Monday, May 9, 2016

Aversive shock therapy for bad habits

What they need is a Randomized Clinical Trial: Two hundred people who declare an intention to lose weight (for example), randomly assigned to either wear the Pavlok self-shocking bracelet (a FitBit from Hell) or not. After two weeks, see how much weight was lost in each group. Given the literature on aversive therapy, I wouldn't expect to see any effect. In other words, any positive effects from the Pavlok are most likely due to self-selection effects (only the most motivated dieters would use it) and placebo/wearing a constant (public) reminder of one's declared intention.

"Ms. Irish credits a new wearable device called Pavlok for doing what years of diets, weight-loss programs, expensive gyms and her own willpower could not. Whenever she takes a bite of the foods she wants to avoid, like chocolate or Cheez-Its, she uses the Pavlok to give herself a lightning-quick electric shock.
“Every time I took a bite, I zapped myself,” she said. “I did it five times on the first night, two times on the second night, and by the third day I didn’t have any cravings anymore.”
As the name suggests, the $199 Pavlok, worn on the wrist, uses the classic theory of Pavlovian conditioning to create a negative association with a specific action. Next time you smoke, bite your nails or eat junk food, one tap of the device or a smartphone app will deliver a shock. The zap lasts only a fraction of a second, though the severity of the shock is up to you. It can be set between 50 volts, which feels like a strong vibration, and 450 volts, which feels like getting stung by a bee with a stinger the size of an ice pick. (By comparison, a police Taser typically releases about 50,000 volts.)"

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