A critical analysis of three psychological research programs of doping behaviour

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To consider the various specific substances-taking activities in sport an examination of three psychological models of doping behaviour utilised by researchers is presented in order to evaluate their real and potential impact, and to improve the relevance and efficiency of anti-doping campaigns.


Adopting the notion of a “research program” (Lakatos, 1978) from the philosophy of science, a range of studies into the psychology of doping behaviour are classified and critically analysed.


Theoretical and practical parameters of three research programs are critically evaluated (i) cognitive; (ii) drive; and (iii) situated-dynamic.


The analysis reveals the diversity of theoretical commitments of the research programs and their practical consequences. The «cognitive program» assumes that athletes are accountable for their acts that reflect the endeavour to attain sporting and non-sporting goals. Attitudes, knowledge and rational decisions are understood to be the basis of doping behaviour. The «drive program» characterises the variety of traces and consequences on psychological and somatic states coming from athlete's experience with sport. Doping behaviour here is conceived of as a solution to reduce unconscious psychological and somatic distress. The «situated-dynamic program» considers a broader context of athletes' doping activity and its evolution during a sport career. Doping is considered as emergent and self-organized behaviour, grounded on temporally critical couplings between athletes' actions and situations and the specific dynamics of their development during the sporting life course.


These hypothetical, theoretical and methodological considerations offer a more nuanced understanding of doping behaviours, making an effective contribution to anti-doping education and research by enabling researchers and policy personnel to become more critically reflective about their explicit and implicit assumptions regarding models of explanations for doping behaviour.

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