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12-06-2011 | Article

Drug doping deniers are ‘faking good’


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MedWire News: Athletes who have taken prohibited performance enhancing substances, but deny doing so, are likely to answer questionnaires assessing implicit attitudes to doping as if they are "clean" and strongly "anti-doping", shows a UK study.

The researchers say that "deniers" - individuals who deny using performance enhancing drugs but test positive for prohibited substances - gave answers on social cognitive measures that are consistent with a typical non-user. "In other words, they are 'faking good,'" explain the authors.

Indeed, the researchers found that "deniers" were characterized by a dissociation between explicit and implicit responding.

"This dissociation is, in fact, likely to be a cognitive marker for this group, which may lead to a promising application of the combined explicit-implicit cognitive protocol used in this study," say Andrea Petróczi (Kingston University, London) and colleagues.

Writing in the journal PLoS One, the team explains that social psychology research on doping has been dominated by the use of self-reports. Preliminary studies, however, have suggested that the information on doping behavior, as well as self-reported social cognitive measures, could be affected by some form of response bias.

To address this, the researchers recruited 82 athletes from 30 different sports. All athletes were assigned to one of four groups based on their self-admitted previous experience with prohibited performance-enhancing drugs and the presence or absence of at least one performance enhancing drug in a 3 cm head hair sample, covering up to 6 months prior to data collection.

In addition, participants were asked to answer questionnaires assessing a range of social cognitive determinants of doping, as well as a modified version of the Brief Implicit Association Test (BIAT), a questionnaire that assesses implicit attitudes to doping relative to acceptable nutritional supplements. Explicit social cognitive measures, such as doping attitude and opinions on whether doping should be allowed in competition were also assessed.

Petróczi and team report that performance-enhancing drugs were detected in 12% of participants, none of whom admitted doping. These "deniers" were characterized by a dissociation between explicit (verbal declarations) and implicit (answers to a questionnaire) responding, while convergence was observed in the "clean" athlete group.

Interestingly, Petróczi et al found that more males admitted having experience with doping than females (20.5 vs 7.0%, respectively), with a reversed pattern for positive hair analysis (5.3 vs 18.6%). This suggests some gender effect on both self-admissions and denials, they say.

The team concludes that "a combination of self-report and implicit cognitive measures seems to hold the strongest promise for future doping research."

MedWire ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Nikki Withers