Can personality traits be used to predict doping in sport?

A psychologist at Edge Hill University is investigating whether personality traits can be used to predict whether or not competitive athletes are more likely to dope.

Doping is a significant concern among the sporting community, especially as more elite athletes have been caught using steroids for competitive advantage. Recently the World Anti-Doping Agency president admitted football “can do more” to stop doping.

Furthermore, only recently, former professional cyclist Lance Armstrong confessed on national television that he used banned substances to win seven Tour de France titles, which sparked outrage and once again brought this serious issue to the fore.

In light of this, Dr Andrew Levy has secured a research grant from the World Anti-Doping Agency to explore whether certain types of personalities can be predictive of how athletes think, feel and behave towards the use of doping in sport.

“There is a current need to combat and or reduce the likelihood of competitive athletes engaging in doping. Understanding individual differences such as personality traits can potentially make a contribution to help negate doping in sport,” explained the Reader of Psychology. “For example, if we find in our investigations that a particular array of personality traits are related to specific doping responses, we could target athletes with signs of this personality profile because, potentially, they are more likely to be at risk, and hopefully intervene before it’s too late”.

The ‘Big-5′ personality traits will be used for this research – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

“If this research shows that we can identify personality profiles that account for athletes who are at risk from doping, then this has the potential to target athletes who may be susceptible and thus help maximise the effectiveness of interventions.

“At this stage, it’s too early to say what types of personality are more likely to be predictive of doping, or whether it even has any influence at all but it’s something that needs to be investigated further.

“However, findings could be used to help maximise the effectiveness of interventions used to reduce the likelihood of doping in competitive sport.”

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