game theory and doping

Why do athletes use performance-enhancing drugs? Under what circumstances would they follow the rules? If you think this isn’t a problem, consider that it is estimated that most of the top athletes in track and field, baseball, football, cycling have been doping in the past decade or so.

The latest issue of Scientific American contains an article by Michael Shermer that applies game theory to the issue of doping in sports. It is modeled as an application of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and under current conditions, the payoffs are higher if an athlete chooses to dope, since the payoffs are higher, regardless of whether opponents dope. By increasing penalties for athletes who test positive, improving the testing process and repeals process, holding teammates accountable, and granting immunity to all athletes who previously used drugs, athletes naturally will be discouraged from doping.

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13 responses to “game theory and doping

  • JD

    I’ve been lurking for a couple months, so it’s finally time that I post.

    I can’t find the links right now, but Bob Goldman conducted research on athletes/drug use in the 1980’s. My memory could be failing, but I think the findings (from 200 interviews with world class athletes past/present) were:
    There exists a new mystery drug that is undetectable…
    Q1) Would you take it if you knew it would guarantee victory?
    Q2) If it guaranteed victory in every race, but you would almost certainly die in five years, would you take it?

    Virtually all answered “Yes” to Question 1…which is probably the Prisoner’s Dilemma in action.
    Slightly more than 50% (50-55%?) answered “Yes” to Question 2.

    I’m not sure that it is strictly a monetary decision. From a layman’s point-of-view, it seems like a psychological decision. You spend ten years giving up lots of “normal” things in life…and the pursuit of winning becomes your life.

    As an example, EPO using cyclists had to set their alarms to wake each other up in the middle up the night and exercise. Otherwise there was a decent chance that their blood pressure would drop too low and they would dies in their sleep. There is an obsessive behavior common with world-class athletes that are above and beyond fame/fortune. (And don’t get me started on what some women gymnasts do to themselves)

    Anyway…apologies for the rant. Just my two cents.

    As a Midwest transplant whose interests are on the intersection of OR, policy, and economics…with an avid sports interest….I greatly enjoy the blog.
    Go Cubs!

  • JD

    I’ve been lurking for a couple months, so it’s finally time that I post.

    I can’t find the links right now, but Bob Goldman conducted research on athletes/drug use in the 1980’s. My memory could be failing, but I think the findings (from 200 interviews with world class athletes past/present) were:
    There exists a new mystery drug that is undetectable…
    Q1) Would you take it if you knew it would guarantee victory?
    Q2) If it guaranteed victory in every race, but you would almost certainly die in five years, would you take it?

    Virtually all answered “Yes” to Question 1…which is probably the Prisoner’s Dilemma in action.
    Slightly more than 50% (50-55%?) answered “Yes” to Question 2.

    I’m not sure that it is strictly a monetary decision. From a layman’s point-of-view, it seems like a psychological decision. You spend ten years giving up lots of “normal” things in life…and the pursuit of winning becomes your life.

    As an example, EPO using cyclists had to set their alarms to wake each other up in the middle up the night and exercise. Otherwise there was a decent chance that their blood pressure would drop too low and they would dies in their sleep. There is an obsessive behavior common with world-class athletes that are above and beyond fame/fortune. (And don’t get me started on what some women gymnasts do to themselves)

    Anyway…apologies for the rant. Just my two cents.

    As a Midwest transplant whose interests are on the intersection of OR, policy, and economics…with an avid sports interest….I greatly enjoy the blog.
    Go Cubs!

  • Bambosi

    This is first time I visit this blog, great article

  • Free Games

    Great blog
    we need for more article

  • Japan

    Excellent write up, very interesting read!

  • pock

    really great article.

    I’m also wanted to learn more regarding this.
    can you provide us more information.
    thumbs up to you.

  • Umer

    really really fine work, especially the picture that you added in this article is really nice and tell us everything.:)

    your articles are always great. I bookmarked your site for reading more resources from here.
    best of luck to you.

  • sportsphotos

    Now that baseball has changed gears by implementing a more strict policy and hoping that this all blows over, it begs the question is there still enough of an incentive to cheat in professional baseball. It is also extremely interesting to note that there was never any discussion of holding teammates and management accountable outside of the extreme case in San Francisco, but even then it was dealt with by only a slap on the wrist.

  • Football

    I think the performance enhancing drugs in football are a lot less pervasive than in the sports that have barriers to testing (like baseball). Why can’t we make it so all the sports follow the same rules regardless of how powerful their unions are?

  • franco

    An athlete at the professional level go there because of their will to win and never give up. And to get to that level and throw it all away morally and potentially financially is really mind boggling, i think the salaries of these players get in the way and their views are jaded by the limelight and how other next to them perform causing a competition factor that brings them to this level of cheating.

  • heather

    i completely agree with Franco! these players are getting all this money and then do stupid things like this and show that they are not role models!

  • | Game Theory Strategies

    […] athletes, doping & game theory: An application of the Prisoner’s dilemma http://bit.ly/j8i7uB […]

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