Doping in team and individual sports: a qualitative investigation of moral disengagement and associated processes

Ian Boardley, Jonathan Grix, John Harkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
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The current study qualitatively investigated psychosocial processes that support
performance enhancing drug use in athletes from a range of sports, using Bandura’s social cognitive theory of moral thought and action as the guiding theoretical framework. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with twelve male athletes from a variety of sports who had used illicit performance enhancing substances within the previous two years. Interviews centred on the psychological and social processes that facilitated the athletes’ introduction to, and continuation of, doping. Study data were content analysed deductively using definitions for the eight mechanisms of moral disengagement (MD), as well as three further themes relevant to Bandura’s theory. Data analysis provided evidence for seven mechanisms of MD (i.e. moral justification, euphemistic labelling, advantageous comparison, displacement of responsibility, diffusion of responsibility, distortion of consequences, and attribution of blame) and all three of the additional themes (i.e. routinisation, family and friends, and sliding scale). The mechanisms and themes varied in their frequency of use, and were discussed with reference to Bandura’s theory, as well as other relevant literature on doping in sport.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)698–717
Number of pages22
JournalQualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2014


  • moral disengagement; performance enhancing drugs; positivism; socialisation; deductive reasoning


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