This New Gadget Shocks You Out of Bad Habits. But Does It Work?

It's a sad commentary on humanity that we need to wear a device that shocks us out of our bad habits. And yet here we are. 

What's this bizarre device and how does it work, you ask? We'll get to that. But first "” some science!

Ivan Petrovich Pavlov was a famous Russian physiologist whose work in classical conditioning "” learning that occurs when a conditioned stimulus (CS) is paired with an unconditioned stimulus (US) "” was groundbreaking.

Though Pavlov is best known for his "conditioned reflex" experiments involving dogs. He would ring a bell every time he presented a dog with food so that the dog would associate the sound of a bell with food. After doing this several times, he tried ringing the bell without the food and found that the dog would still salivate, thinking food was coming anyway.

Here's the Cliff Notes version:

Pictured: Science.

Which brings us to the latest and greatest scientific invention since the last one: Pavlok.

Mustard yellow. Good choice. INDIEGOGO

It's pretty simple, really "” Pavlok is a wristband that shocks the hell out of you.

Why would you want to wear something with the sole purpose to shock you? Well, according to the Pavlok people, it has many uses. Such as: Waking you up, making you go to the gym, and keeping you off time-wasting sites like Facebook. That's it.

Of course, all of this needs to be pre-programmed as the Pavlok is not a sentient wristband (yet). So you need to tell it what time you want to wake up (no big deal), what time and location your gym appointments are, and what websites you want to avoid.

What happens if you rebel against Pavlok and stay in bed, or skip the gym, or use Facebook?

"I think I'll stay in bed . . . AAAAAaaaaaaah!"

So, it sounds like tons of fun, right? Sure it does. But how about that shock? It can't be too painful, can it? According to Pavlok's head of marketing:

"It's nothing that's painful. Well, it may be painful. It's not enjoyable. It's unpleasant. But it's not, like, severe pain."

That's, uh, reassuring.

If you're already sold on the Pavlok, you can head on over to their Indiegogo page and stake your claim. While you're there, you can check this out:

A Brave New World. INDIEGOGO

Yes, folks, now you can "wear your willpower". Because God forbid you actually use any of your own.

Here's another (somewhat) informative picture the Pavlok people are using to promote the device:

Little bit vague, guys. INDIEGOGO

So, it helps you wake up, go to the gym, and avoid Facebook. Alarm clocks, cars, and willpower already have that covered. So is that all it can do? For now . . . but its inventor has loftier goals: 

"I want to help save lives," its creator, Maneesh Sethi swears"I want to get people to stop smoking cigarettes and fight obesity. I think this product is going to be the first step towards massive health changes."

First off "” how will that work, exactly? Will you wear one in your mouth to detect when you're eating or smoking? I hope not, because as we'll see shortly, this whole thing is a bad idea, and here's why:

One thing I don't quite understand is why Pavlok is claiming Pavlov as their inspiration when his experiments don't correlate to the Pavlok at all. Pavlov's condition reflex experiments simply made its subjects (dogs) associate an innocuous stimuli (a bell) with mealtime. There was no punishment involved and no consequences either.

The Pavlok, on the other hand, essentially uses a form of aversion therapy. This type of therapy causes the subject some type of pain or discomfort when they do (or don't do) something they are supposed to. The point is to associate the negative stimuli with the negative action so that the subject will be conditioned against doing it even after the negative stimuli is removed.

If that seems confusing then just go watch A Clockwork Orange:

Viddy well. Warner Brothers

So, besides the fact that the Pavlok seems like an extreme way to police yourself, the founders of the company are under the illusion that they're doing something with positive connotations (i.e. Dogs! Pavlov! Bells!) when in fact they are doing the opposite.

The Pavlok is aversion therapy, plain and simple. And while aversion therapy has been proven effective for curbing minor unwanted behaviors such as fingernail biting and chocolate addiction, the more serious and complex the issue is (i.e. things that are a result of genetics and not just bad habits), the more likely aversion therapy will actually make it worse. Alcoholism isn't a bad habit "” it's a genetic disorder. The same goes for eating disorders and smoking. During treatment studies for issues such as alcoholism, those who received shock-based aversion therapy actually did worse than the control group.

As for using aversion therapy to "cure" homosexuality? Not only did it not work, but it made things worse: "Mental illness and suicide have been attributed to be caused by shock aversion therapy by those who have undergone it..."

Not exactly the kind of quote Pavlok would use on their Indiegogo page, is it?

Look, we all want to save the world and fix everything. But misrepresenting a product that uses a decades-old method of treating problems and has been almost entirely abandoned or debunked by the medical community is not the way to go. Sadly, many people will probably back the Pavlok on Indiegogo because of the clever-but-misleading pictures and graphics and videos all over their page. But you don't need flash to sell a quality product. You just need a quality product.

But if I haven't convinced you and you still really, really want a machine to shock you into doing things, well guess what? Here's a cutting-edge electroshock machine from the mid-1800's you can scour craigslist for:

Today's technology . . . yesterday.

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