Watch CBS News

Device Uses Electric Shock To Zap Users Out Of Bad Habits

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A new device promises to smash your bad habits in a shocking way – by zapping you with electricity.

The device could help users keep their New Year's resolution to lose weight, stop smoking, or wasting time on the Internet.

"My bad habit is arguably one of the worst habits in the world - which is smoking cigarettes," said Marty Sanchez of Cupertino.

"My bad habit is I have mindless eating. I graze throughout the day on unhealthy foods," said Brandie Edwards of Vallejo.

"Ever since I was 14, I would pull my hair out - touch it pull it," explained Naomi Cohn of Oakland.

The wearable wristwatch is called a Pavlok.

• ALSO READ: Facebook Dropping Input From News Outlets For 'Trending Topics'

Inside the wristwatch is a rechargeable battery. Every time the wearer feels a craving, or engages in bad behavior, they can push a little button, or activate an app to get a little shock."Oh it feels like someone is flicking you on your wrist," laughed Sanchez "It was shocking how strong it was," exclaimed Cohn.

The device uses a classic conditioning technique, and borrows from famed behavioral scientist Ivan Pavlov. But instead of reinforcing positive behavior, the therapy teaches an aversion to your bad habit.

"A mild electrical sensation that's just uncomfortable enough that when you pair it with the habit you're trying to break, trains your brain to have an aversion to that habit," explained Sims McGrath III. McGrath is Marketing Director of Pavlok.

McGrath said the severity of shock is up to you and comes in several settings, from 50 to 450 volts.

"We've seen people quit habits in as little as 5 days." explained McGrath.

Sanchez and Cohn, who are both working in the Bay Area's tech sector said the device broke their bad habits in no time flat.

"That day I saw results," said Cohn.

For 12 years, Cohn suffered from trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling, which left her with little bald patches on her scalp.

With a Pavlok wristband, she said anytime she touched her hair, she gave herself a shock.

"I found myself at the end of the day not touching my hair at all," said Cohn.

Sanchez quit his nearly pack a day cigarette habit in just a few weeks and has been tobacco free for over a year.

He's now using the device to cut down on carbs.

"So far I've used it for about two weeks now - and it's worked," said Sanchez.

Pavlok can also zap you automatically if you don't exercise enough, or if you visit certain websites you want to avoid.

"Let's say you don't want to go on Facebook during the workday, you could say anytime I go to automatically send that uncomfortable stimulus," explained McGrath.

"That's an awesome idea for people who are addicted to going on Facebook or other websites," said Sanchez,

"An immediate shock - ok I'm not doing the right thing - get back to work I would try that, yeah," laughed Cohn.

As for Brandie Edwards of Vallejo, she can't wait to get her hands on the device. It's on back order. She wants to break her grazing and get more control over her life.

"I am going to break this habit once and for all, and the Pavlok is going to do that for me," exclaimed Edwards.

The long-term effects of Pavlok are unknown. A recent very small study done by the company in smokers found 7 of the 8 smokers quit and were still tobacco free 6 months later.

The makers say it's safe when used properly, and if you don't want to get zapped, you can set it to beep or vibrate.

The device costs just under $200.

The makers of Pavlok do not recommend it for those who have a pacemaker, may be pregnant, or minors under the age of 18.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.