Attitudes Towards PEDs Can Be Predictive Of Doping Behavior

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Banning Russian track and field athletes from the Olympics, raiding coach Jama Aden’s hotel room, busting Kenyan marathoner Rita Jeptoo after a failed drug test—the most visible anti-doping measures happen after the fact. But anti-doping efforts also take place on a quieter front, upstream where doping starts—in the gray cells.


Doping to enhance sports performance requires significant consideration, decision-making, and planning. Thinking leads to action. Attitudes towards doping can be predictive of doping behavior. If your attitude towards using PEDs is lenient, you’re more likely to do so.

Professor Andrea Petroczi developed the Performance Enhancement Attitude Scale (PEAS) in 2000 to measure attitudes toward use of PEDS. Before we get into the nitty gritty of how it came to be, have a go at this test. Rank the following 17 questions with 1-strongly disagree, 2-disagree, 3-slightly disagree, 4-slightly agree, 5-agree, 6-strongly agree. Add up your score.

Illustration for article titled Attitudes Towards PEDs Can Be Predictive Of Doping Behavior

Did you do it? Take the test, I mean. I scored 34. Below are the results of 12 different populations from the U.S., Canada, Hungary, and the UK. The test was voluntary, self-scored, and anonymous. The first group, for example, was college athletes in the U.S. The group consisted of 193 respondents, 116 males and 77 females. Their average score was 31.61.

1 - College athletes (USA) 193, 116/77 - 31.61

2 - General public (USA) 77, 36/41 - 32.25

3 - Coaches (USA) 40, 25/15 - 30.86

4 - Div. I football players (USA) 71 - 44.68

5a - College athletes (HUN) 73 - 37.02

5b - College athletes (HUN) 73 - 35.35

6 - College athletes (USA) 91, 66/25 - 39.64

7 - Elite athletes (HUN) 102, 45/56 - 36.31

8 - College athletes (CAN) 74, 51/21 - 37.94

9 - College athletes (USA) 187, 133/53 - 37.57

10 - Elite athletes (HUN) 32, 26/6 - 35.83

11 - Students/athletes (UK) 70, 58/11 - 35.71

12 - Student athletes (UK) 124, 78/46 - 36.23

Then, PEAS author Petroczi and fellow researcher Eugene Aidman asked respondents in seven of the groups to describe themselves as either a PED user or non-user and compared their PEAS scores. Unsurprisingly, in all but one group, self-reported dopers had higher PEAS scores than those who said they didn’t dope (though it should be noted that the differences were only statistically significant in four of the groups).

Illustration for article titled Attitudes Towards PEDs Can Be Predictive Of Doping Behavior

The point of the study (PDF), published in 2009 in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, wasn’t to blow anybody away with heterodox findings, but rather an attempt to prove the validity of using attitudes toward doping as a proxy for actual doping behavior. As the authors point out, studies of the incidence of doping certainly help in trying to develop anti-doping strategies, “but obtaining reliable information on doping behaviour is hindered by the fact that athletes are asked to admit a behaviour that could jeopardise their sports career.”


Their study suggested that revealing attitudes toward doping was less incriminating and thus more reliable than self-reported doping behavior, and correlated strongly with actually doping. All of the PEAS averages were below the theoretical mid-point of 59.5 because doping is currently illegal, and in general, acceptance of doping is not the norm.

In reviewing the literature on motivation for doping, the authors discuss some of the agile justifications dopers use:

Interestingly, many athletes see doping as a necessary mean to an end (Curry & Wagman, 1999) and do not consider using performance enhancement as ‘cheating’. It is probably the case because athletes do not take the drug to replace hard work and training, but rather to add the extra edge to the work they have already done in order to increase the probability of winning, and having something valuable in return (Laure & Reinsberger, 1995). Many athletes posit that hard work alone cannot compete with chemically enhanced performance of some competitor, thus drugs are necessary part of their training regime (Brisonneau, 2006; Maycock & Howat, 2005). In addition, they also believe that no harm is done by doping since there is no ‘victim’ involved in their actions, other than perhaps themselves.


There were also a few fun revelations in amongst the statistical muck. One was that in 2009, the World Anti-Doping Agency called for much more research on the ethics of doping: “Increased knowledge regarding risk factors and a better understanding of the causes of doping behaviour are among the priorities of WADA.” They must have been looking for tidy academic studies because both Lance Armstrong and Russian Athletics were providing quite a bit of real-time data on attitudes toward doping that WADA overlooked.

Also, in looking at motivations for doping, never underestimate vanity: “Beyond the scope of sports performance, improving appearance is also among the reasons of using drugs, more specifically, anabolic steroids.”


Finally this tidbit on doping in non-Olympic sports like bridge (who knew?):

Not surprisingly, the percentage of positive test results in some Olympic sports in which athletes can benefit from using performance enhancements (by increasing endurance or power) exceeds the usual 2% average (e.g. cycling 4.7%, baseball/softball 5.8%, weightlifting 2.9%, triathlon 2.8% and boxing 2.4%). However, test results in some non-Olympic sports with recognition by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), such as airsport 9.3%, billiard 7.7%, bridge 7.4%, orienteering 3.5%, golf 2.7%, rugby 2.6%, signal that chemically enhanced performance is sought after in many competitive sports – both within and outside the IOC remit.


Airsports, by the way, include hang gliding, parachuting, ballooning, and paragliding.

More fun with statistics—post your PEAS score in the comments, whether or not it accurately predicts your actual PED behavior, and if you’re a professional athlete.