results from a pilot study on mental representation of doping and potential implications for anti-doping

Andrea Petróczi12*, Jason Mazanov3 and Declan P Naughton1

Author Affiliations

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

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

3 School of Business, UNSW@ADFA, Northcott Drive, Canberra ACT 2600, Australia

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Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 2011, 6:10  doi:10.1186/1747-597X-6-10

Published: 20 May 2011



Despite the growing body of literature and putative links between the use of ergogenic nutritional supplements, doping and illicit drugs, it remains unclear whether, in athletes' minds, doping aligns with illicit behaviour or with functional use of chemical or natural preparations. To date, no attempt has been made to quantitatively explore athletes' mental representation of doping in relation to illegality and functionality.


A convenience sample of student athletes from a large South-Eastern Australian university responded to an on-line survey. Competitive athletes (n = 46) were grouped based on self-reported use as follows: i) none used (30%), ii) supplement only (22%), iii) illicit only (26%) and iv) both supplements and illicit drug use (22%). Whereas no athlete reported doping, data provided on projected supplement-, doping- and drug use by the four user groups allowed evaluation of doping-related cognition in the context of self-reported supplement- and illicit drug taking behaviour; and comparison between these substances.


A significantly higher prevalence estimation was found for illicit drug use and a trend towards a biased social projection emerged for supplement use. Doping estimates by user groups showed mixed results, suggesting that doping had more in common with the ergogenic nutritional supplement domain than the illicit drug domain.


Assessing the behavioural domain to which doping belongs to in athletes' mind would greatly advance doping behaviour research toward prevention and intervention. Further investigation refining the peculiarity of the mental representation of doping with a larger study sample, controlling for knowledge of doping and other factors, is warranted.