Petróczi, A., Mazanov, J., Nepusz, T., Backhouse, S H., & Naughton, D. P. (2008). Comfort in big numbers: Does over-estimation of doping prevalence in others indicate self-involvement? Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, 3, 19 (5 September 2008).

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"The "False Consensus Effect" (FCE), by which people perceive their own actions as relatively common behavior, might be exploited to gauge whether a person engages in controversial behavior, such as performance enhancing drug (PED) use. It is assumed that people’s own behavior, owing to the FCE, affects their estimation of the prevalence of that behavior. It is further hypothesized that a person’s estimate of PED population use is a reliable indicator of the doping behavior of that person, in lieu of self-reports".

Over- or underestimation is calculated from investigating known groups (e.g., PED users vs. non-users), using a short questionnaire, and a known prevalence rate from official reports or sample evidence. Sample evidence from self-reported behavior was verified using objective biochemical analyses. In order to find proofs of concept for the existence of false consensus, a pilot study was conducted. Data were collected among competitive UK student-athletes (N = 124) using a web-based anonymous questionnaire. PED user (N = 9) vs. non-user (N = 76) groups were established using self-reported information on doping use and intention to use PEDs in hypothetical situations. Observed differences in the mean estimation of doping made by the user group exceeded the estimation made by the non-user group (35.11% vs. 15.34% for general doping and 34.25% vs. 26.30% in hypothetical situations, respectively), thus providing preliminary evidence in support of the FCE concept in relation to sport doping.

Implication. The presence of the False Consensus Effect in estimating doping prevalence or behavior in others suggests that the FCE-based approach may be an avenue for developing an indirect self-report mechanism for performance-enhancing drug use behavior. The method may be successfully adapted to the estimation of prevalence of behaviors where direct self-reports are assumed to be distorted by socially desirable responding. Thus, this method can enhance available information on socially undesirable, health compromising behavior (e.g., PED use) for policy makers and healthcare professionals. The importance of the method lies in its usefulness in epidemiological studies, not in individual assessments.

[A practical implication from this phenomenon is that persons/groups that give high estimates of performance-enhancing drug use are more likely to be drug-users themselves than those who give low estimates.]

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