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  • chop

    Re Moral disengagement: I have Costanza ringing in my ears: “it’s not a lie, if you believe it”

  • jules

    you’ve talked about performance and learning goal orientations before JC. when I did my uni degree, I was friends with a guy who was pure performance goal oriented. he ended up dux-ing the entire stream when we graduated. he was a friend of mine, but he was the Lance of our uni class. he cheated any way he could, shamelessly. OTOH I am strongly learning-oriented and the joke among our friends was that he knew a lot less than me about the theory, but was getting High Distinctions. I find the similarities between my academic experience and Lance striking – it’s amazing what you can get away with in almost open view, when you believe in yourself so strongly and will let nothing get in your way. part of me was waiting for the day when he was finally exposed and penalised (I never took any steps towards that, we were friends) but it never came. lecturers must have known something was up but he was so driven and passionate, no one said anything.

    • Jules, you’ve pinpointed it precisely. And according to the various psychological studies I’ve referenced, this is all-too-common. When appearances matter (and reputations) more than ethics, morality, or simply personal growth and learning, the morally disengaged will do ‘whatever it takes’, regardless of the honour or lack thereof.

    • Holby City

      Let’s refrain from using acronyms like OTOH here Jules. We are not all as cool as you and you had to make me think about that one!

      • jules

        BIOYA ;)

        • Holby City


          • Dave


  • Simon

    This: “Many athletes use drugs, not so much to get ahead as for maintenance. They work hard to get to the top, but when they sense they might be under pressure, they take it to maintain their edge.”
    Elite athletes put an incredible amount of time and effort into getting to the top. Most elite athletes will start early in their youth and devote their entire life to turning professional, giving up alternative teenage pursuits. If you’ve done this and trained for numerous years, but are not quite good enough to make it, then you will either remain in relative obsurity or you can dope and potentially make it into the the pro ranks but risk getting busted along the way. Either way, your cycling career is over. So in situations like that, the risk is actually negated by the fact that the end result would be what happened anyway. If I was ever any good as an athlete, but just oh so close, and I was in that situation, I would probably consider it.

  • Steel

    I imagine at some point pro-cycling turns from being an exciting adventure to a job. Unless you’re Peter Sagan, of course. Looking at the performances of the pro-peleton there is only a small handful of riders who can actually win stages. The majority are out there to do jobs for the select group who’ve got the ability to outsprint, out climb, out punch the others. In that context you can see how those guys, having put some many years into the sport, would want to do whatever it takes to maintain their income from the sport. That would explain the doping of the also rans.

    I suspect, point 1 – the economic and social glory from taking wins explains the Lances, Albertos and Jans of the world

    • Steel that’s an interesting point. There is some terrific literature on the psychology of motivation that suggests that we ‘turn play into work’ by offering incentives, payment, etc. Evidence clearly supports the idea that the more we focus on extrinsic outcomes, the less intrinsically motivated we are for specific tasks.

      I’m not entirely convinced that this supports a cognitive mechanism that fosters the moral disengagement required to facilitate pro-doping/cheating decisions, but it is plausible. If I don’t love it (because it’s just a job now and I’ll never be a TdF stage winner) and I ‘have’ to perform to get the results necessary to support my family, then that intrinsic drive dissipates. Without that passion, perhaps a degree of disengagement could drive decisions that diminish morality in relation to doping. What do you think? Does that fit with your suggestion?

      • Dave

        I wonder if the moral disengagement is assisted by the interpersonal disengagement.

        It’s a very lonely sport by any measure even despite the fact that road cyclists race in teams – but we all know that this doesn’t necessarily help as it’s still a dog-eat-dog world inside a cycling team. Outside of the issue of doping, most top-level cyclists are extremely socially awkward (to put it mildly), many are so driven that they can’t ever switch off, and then there are a fair number who get into drugs, alcohol or other socially unacceptable behaviour (think Marco Pantani, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, Chris Jongewaard) – much like swimmers actually, which is no coincidence as that is a similarly lonely sport.

        What do you think? Is it a consequence of many pro cycling teams not looking after the whole person? Or is cycling perhaps a sport that either attracts people with other issues or weeds out those who are too normal?

        • Dave that’s an interesting proposition. I don’t have empirical evidence to offer in support (at least, none that is context specific), so it could be that availability heuristics are combining to create some kind of illusory correlation… but certainly I think it’s safe to suggest that interpersonal distance and an unbalanced perspective would be potential contributors.

          Of course, the very obvious exception to this would be the Discovery and US Postal teams.

          But on the whole, when we look at protective factors (last paragraph in the article), the good quality relationships athletes have with positive support staff provide important scaffolding that potentially keeps them safe.

  • David Briggs

    Justin, a very interesting article that provides a series of possible rationales that alone or in combination, may lead to athletes cheating. May I add the perceived risk of detection, which is notSo much a psychological explanation but a simple calculation of the likely costs and benefits as the individual perceives them. In some cases even if the athlete gets caught they may calculate they have reaped sufficient benefits in the meantime to make it all worthwhile. Although the last word hasn’t been written, I wonder if Lance eventually comes out on top…. According to his estimation.

    • Your question about Lance piqued my curiosity. We all want to believe we’re good people. Regardless of how things wash out, we justify our behaviour and use the decisions and behaviours of others as a rationalisation for the way that we behave. Assuming Lance continues to be healthy (and I recognise some will question my use of that word), then he – and all other dopers – will use the ideas above and some others in a forthcoming article I’ve written for CT to minimise the damage they’ve caused and their role in that damage to excuse themselves and make themselves out to be ‘good’ people. It’s a human response to reducing cognitive dissonance.

  • Aaron McNany

    LOVE THIS ARTICLE. Thanks for the post.

  • Derek Maher

    I would agree with steels post.99%of riders will never be a star racer.They have settled for the work horse role and know when it comes to team contract renewal they are the most dispensable.Bills have to be paid and these people are not making a fortune so the temptation is there to boost a little just to hang in and keep the bottles supplied or take a turn at the front into that headwind.When it all gets to much they retire and write a book and if lucky have enough to setup a bar or sports shop to keep them going.Its sad really but thats the pro sporting life for those who don’t make the big time.

    • Whippet

      Good point Derek. The assumption that this is a ‘moral’ issue has not been demonstrated to be correct. For many, it might be just instrumental. In a cultural milieu where ends are seen as justifying means and winners are deemed to be good, people in all fields tend to do whatever it takes to succeed.

  • Allez Rouleur

    I find all the cheating bizarre. I played a sport at the highest level at my U.S. university. I never even considered using a PED. To my knowledge, nobody was cheating either. I don’t know if it’s because there wasn’t a doping culture or I’m just not that into cheating. I sure as heck know I’d never take any satisfaction in what I accomplished if I had been doping. Then again, there was no money to be made in my sport.

    Danielson is now clearly a 100% liar and he’s going to take that to his grave.

    • Derek Maher

      That could be the big difference between a sport played for fun and maybe just a medal and one chosen as a full time paying job with the chance of huge cash gains.Wonder if the Olympics had as much doping before the pros were let in to compete ?.Also turning the Olympics into a major pro event with huge sponsership/product endorsement deals for the athletes probably invited cheating and its spread throughout most media covered events.

      • Agree Derek… go back to Campbell’s law.

      • Dave

        There was plenty of cheating (including the pharmaceutical variety) at the Olympics well before they were became open events in the 1990s.

  • mzungu

    Could you write an article on how the Biological Passport works?

    • That’s probably one for someone with a stronger focus on drug testing and body chemistry, rather than psychology. :) But I’m sure CT would have contacts.

  • Skip Jackson

    I’m starting to think that when a cycling blogger runs out of interesting things to write about, they reinvent the doping angle. Doping exists in all realms of sport. It’s called supplementing. It’s always happened and it will continue to happen. Just accept it and move on.

  • Livi Lucha

    because humans love drugs. it’s truly this simple. to deny this fact, is to deny being human at your core.


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