DR CHRIS BEEDLE COLUMNIST; Dr Chris Beedie Is Reader in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Aberystwyth University. His Research Examines the Role of Emotions and Beliefs in Human Behaviour
Byline: Dr Chris Beedie
ATHLETES look for any product, technology, or process that might provide them a competitive advantage.
This leads some athletes to use illegal and potentially harmful drugs. The use of such drugs undermines the ethos of sport. More seriously, it threatens the health of athletes. There are currently 73 documented deaths resulting from the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport.
A small number of athletes who have failed drugs tests have claimed that they did not know they had taken the drug. It is now clear that in several cases drugs have been deceptively administered by coaches, scientists or team doctors. Ten years ago, one such athlete claimed that his ignorance of having taken the drug rendered the drug less effective, in short, that a drug is only fully effective if the athlete is aware they have taken it. Whilst this proposal is at face value counter-intuitive, it is not inconsistent with recent findings relating to the placebo effect in medicine.
For 10 years, myself and a team of sports scientists at several UK universities have researched the above idea. Firstly, we examined what would happen when athletes performed at maximal intensity when they believed they had taken a performanceenhancing drug but had in fact taken a placebo (we informed them that they had taken high doses of caffeine, a substance that, although legal in sport, can still enhance performance).
We found that athletes went faster, and that the more caffeine they thought they had taken, the faster they appeared to go. Of course, they hadn't taken any caffeine, they simply believed they had. They had experienced a placebo effect.
Secondly, we examined what would happen if different athletes were told different stories about the same "drug" (again, a placebo); some that it would make them go faster, others that it would make them go slower. …