The ‘selves’ in doping: A multi-country study

About this project

Psychological factors, such as personality traits, can influence athletes’ vulnerability and resistance to the temptation to dope. However, researchers (e.g., Boardley et al., 2021; Petróczi et al., 2021) have been calling for attention to address psychological drivers of international doping or the use of banned substances for performance enhancement due to limited research effect in this field to date.

In this project, we build on Zhang and Boardley’s (2022) preliminary work linking two opposing self-concepts, namely narcissism (i.e., constructing and maintaining a positive self-image) and self-compassion (i.e., taking a kind and non-evaluative attitude towards the negative self or any related unpleasant experience such as failure), to explain why athletes may engage in or resistant to dope. The two distinctive self-concepts are also of interest because literature has documented the risk associated with narcissism in doping (e.g., Nicholls et al., 2017) and the potential of self-compassion to attenuate narcissistic individuals’ maladaptive, antagonistic reactions to negative events or unpleasant experience (e.g., Leary et al., 2007). This project, therefore, aims to understand the influences of the two distinctive self-concepts in elite or high-level athletes’ risk of engaging in doping and to examine the psycho-social-behavioural factors underlying such influences.

The new knowledge generated from the project will contribute to the development of a psychology-focused anti-doping intervention and education programme in the future.

Research development

This project has been funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and is a collaboration between an international team involving the UK (University of Derby and University of Birmingham), the US (University of Illinois), and China (Sun Yat-Sen University). We are now at the stage of participant recruitment and data collection.

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Researchers involved


We would like to thank WADA Social Science Grant for the support to this project.

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