If you’re a fan of Shark Tank, you may remember Maneesh Sethi. The author and entrepreneur pitched his controversial creation, Pavlok, on the season seven finale of the show. Although the tension between Sethi and Kevin O’Leary caused more of a stir than the product itself, Pavlok is still making waves among the heavily populated market of wearable devices.
It all began in 2012 when Sethi designed The Craigslist Slapper Experiment. This consisted of hiring a woman off of Craigslist to slap him in the face whenever he got distracted from his work. Impressed with the implications of operant conditioning, Sethi founded Behavioral Technology Group the following year. He began creating Pavlok shortly after.
So what is Pavlok? Simply put, Pavlok is designed to be a habit-forming wearable that will shock you (literally). It vibrates to reward you for good behavior and administers an electric stimulus to train away bad behavior. According to the website, “Hundreds have quit smoking, nail biting, mindless eating, and sleeping in by using Pavlok’s apps.” But is Pavlok really backed by scientific evidence or just a few positive reviews? Let’s take a look at its features and some of its pros and cons.
Pavlok is designed to help people break their bad habits. This is supposedly accomplished by applying an unpleasant element (an electric zap) to what we’ve learned to love (smoking, sugar, nail biting, etc.). Some habits are “self jolting” – meaning you have to manually press the button on the wristband in order to feel the zap. Other habits can be set with their app, such as waking up at a set time or spending too much time on social media.
Pavlok comes with two pieces – the wristband and the module. The wristband is one size fits all and can be purchased in several different colors. The other piece, the module, fits inside the wristband and holds the rechargeable battery, electronic components and Bluetooth. According to the website, Pavlok’s battery has the capacity for over 150+ tiny jolts and recharges quickly (it comes with a micro USB).
The Pavlok app works with the wristband. It is available for all smartphones, however does not have very good user reviews. The app begins with a 5-day audio habit changing course that helps you get started with your Pavlok and breaking habits. It also provides courses for specific habits such as smoking, unhealthy eating and nail biting. The app allows you to select the intensity of each shock as well. The app also features automated shock options. For example, the Pavlok alarm clock will vibrate to wake you up, but if you do not wake up or if you hit the snooze, it will give you a zap to try to get you out of bed.
Many people say Pavlok works, getting results in just a few short days. Another good thing about Pavlok is that you are able to buy it from the website with a 6 months trial – meaning you are able to return it for a full refund if you are not completely satisfied (minus shipping costs).
A big con for Pavlok is its lack of clinical evidence that it actually works. Many may claim it has helped eliminate their bad habits, but there’s a good chance that it simply makes people more aware of those bad habits. This may result in short-term success, but according to the psychology community the general consensus is that there is little evidence of the long-term benefits associated with aversive therapy. Another con may be the price. It can be purchased for $169 on their website or $199 on Amazon. There are also mixed reviews for the Android and iOS apps for Pavlock. Many report it constantly needs to be updated, crashes frequently and disconnects often. Some have also reported the alarm does not work. That’s a pretty big con when you’re really counting on it to wake you up on time.
Pavlok is no doubt a unique device in comparison to other wearables. But will it really help you break your bad habits? The answer is probably not in the long run. Is it worth trying? Maybe. Since you can return it within 6 months, you don’t have much to lose. And trying to do something about your bad habits is better than doing nothing. However, snapping an elastic band on your wrist is also a form of aversion science (and it’s much less expensive).