How we form habits and change existing ones

August 9, 2014

Much of our daily lives are taken up by habits that we’ve formed over our lifetime. An important characteristic of a habit is that it’s automatic– we don’t always recognize habits in our own behavior. Studies show that about 40 percent of people’s daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations. Habits emerge through associative learning. “We find patterns of behavior that allow us to reach goals. We repeat what works, and when actions are repeated in a stable context, we form associations between cues and response,” Wendy Wood explains in her session at the American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention.

What are habits?

Wood calls attention to the neurology of habits, and how they have a recognizable neural signature. When you are learning a response you engage your associative basal ganglia, which involves the prefrontal cortex and supports working memory so you can make decisions. As you repeat the behavior in the same context, the information is reorganized in your brain. It shifts to the sensory motor loop that supports representations of cue response associations, and no longer retains information on the goal or outcome. This shift from goal directed to context cue response helps to explain why our habits are rigid behaviors.

There is a dual mind at play, Wood explains. When our intentional mind is engaged, we act in ways that meet an outcome we desire and typically we’re aware of our intentions. Intentions can change quickly because we can make conscious decisions about what we want to do in the future that may be different from the past. However, when the habitual mind is engaged, our habits function largely outside of awareness. We can’t easily articulate how we do our habits or why we do them, and they change slowly through repeated experience. “Our minds don’t always integrate in the best way possible. Even when you know the right answer, you can’t make yourself change the habitual behavior,” Wood says.

Participants in a study were asked to taste popcorn, and as expected, fresh popcorn was preferable to stale. But when participants were given popcorn in a movie theater, people who have a habit of eating popcorn at the movies ate just as much stale popcorn as participants in the fresh popcorn group. “The thoughtful intentional mind is easily derailed and people tend to fall back on habitual behaviors. Forty percent of the time we’re not thinking about what we’re doing,” Wood interjects. “Habits allow us to focus on other things…Willpower is a limited resource, and when it runs out you fall back on habits.”

How can we change our habits?

Public service announcements, educational programs, community workshops, and weight-loss programs are all geared toward improving your day-to-day habits. But are they really effective? These standard interventions are very successful at increasing motivation and desire. You will almost always leave feeling like you can change and that you want to change. The programs give you knowledge and goal-setting strategies for implementation, but these programs only address the intentional mind.

In a study on the “Take 5” program, 35 percent of people polled came away believing they should eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day. Looking at that result, it appears that the national program was effective at teaching people that it’s important to have 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. But the data changes when you ask what people are actually eating. Only 11 percent of people reported that they met this goal. The program changed people’s intentions, but it did not overrule habitual behavior.

According to Wood, there are three main principles to consider when effectively changing habitual behavior. First, you must derail existing habits and create a window of opportunity to act on new intentions. Someone who moves to a new city or changes jobs has the perfect scenario to disrupt old cues and create new habits. When the cues for existing habits are removed, it’s easier to form a new behavior. If you can’t alter your entire environment by switching cities– make small changes. For instance, if weight-loss or healthy eating is your goal, try moving unhealthy foods to a top shelf out of reach, or to the back of the freezer instead of in front.

The second principle is remembering that repetition is key. Studies have shown it can take anywhere from 15 days to 254 days to truly form a new habit. “There’s no easy formula for how long it takes,” Wood says. Lastly, there must be stable context cues available in order to trigger a new pattern. “It’s easier to maintain the behavior if it’s repeated in a specific context,” Wood emphasizes. Flossing after you brush your teeth allows the act of brushing to be the cue to remember to floss. Reversing the two behaviors is not as successful at creating a new flossing habit. Having an initial cue is a crucial component.

###

Reporters: Please email press@spsp.org if you would like to receive a copy of the presentation for this session.

Wendy Wood, “‪Habits in Everyday Life: How to Form Good Habits and Change Bad Ones‬” Thursday, August 7, 11-11:50 am ET. American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention. Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl., NW, Washington, D.C.

jsantisi@spsp.org
202-524-6543
Society for Personality and Social Psychology

Athletes’ fear of failure likely to lead to ‘choke,’ study shows

May 8, 2014

A new study by sports scientists at Coventry University and Staffordshire University shows that anxiety about a competitive situation makes even the most physically active of us more likely to slip-up.

The research, which is set to be presented at the British Psychological Society’s flagship annual conference this week, tested the anticipation and coordination abilities of 18 active and healthy young adults during two sets of identical physical tests – one ostensibly a practice, the other a competition.

In the ‘competitive’ trials, researchers found that the participants’ coincidence anticipation timing (CAT) – or their ability to anticipate and coordinate actions akin to catching a ball or striking a moving object – was significantly worse than in the practice scenarios.

At the same time, participants’ mental (cognitive) anxiety levels were found to be substantially higher during the competitive trials than they were in practice, a likely result of worrying about their performance.

The detrimental effect on anticipation timing was at its most acute during the more physically intensive parts of the competitive trials, but – significantly – was not evident during the practice trials, indicating that cognitive anxiety is a decisive factor in performance failure.

The findings support the predictions of ‘catastrophe theory’ – a theory popular amongst sports coaches and psychologists – which posits that sporting performance will be adversely affected by increased stress and anxiety.

Dr Michael Duncan, lead author of the study and associate head of the Department of Applied Sciences and Health at Coventry University, said:

“Anxiety in a competitive situation, whether sporting or otherwise, is something everyone can relate to. We’re all familiar with what we call ‘somatic’ anxiety, for example butterflies in the tummy which is the body’s response to tension, but this study is chiefly concerned with the effects of cognitive anxieties such as worry or fear of failure.

“Our research indicates that heightened cognitive anxiety, brought on by the competitive scenario, really does affect performance abilities in physically active people – and the same is likely to apply even for trained athletes.

“Where this study differs from anything in the past is that we measured these responses ‘in-event’ rather than after performance, so we’re generating a much more accurate picture of whether catastrophe theory has any value. The results strongly support the theory, which should make for interesting reading for sports professionals and psychologists around the world.”

Dr Duncan et al will be presenting the full findings from their research during the British Psychological Society’s annual conference at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, May 7th – 9th 2014.

alex.roache@coventry.ac.uk
44-024-776-55050
Coventry University

Custom-made mouthguards reduce athletes’ risk of concussion

May 1, 2014

When it comes to buying a mouthguard, parents who want to reduce their child’s risk of a sports-related concussion should visit a dentist instead of a sporting goods store.

High school football players wearing store-bought, over-the-counter (OTC) mouthguards were more than twice as likely to suffer mild traumatic brain injures (MTBI)/concussions than those wearing custom-made, properly fitted mouthguards, reports a new study in the May/June 2014 issue of General Dentistry, the peer-reviewed clinical journal of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

“Researchers and, most importantly, parents, are looking for ways to better protect children against concussions,” said lead author Jackson Winters, DDS, a pediatric dentist who also served as a high school and collegiate football official for 28 years. “Consumers may believe that today’s advanced helmet design provides sufficient protection, but our research indicates that, when compared to over-the-counter versions, a custom-made, properly fitted mouthguard also is essential to player safety.”

The study followed 412 players from six high school football teams. Three teams (220 athletes) were randomly assigned to wear custom-made mouthguards, and three teams (192 athletes) wore standard OTC mouthguards of their own choosing. All players wore the same style of football helmet.

According to the study, 8.3 percent of athletes in the OTC mouthguard group suffered MTBI/concussion injuries. For those with custom-made mouthguards, however, the rate was only 3.6 percent.

Many variables contribute to MTBI/concussion injuries, and mouthguards – whose primary function is protecting the teeth – cannot completely prevent them from occurring. Previous studies have theorized that mouthguards can reduce concussion risk, however, because they help absorb shock, stabilize the head and neck, and limit movement caused by a direct hit to the jaw.

Mouthguard thickness also has been shown to be a factor that contributes to the level of protection. The average thickness of the custom-made mouthguards in this study was 3.50 millimeters, while the average thickness of the OTC mouthguards was only 1.65 millimeters.

“Although more research on this topic is needed, our study shows the value of a custom-made mouthguard,” Dr. Winters said. “The benefits of protecting your child far outweigh the costs associated with a dental or medical injury, which is likelier to occur with a store-bought model.”

Custom-made mouthguards also can last longer than store-bought models and may be less prone to damage by the athletes, said AGD Spokesperson Eugene Antenucci, DDS, FAGD. “Over-the-counter mouthguards are not fitted to the athlete’s mouth, making them less comfortable than custom guards made by a dentist,” said Dr. Antenucci. “When a mouthguard is not comfortable, the athlete is likely to chew it, reducing its thickness and resulting in less protection.”

Dr. Antenucci offers the following tips for caring for a custom-made mouthguard:

  1. After each use, brush your mouthguard with a toothbrush and cool (not hot) water.
  2. Keep your mouthguard in a well-ventilated, plastic storage box when not in use. Your dentist will provide you with a case for your mouthguard.
  3. Heat is bad for a mouthguard, so don’t leave it in direct sunlight or in a hot car. The heat can melt the mouthguard, altering the way it fits in your mouth and resulting in less protection.
  4. When you see your dentist twice a year for your regular cleanings, bring your mouthguard with you. Your dentist can give your mouthguard a thorough cleaning and check its structure and fit.
  5. Call your dentist if you have any concerns about your mouthguard.

To get custom-made mouthguard for your child, talk to your general dentist.

media@agd.org
312-440-4974
Academy of General Dentistry

How well do football helmets protect players from concussions?

February 17, 2014

A new study finds that football helmets currently used on the field may do little to protect against hits to the side of the head, or rotational force, an often dangerous source of brain injury and encephalopathy. The study released today will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 66th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, April 26 to May 3, 2014.

“Protection against concussion and complications of brain injury is especially important for young players, including elementary and middle school, high school and college athletes, whose still-developing brains are more susceptible to the lasting effects of trauma,” said study co- author Frank Conidi, MD, DO, MS, director of the Florida Center for Headache and Sports Neurology and Assistant Clinical Professor of Neurology at Florida State University College of Medicine in Port Saint Lucie, Fla. Conidi is also the vice chair of the American Academy of Neurology’s Sports Neurology Section.

For the study, researchers modified the standard drop test system, approved by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, that tests impacts and helmet safety. The researchers used a crash test dummy head and neck to simulate impact. Sensors were also placed in the dummy’s head to measure linear and rotational responses to repeated 12 mile-per-hour impacts. The scientists conducted 330 tests to measure how well 10 popular football helmet designs protected against traumatic brain injury, including: Adams a2000, Rawlings Quantum, Riddell 360, Riddell Revolution, Riddell Revolution Speed, Riddell VSR4, Schutt Air Advantage, Schutt DNA Pro+, Xenith X1 and Xenith X2.

The study found that football helmets on average reduced the risk of traumatic brain injury by only 20 percent compared to not wearing a helmet. Of the 10 helmet brands tested, the Adams a2000 provided the best protection against concussion and the Schutt Air Advantage the worst. Overall, the Riddell 360 provided the most protection against closed head injury and the Adams a2000 the least, despite rating the best against concussion.

“Alarmingly, those that offered the least protection are among the most popular on the field,” said Conidi. “Biomechanics researchers have long understood that rotational forces, not linear forces, are responsible for serious brain damage including concussion, brain injury complications and brain bleeds. Yet generations of football and other sports participants have been under the assumption that their brains are protected by their investment in headwear protection.”

The study found that football helmets provided protection from linear impacts, or those leading to bruising and skull fracture. Compared to tests using dummies with no helmets, leading football helmets reduced the risk of skull fracture by 60 to 70 percent and reduced the risk of focal brain tissue bruising by 70 to 80 percent.

###

The study was supported by BRAINS, Inc., a research and development company based in San Antonio, Fla., focused on biomechanics of traumatic brain injury.

rseroka@aan.com
612-928-6129
American Academy of Neurology

Two strategies for accurate dart throwing

February 12, 2014

Timing of dart release or hand position may improve dart throwing accuracy, according to a study published in PLOS ONE on February 12, 2014 by Daiki Nasu from Osaka University, Japan and colleagues.

Two major strategies are attributed to accurate throwing: timing the object release, and the using hand positioning at release to compensate for releasing the object at variable times. To better understand these strategies, researchers investigated whether expert dart players utilize hand movement that can compensate for the variability in their release timing. The study compared the timing variability and hand movement of 8 expert players with those of 8 novices as they threw a dart 60 times, aiming at the bull’s eye. The movements of the dart and index finger were captured using seven cameras and analyzed.

The results revealed two strategies in the expert group. The timing variability of some experts was similar to that of novices, but these experts had a longer window of time in which to release an accurately thrown dart. These subjects selected hand movements that could compensate for the timing variability. Other experts did not use these hand movements, but rather reduced the variability in timing of the dart’s release. The authors indicate that both strategies can equally achieve consistent throwing.

Full article here:  http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0088536

For athletes, there’s no place like home

February 4, 2014

The pomp. The pageantry. The exciting wins and devastating losses. Unbelievable feats of athleticism and sheer determination. That’s right – it’s time for the winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Everyone has their picks for who will take gold medals and we’re likely to see some unexpected upsets.

But there are certain athletes that may have a leg up on everyone else: the Russians.

In a new article, psychological scientists Mark S. Allen of London South Bank University and Marc V. Jones of Staffordshire University review the existing research on sports and athletic competition and find that there is scientific support for the idea of a “home field advantage.”

Their review is published in the February 2014 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Allen and Jones investigate two different models that have been proposed to account for the apparent advantage of playing on home turf: the standard model and the territoriality model.

The standard model includes several factors that can influence the psychological states of competitors, coaches, and officials, ultimately impacting their behavior in ways that tend to favor home athletes.

Research shows, for example, that larger home crowds that show encouraging behavior, like cheering, are linked with home-team success. Crowd noise may even impact the kinds of decisions that officials make: When the home crowd is noisy, officials are more likely to make discretionary decisions (such as awarding extra time) that favor the home team and dole out harsher punishments (such as warnings) for the away team.

And findings suggest that the home advantage remains even when there is no audience. This may be due, at least in part, to travel fatigue suffered by the away team – one study indicates that the home advantage increases by as much as 20% with every time zone the away team must cross.

The territoriality model, on the other hand, specifically frames the home advantage as a reflection of players’ natural tendency to defend their home turf.

One study, for example, found that soccer players showed significantly higher testosterone levels before home games than before away games and neutral training sessions. And additional research suggests that increased testosterone may benefit athletic performance through physical aggression and motivation to compete, though the relationship between testosterone and performance needs to be further investigated in the context of competitive sport.

But, as Allen and Jones point out, playing at home may come with certain disadvantages, as well.

Research indicates that cortisol, a stress hormone, is higher when performing at home, adding to self-report data that athletes feel increased pressure to succeed in front of their own fans. Studies show that in high-pressure, high-importance situations, athletes may shift their attention in an effort to control typically automatic movements. This conscious control often leads to worse performance, a phenomenon commonly referred to as “choking.”

Each of the home-field advantage models has evidence to support their main premises, but it’s still unclear how, or whether, they fit together. And more work is needed to understand the specific psychological mechanisms that drive behavior, attention, and stress responses.

Such work “would elucidate under what circumstances, and how, competing at home can enhance (and occasionally harm) athlete and team performance,” Allen and Jones conclude.

So, will the Russians feed off the energy of their home crowd and rack up the medals? Or will they suffer from the pressure of having to live up to the expectations of their countrymen? We’ll have to watch to find out!

amikulak@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science

In baseball, bigger still better

July 9, 2013

Max Scherzer leads Major League Baseball in wins. As a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, he hasn’t lost a game this season.

His 6-foot, 3-inch frame is a telling example of constructal-law theory, said Duke University engineer Adrian Bejan. The theory predicts that elite pitchers will continue to be taller and thus throw faster and seems also to apply to athletes who compete in golf, hockey and boxing.

Studying athletes — since most sports are meticulous in keeping statistics — provides an insight into the biological evolution of human design in nature, which Bejan terms the constructal-law theory.

Bejan has already demonstrated that runners and swimmers have gotten bigger and taller over the past century. Now he’s applying his theories to other sports, including team sports. In those cases, forward momentum was a major factor in the athletes’ successes.

What unites golf, baseball and hockey is the “falling forward” motion involved, whether it is a pitcher’s arm or golfer’s swing. Basically, the larger and taller the athlete, the more force he or she can bring to bear as his or her mass falls forward, Bejan said.

The results of his analyses were published online in the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics.

“Our analysis shows that the constructal-law theory of sports evolution predicts and unites not only speed running and speed swimming, but also the sports where speed is needed for throwing a mass, ball or fist,” Bejan said. “The sports of baseball, golf, hockey and boxing bring both the team and the individual sports under the predictive reach of the constructal theory of sports evolution.”

The falling forward idea states that the larger and taller the individual, the more force can be applied as the ball is hurled forward. For example, former major leaguer Randy Johnson, a 6-foot, 10-inch pitcher, was a terror to batters during his career, notching two no-hitters, five Cy Young awards for best pitcher and the record for strikeouts by a lefthander.

“According to the constructal law predictions, the larger and taller machine, like medieval trebuchets, is capable of hurling a large mass farther and faster,” Bejan said. “The other players on the baseball field do not have to throw a ball as fast, so they tend to be shorter than pitchers, but they too evolve toward more height over time. For pitchers, in particular, height means speed.”

In golf, despite the advances in ball and club design, taller competitors have been driving the ball farther than shorter golfers. In 2010, Bejan found the average golfer in the top 10 of driving distance was on average 2.5 inches taller than the average golfer in the bottom 10 of driving distance.

“This shows that height plays a definite role in the success of an athlete in golf,” Bejan said. “The increase in driving distance with body mass is due to the fact that larger moving bodies are capable of exerting greater forces. Also, the increased size of clubheads has had a distinct affect on the game. The average driving distance on the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tour has risen 30 yards in the past 30 years.”

The same reasoning also applies to sports equipment, such as golf clubs and hockey sticks. Just as golf clubs have become lighter and more flexible to increase speed of swing, and thus distance, so have hockey sticks, Bejan said.

In terms of boxing, Bejan notes similar trends, even though boxers are classified and compete in specific weight classes. While height and arm reach help boxers, they cannot be too tall, because then they lose core strength, which lessens the falling forward force that powers the punches.

“We looked at the 25 greatest fighters in the lightweight and welterweight classes and found that these boxers have been able to maximize punching power by gaining size without going over weight limits,” Bejan said. “They have done this by adding muscle and cutting water weight before a fight, and these techniques over time provide an explanation for the improvement in boxers’ size and knockout rates.”

The work of Bejan’s group was performed during the course “Constructal Theory and Design,” developed at Duke with the support of the National Science Foundation. Other members of the team were Duke’s Sylvie Lorente, James Royce, Dave Faurie, Tripp Parran, Michael Black and Brian Ash.

Contact: Richard Merritt
richard.merritt@duke.edu
919-660-8414
Duke University

Mars had oxygen-rich atmosphere 4,000 million years ago

June 20, 2013

Differences between Martian meteorites and rocks examined by a NASA rover can be explained if Mars had an oxygen-rich atmosphere 4000 million years ago – well before the rise of atmospheric oxygen on Earth 2500m years ago.

Scientists from Oxford University investigated the compositions of Martian meteorites found on Earth and data from NASA’s ‘Spirit’ rover that examined surface rocks in the Gusev crater on Mars. The fact that the surface rocks are five times richer in nickel than the meteorites was puzzling and had cast doubt on whether the meteorites are typical volcanic products of the red planet.

‘What we have shown is that both meteorites and surface volcanic rocks are consistent with similar origins in the deep interior of Mars but that the surface rocks come from a more oxygen-rich environment, probably caused by recycling of oxygen-rich materials into the interior,’ said Professor Bernard Wood, of Oxford University’s Department of Earth Sciences, who led the research reported in this week’s Nature.

‘This result is surprising because while the meteorites are geologically ‘young’, around 180 million to 1400 million years old, the Spirit rover was analysing a very old part of Mars, more than 3700 million years old.’

Whilst it is possible that the geological composition of Mars varies immensely from region to region the researchers believe that it is more likely that the differences arise through a process known as subduction – in which material is recycled into the interior. They suggest that the Martian surface was oxidised very early in the history of the planet and that, through subduction, this oxygen-rich material was drawn into the shallow interior and recycled back to the surface during eruptions 4000 million years ago. The meteorites, by contrast, are much younger volcanic rocks that emerged from deeper within the planet and so were less influenced by this process.

Professor Wood said: ‘The implication is that Mars had an oxygen-rich atmosphere at a time, about 4000 million years ago, well before the rise of atmospheric oxygen on earth around 2500 million years ago. As oxidation is what gives Mars its distinctive colour it is likely that the ‘red planet’ was wet, warm and rusty billions of years before Earth’s atmosphere became oxygen rich.’

###

The research was supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the European Research Council.

Contact: University of Oxford Press Office
press.office@admin.ox.ac.uk
44-186-528-3877
University of Oxford

Researchers explode the myth about running injuries

June 15, 2013

If you are healthy and plan to start running for the first time, it is perfectly all right to put on a pair of completely ordinary ‘neutral’ running shoes without any special support. Even though your feet overpronate when you run – i.e. roll inwards.

There appears to be no risk that overpronation or underpronation can lead to running injuries through using neutral shoes for this special group of healthy beginners.

This is the result of a study conducted at Aarhus University which has just been published in theBritish Journal of Sports Medicine under the title “Foot pronation is not associated with increased injury risk in novice runners wearing a neutral shoe”.

Healthy runners monitored for 12 months

Researchers have followed 927 healthy novice runners with different pronation types for a full year. All study participants received the same model of neutral running shoe, regardless of whether they had neutral foot pronation or not. During the study period, 252 people suffered an injury, and the runners ran a total of 163,401 km.

“We have now compared runners with neutral foot pronation with the runners who pronate to varying degrees, and our findings suggest that overpronating runners do not have a higher risk of injury than anyone else,” says physiotherapist and PhD student Rasmus Ø. Nielsen from Aarhus University, who has conducted the study together with a team of researchers from Aarhus University, Aarhus University Hospital, Aalborg University Hospital and the Netherlands.

“This is a controversial finding as it has been assumed for many years that it is injurious to run in shoes without the necessary support if you over/underpronate,” he says. Rasmus Ø. Nielsen emphasises that the study has not looked at what happens when you run in a pair of non-neutral shoes, and what runners should consider with respect to pronation and choice of shoe once they have already suffered a running injury.

Focus on other risk factors

The researchers are now predicting that in future we will stop regarding foot pronation as a major risk factor in connection with running injuries among healthy novice runners.

Instead, they suggest that beginners should consider other factors such as overweight, training volume and old injuries to avoid running injuries.

“However, we still need to research the extent to which feet with extreme pronation are subject to a greater risk of running injury than feet with normal pronation,” says Rasmus Ø. Nielsen.

Three key results

In the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the researchers point to three key results:

  • The study contradicts the current assumption that over/underpronation in the foot leads to an increased risk of running injury if you run in a neutral pair of running shoes.
  • The study shows that the risk of injury was the same for runners after the first 250 km, irrespective of their pronation type.
  • The study shows that the number of injuries per 1,000 km of running was significantly lower among runners who over/underpronate than among those with neutral foot pronation.
###

The project has been conducted as a collaboration between PhD student Rasmus Nielsen, Associate Professor Henrik Sørensen, Associate Professor Ellen Aagaard Nøhr and Professor Erik Parner from the Department of Public Health at Aarhus University, Professor Martin Lind from the sports clinic at Aarhus University Hospital, Director of Research and Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Aalborg University Hospital Sten Rasmussen, and researchers from the Netherlands.

The project is financed by Aarhus University, the Orthopaedic Research Unit at Aalborg University Hospital and the Danish Rheumatism Association.

Contact: Rasmus Oe. Nielsen
roen@sport.au.dk
45-61-18-15-99
Aarhus University

Most elite athletes believe doping substances are effective in improving performance

May 22, 2013

Most elite athletes consider doping substances “are effective” in improving performance, while recognising that they constitute cheating, can endanger health and entail the obvious risk of sanction. At the same time, the reasons why athletes start to take doping substances are to achieve athletic success, improve performance, for financial gain, to improve recovery and to prevent nutritional deficiencies, as well as “because other athletes also use them”.

These are some of the conclusions of a study conducted by researchers from the Department of Physical and Sports Education at the University of Granada. Their research has also shown a widespread belief among elite athletes that the fight against doping is inefficient and biased, and that the sanctions imposed “are not severe enough”.

In an article in the journal “Sports Medicine“, the most important publication in the field of Sport Sciences, researchers Mikel Zabala and Jaime Morente-Sánchez have analysed the attitudes, beliefs and knowledge about doping of elite athletes from all over the world. To this end, they conducted a literature review of 33 studies on the subject published between 2000 and 2011, in order to analyse the current situation and, as a result of this, to act by developing specific, efficient anti-doping strategies.

Fewer controls in team-based sports

The results of the University of Granada study reveal that athletes participating in team-based sports appear to be less susceptible to using doping substances. However, the authors stress that in team sports anti-doping controls are clearly both quantitatively and qualitatively less exhaustive.

The study indicates that coaches seem to be the principle influence and source of information for athletes when it comes to starting or not starting to take banned substances, while doctors and other specialists are less involved. Athletes are becoming increasingly familiar with anti-doping rules, but there is still a lack of knowledge about the problems entailed in using banned substances and methods, which the researchers believe should be remedied through appropriate educational programmes.

Moreover, they also conclude that a substantial lack of information exists among elite athletes about dietary supplements and the secondary effects of performance-enhancing substances.

In the light of their results, the University of Granada researchers consider it necessary to plan and conduct information and prevention campaigns to influence athletes’ attitudes towards doping and the culture surrounding this banned practice. “We should not just dedicate money almost exclusively to performing anti-doping tests, as we currently do. To improve the situation, it would be enough to designate at least a small part of this budget to educational and prevention programmes that encourage athletes to reject the use of banned substances and methods”, Mikel Zabala and Jaime Morente-Sánchez conclude. In this context, one pioneering example in their opinion is the Spanish Cycling Federation’s “Preventing to win” project.

###

Reference:

Doping in Sport: A Review of Elite Athletes’ Attitudes, Beliefs, and Knowledge.
Morente-Sánchez J, Zabala M.
Sports Medicine. 2013 Mar 27.

Contact: Jaime Morente-Sánchez
jaimemorente@ugr.es
34-958-244-386
University of Granada

« Previous PageNext Page »