Why do athletes cheat? The behavioral experiment on doping.

Raised of $1,000 Goal
Ended on 6/11/16
Campaign Ended
  • $430
  • 43%
  • Finished
    on 6/11/16

About This Project

DOPING is undermining the integrity of sport. Millions of dollars go to anti-doping science with little or no success. Surprisingly, social science and economics, which have the most powerful tools to analyze the effects of anti-doping policies on athletes' behavior, were neglected. Our research breaches the paradigm by studying individual decision making in experimental conditions. Our goal is to fill the gap in understanding doping behavior.

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What is the context of this research?

Economics literature tries to explain doping as a rational choice on a cost/benefit basis ( Berentsen,2002; Haugen, 2004; Bervoets, 2015 ). From that perspective in order to get to a no-doping situation it is necessary that costs of doping (loss of profits, health damages, etc.) exceed benefits of doping (higher profits, fame etc.). The advantage of the economics perspective is that its predictions can be tested with the tools of experimental economics. It is surprising, but NO such inquiry into individual decision to dope was ever conducted. We have little or no evidence on the effect of anti-doping policies. To fill this evident knowledge gap is the main motivation behind our project.

What is the significance of this project?

How will athletes change their doping attitude when the policy changes? In a laboratory we can artificially create a situation that is, economically speaking, similar to that in the real world. Subjects engaging in a simple "sport" contests will face the decision to cheat (dope) or not. Cheating can move them higher in ranking and earn them significantly more money. On the other side, cheating is exposing them to a possible punishment. Observing decision making in the controlled environment give us a unique opportunity to explain the economic incentives behind doping and the effect of various anti-doping policies. The results will be immediately valuable to all scholars working on doping in sport and have also the potential to affect public debate.

What are the goals of the project?

The main goal of this experiment is to show how economic incentives change athletes' attitude towards doping. Subjects will be assigned to treatments that will be similar except for the deterrence mechanisms and we will observe their behavior in a multi-round contest.

Three different anti-doping policies will be tested, an alternative anti-doping policy (fund-scheme), bans and no-punishments. We expect that the fund-scheme will produce the lowest cheating rate, followed by bans and no-punishment.

Besides the policy questions we can measure, for example, the effect of gender or if good athletes are more or less motivated to dope. The experiment will also show what are the social costs of doping.


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Creating strong incentives for the experimental subjects (usually undergraduate students) to behave as in the real world is a fundamental condition for the validity of an economics experiment. Paying subjects according to their performance is a standard way to incentivize them. In a doping game players will be paid according to their performance, the better they will end up in the final ranking the higher their financial profit will be. Subjects can significantly improve their earnings if "doped" (doping is a binary choice to a question "Do you want do dope?" - "yes" - "no"), but face a higher risk of losing profits if caught. Participants will earn on average $20, but individual earning will vary significantly.

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Endorsed by

"Doping in sport is an exciting issue that definitely needs more attention by economists. Jakub's experiment has the potential to shed light on the effects of regulation on one's decision to dope. I wish him successful crowdfunding and I am already looking forward to seeing the results!"
Jakub is a dedicated researcher of the IEL programme. His research is original and extends economic thinking far beyond the standard topics. Discussion on anti-doping policies needs more scientific background, hopefully co-created with this experiment. I do believe that the proposed experiment will advance scientific knowledge on behavioral economics of doping.

Meet the Team

Jakub Sindelar
Jakub Sindelar
Ph.D. candidate


University of Turin, Collegio Carlo Alberto
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gianna lotito
gianna lotito
Associate professor


Dipartimento di Giurisprudenza, Scienze Politiche, Economiche e Sociali (DIGSPES), Università del Piemonte Orientale "Amedeo Avogadro"
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Jakub Sindelar

I am a Ph.D. candidate in the International Program in Institutions, Economics and Law in Turin, Italy. My field of research is doping in sport from the economics perspective. I have an economics background from University of Economics, Prague.

gianna lotito

I am an associate professor from the DiGSPES Department of the University of Eastern Piedmont in Alessandria,Italy. My main research interests concern experimental and behavioural economics, individual decision making under risk and uncertainty, theory of rational choice. I have got a PhD from the University of York, UK. I am teaching Microeconomics, Behavioural and Experimental Economics, and Economics at both undrgraduate and graduate level.

Additional Information

How the experiment looks like can be better understood from an example. There will be 5 people playing 15 rounds against each other in the "reaction game" on a PC. Players will not know each other and will have no opportunity to cooperate. They will decide before the start of each round to dope or not given the information they have. Doping will significantly enhance their performance and therefore it will be a tempting choice.

The following text is a part of "instructions" that subjects will obtain before the start of the experiment.


PE - performance enhancement

If you decide to use doping in a given round there is 5% probability that you will be discovered. If you are caught or not does not depend on the experimenter or on anyone else, it depends SOLELY on the probability. If cheating is discovered, you will lose profits of 4 rounds starting with the round you were discovered. You WON’T be informed about the punishment till the end of the game, by this we ensure that you always put maximal effort in the game.

In the following table you can see an example of how the game could look like. The first row shows the number of round, the second row contains information on whether you have chosen to use PE (Yes - Y) or not (No - N). Whether you were caught or not is found in the third row, as you can see this player used PE in the 1st, 4th and 5th round without being caught. However the fourth time he used PE he was unlucky since he was punished for using PE. Therefore, he lost profits from rounds 8 to 11. He got informed about that after the game. In the end, instead of 9,6 he has earned 7,85, i.e. he lost 1,75 by being caught. Bear in mind that he spend 0,7 (7 x 0,1) throughout the game on PE.


Project Backers

  • 14Backers
  • 43%Funded
  • $430Total Donations
  • $30.71Average Donation
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