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Doping Behaviors and Prevention in Amateur Sport


Based on previous research, the purpose of this paper is to give an overview on doping behaviors in amateur sport, actual prevention actions, and to propose a new perspective in doping prevention. Doping is not limited to elite athletes and is increasingly important among amateur athletes. To reduce doping in sport, it seems important to influence young athletes in primary prevention. To date, traditional doping prevention campaigns are ineffective. In recent years, a new model of prevention campaigns based on fear, coming from the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian countries, has been used notably in France (e.g., prevention campaigns for road safety, tobacco, alcohol, cancer). This “fear model” has scientific support and has shown a relatively small but still solid effect on attitudes, intentions and behaviors. The fight against doping would benefit from trying the “fear model” in prevention campaigns.

Keywords: doping behaviors, doping prevention, fear appeals

Based on previous research, the purpose of this paper is to give an overview of doping behaviors in amateur sport as well as actual prevention actions, and to propose a new perspective on doping prevention.

Widespread Doping Behaviors among Amateur Athletes

Doping is not limited to elite athletes but is widespread in society and is increasingly important among amateur athletes (Calfee & Fadale, 2006Laure, 1997Lentillon-Kaestner & Carstairs, 2010Lentillon-Kaestner & Ohl, 2011Sagoe, Molde, & Andreassen, 2014Yesalis, Barsukiewicz, Kopstein, & Bahrke, 1997). It is difficult to assess the extent of doping in amateur sport, nevertheless it exists. In his review on 44 studies, Laure (1997) estimated the prevalence of doping in children and adolescents participating in sport at 3 to 5% and in adults participating in amateur sports at 5 to 15%. In France, 6.7% of 8-18 year-olds approved doping in sport (Laure, 2000). Lentillon-Kaestner and Carstairs (2010) showed that young amateur cyclists (Under-23 category) were tempted by doping. The meta-analysis of Sagoe, Molde and Andreassen (2014) on 187 studies showed a global lifetime prevalence rate of anabolic-androgenic steroid use of 3.3 %.

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Doping varies according to various demographic parameters. It increases with age and can start before the age of 15 years (Laure, 1997Sagoe et al., 2014). Doping is more widespread among boys than girls (Dunn & Thomas, 2012Laure, 2000); however, the gender gap is decreasing from 10 years old (Yesalis et al., 1997). Doping is more widespread among competitors, and it increases with the level of competition (Laure, 2000).

Inefficiency of Current Doping Prevention Programs

For several years, the fight against doping has mainly focused on the improvement of detection measures (drug tests), leaving aside measures of doping prevention (Backhouse, 2012Ntoumanis, Ng, Barkoukis, & Backhouse, 2014). To date, tested measures of doping prevention are rare, and doping prevention programs lack solid scientific background (Backhouse, 2012Johnson, 2012Ntoumanis et al., 2014). Traditional doping prevention campaigns are often ineffective. They describe substances’ side effects, try to persuade users of the ineffectiveness of performance enhancing substances or promote sports ethics (Barkoukis, 2014Schaps, Bartolo, Moskowitz, & al., 1981). The recent meta-analysis of Ntoumakis, Ng, Barkoukis and Backhouse (2014) showed that implemented anti-doping interventions lead to small changes in individuals’ attitudes towards and intention to engage in doping and had no effect on actual doping behaviors. It seems important to build innovative prevention interventions that are based on solid scientific theory (Backhouse, 2012 ;Johnson, 2012).

The Fear Model in Prevention Campaigns

In recent years, a new model of prevention campaign based on fear and coming from the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian countries has been used notably in France (e.g., prevention campaigns for road safety, smoking, alcohol, cancer). Fear is conceptualized as a negative emotional reaction to a perceived threat. The purpose of the fear model is to show the consequences of an undesirable event (illness, accident, etc.) or to give more or less directly a glimpse of the following unhappiness aiming to bring an attitude change. The fear motivates actions to reduce negative emotion (Gallopel, 2006). In contrast to current measures of doping prevention, prevention strategies based on fear have scientific support (Moscato et al., 2001Tay & Watson, 2002Witte & Allen, 2000). Psychologists and researchers in marketing have tried to understand why a prevention campaign based on phobic emotion resulted sometimes in success (action) and sometimes in failure (defensive reactions). Various theories have been developed. The latest and most advanced theory about fear from a theoretical and empirical point of view (Witte & Allen, 2000) is the Extended Parallel Process Model (EPPM) of Witte (1992) (Witte, 1992). In this model, individuals first assess the threat contained in the message. Perceived threat is a cognitive construct with two dimensions: perceived severity of the threat and one’s perceived susceptibility to the threat (Popova, 2011). In accordance with other meta-analyses, the meta-analysis of Witte and Allen (2000) suggested that the higher the fear level, the higher the persuasive impact of the message. If the threat is perceived as irrelevant or insignificant, the person is no longer motivated to process the message and simply ignores the fear. In contrast, when a threat is described as significant and relevant, people are frightened. The more people believe themselves vulnerable to a serious threat, the more they are motivated to start the second evaluation of the recommendations’ effectiveness. The fear motivates the change in attitudes, intentions and behaviors, especially fear accompanied with highly effective messages. Perceived effectiveness comprises two dimensions: perceived response effectiveness (beliefs of how effective a response is in averting a threat) and perceived self-effectiveness (beliefs about one’s ability to carry out the recommended response) (Popova, 2011). Effective messages generating a strong fear encourage behavior change (i.e., danger control), while less effective messages generating a strong fear lead to defensive reactions (i.e., fear control) (Popova, 2011). According to Witte (1992), fear in health campaigns is far more useful to promote prevention behavior than to modify an existing behavior. Witte and Allen (2000) concluded, from their meta-analysis on 98 studies on prevention campaigns based on fear (e.g., sexuality, alcohol, road safety, tobacco), that fear would have a relatively small but constant effect on attitudes, intentions and behaviors. They also offered a series of recommendations for the implementation of prevention measures (Witte & Allen, 2000). In addition, psychology studies on persuasion showed that a simple message was more persuasive in video than in written or audio forms (Girandola, 2003).

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The theory of self-affirmation (Steele, 1988) appears as a way to increase the effectiveness of prevention campaigns through a re-evaluation of the self-image, which reduces the defensive reactions and increases the acceptance of preventive message’s recommendations. The manipulation of self-affirmation may be achieved in different ways (e.g., values to rank in importance order, to write an essay on their most important value, to describe a very important thing in their lives) (Barkoukis, 2014). Research has shown that to secure the self through self-affirmation manipulation reduced defensive reactions to threatening health information (Sherman, Nelson, & Steele, 2000) and positively influenced healthier behaviors (Harris, 2011). Through the self-affirmation process, prevention campaigns do not threaten the self-image of the person, but only the behavior is threatened (Sherman et al., 2000Steele, 1988).

New Perspectives in Doping Prevention

Adolescence is a high-risk period for the development of doping behaviors. Performance enhancing drugs have adverse effects on health (Calfee & Fadale, 2006Maravelias, 2005), but young athletes are tempted by doping and are not afraid on the impact on their health (Lentillon-Kaestner, Hagger, & Hardcastle, 2012). Young athletes are priority target as their doping attitudes are in formation and primary prevention seems to be a good solution to avoid the appearance of doping behaviors.

To date, there do not exist any doping prevention videos based on fear induction. The fight against doping would benefit from trying fear in prevention campaigns for two main reasons. Firstly, although in recent years doping tests have progressed, preventive measures remain lacunar and should be improved. Secondly, doping prevention lacks standardized, effective and easy tools to use in the sport and academic domains. A doping prevention video could be used during sport events and competitions. Doping prevention is also a topic addressed in some school and university courses, particularly among young students following additional sport modules, or in sport universities. Teachers, often not specialists in doping, need help to address this difficult issue. The creation of a video based on fear could be a good preventive tool in the fight against doping in sport.

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