Anti-doping rule violations in sport: the attractive leniency effect and attributions of guilt and punishment

Mark S. Allen, Kirsty McRae, Emma E. Walter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The attractive-leniency effect predicts that more attractive people are perceived as less guilty and less deserving of punishment compared to less attractive people. This closely aligned conceptual replication study sought to explore athlete physical attractiveness, sex, and anti-doping rule violation severity (ADRV) as factors contributing to attributions of guilt and punishment. After initial pilot testing, 411 participants (135 men, 276 women; M age = 20.30, SD = 4.69 years) were shown one of eight vignette-photograph pairings that differed in sex (male/female), ADRV severity (serious/minor), and physical attractiveness (high/low). Participants were asked to provide attributions of guilt, severity of punishment, and most appropriate course of action (sport-related punishment). Analyses of variance showed that attributions of guilt and punishment were related to ADRV severity, but there were no significant main or interaction effects for physical attractiveness on any of the outcome variables. Follow-up sensitivity analyses provided some evidence that less attractive athletes are afforded harsher punishments (reflecting a longer suspension from sport) than more attractive athletes, but this finding was not robust. Overall, the findings of this initial research indicate that an attractive leniency effect is likely to be trivial or negligible in the context of anti-doping rule violations in sport.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-80
Number of pages5
JournalBody Image
Issue numberMarch
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Attractiveness bias
  • Conceptual replication
  • Drug use
  • Guilt
  • Punishment


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