The Story of Pavlok

A few months ago, I saw a photo posted by one of the most reknowned psychologists, Dan Ariely. About Pavlok

He wrote

‘Just bought this. My only regret is that I didn’t think of it first.’

A NYTimes reporter recently got in touch and wanted to interview some psychologists about Pavlok, so naturally I introduced her to Dan.

I wanted to update Dan on the situation — so I started writing a “quick”  update. It ended up being pretty long.

The email detailed the  story of Pavlok — from an idea to a product that permanently breaks bad habits.

I had included the Evidence Booklet in the attachments.

Below is the story


Hey Dan,

I just spoke with the NYTimes Reporter. Thanks for offering to speak to her. , She told me she  finished her article (and I believe didn’t get a chance to speak with you). I’m sure there will be more opportunities in the future, though.

But I am glad to have a chance to catch you up on the current state of Pavlok. It’s been over a year since we talked last, and the concept of Pavlok has changed quite a lot.

This email got a bit long — please forgive me.

First off, here are some of the fantastic stories from a recent blog post. I’m forwarding them to you in another email. [Ed: 9 Incredible Stories of Pavlok Users (quitting sugar, stopping anger, managing PTSD, quitting TV…)]

I also attached the Evidence Booklet from our product documentation…..  

The Evidence Journal --- attached to the email, and included in every Pavlok package.
The Evidence Journal — attached to the email, and included in every Pavlok package.

But First, A Question.

Dan — have you ever…had a bit too much fun one night?

Maybe you drank too much tequila, maybe vodka, and got a little sick? If not, surely a friend has; – ‘I can’t drink tequila ever again, it smells bad and makes me sick’. 

Ring a bell?

In this situation, even though the person did the action to his or herself— and in only a single night— the user stopped liking the temptation, for good.

How? Because negative stimulus is paired with the bad habit, training the Basal Ganglia to rapidly create a Pavlovian association with the action.

This is an example of aversive conditioning — the classical association of a negative stimulus with a bad habit to permanentlybreak a bad habit or addiction—for good. In fact, it was well studied in the 1960s through the 90s.

The most common aversive? An electric stimulus ranging from 50-500+ Volts.

Imagine my surprise, when I stumbled upon the concept — in the middle of the Nov/2014  Pavlok crowdfund for a wearable device that could emit an electric stimulus ranging from 50-500V+. 

Within minutes of searching through google scholar for ‘aversion therapy’ and ‘aversive conditioning’ —-well— my mind was blown.

I downloaded one of them that sampled a large group of smokers trying to quit — (see it in the attached evidence booklet, page 12).

Long Term Outcome Of Clients Treated in a Commercial Stop Smoking Program 

(study here)’

 The Aversion Protocol 

2 pack-a-day smokers, who had been trying to quit for years, came in for 5 days of continuous therapy.

  • 5 sessions with a doctor, over a 5 day period
  • In each session, they would discuss habits/the system for 20-30 mins, and then conduct a 20-30 min aversion session
  • Each smoker would begin to smoke a cigarette. The doctor would instruct — pull out the cigarette. Light the cigarette. Take a puff.
  • At each step, the user would either administer the electric zap manually, or by the doctor.

Afterwards, they had one optional booster session. A total of <3 hours of aversive training.

One year later?

52% of smokers had not smoked a single cigarette—a year later

(and 61.4% for those who returned to a non-smoking household)

Compare that to nicorette patches, who’s success ranges around 7.5% for 6 months of use.

Aversive treament: only 5 days and 650% more effective than six months of patches.

But it wasn’t just a single isolated experiment. In the attached Evidence Booklet, you’ll find 21 Studies using the aversive for habits like


*Unhealthy Eating

*Nail Biting

* Negative Thoughts


*Chronic Cough

and way more.

(You can see the studies in the attached PDF)

So….if it’s so good, why isn’t anyone using it?

That was the question I immediately asked myself. If it was so successful — why isn’t it used today?

That’s the crazy part — the studies all showed incredible success. But in the mid 1990s, it got associated with some bad things — Clockwork Orange, a couple of unethical studies — and it fell out of favor. America pivoted to positive psychology, and almost every single aversive clinic / grant ended.


Pavlok is a wearable haptic feedback training device — it vibrates, beeps, and uses an adjustable level electric stimulus that ranges from tap to pinch to shock.

Inline image 1

Before discovering aversion therapy, (when we spoke last), I had no concept of manual zap. I believed it had to be automated, driven by apps and mobile.

I had designed it to work with smart apps, chrome extensions, sensors, IFTTT, and more. It does. You can see the chrome extension here. The API for the device is working, and we are improving/increasing apps. (We currently have a Break Bad Habits Training ios/android App, and an Alarm Clock ios/android app).

 Pavlok can trigger vibrations, sounds, or zaps based on hitting heart rate, Apple Health, emotion (see my need-to-rename app,‘Beat Resting Bitch Face‘ — that vibrates/zaps if you maintain an angry or sad face).

But, as app developers write more and more, we have also found that *Self-Administered* zap works incredibly well.

When you ‘get zapped’ — it’s operant conditioning, punishment.

When you ‘zap yourself,’ while forcing yourself to do the action, to the point of excess — it’s classical pavlovian, aversive conditioning. And it’s very effective.

Check out the stories from the 9 Incredible Stories blog post — and check out our Amazon Reviews. Here is a well done episode from ABC: WCVB – Kill Your Food Cravings With Pavlok.

Our users are using it for incredible habits—the most successful habit broken are

*sleeping in


*eating sugar/unhealthy food

*negative thoughts / depression

*nail-biting / skin picking’


and a lot more

I am planning to conduct clinical trials this year, a crossover study — will keep you updated.

This was a bit long, but I hope you get a chance to read it. This is a very…powerful device, and I think if combined with proper behavioral economics principles, it could be used to effect massive numbers of lives saved through improved self-control.

Let me know your thoughts! or if you have questions. I’m free to speak this weekend or next week.

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