Imagine, if you will, that you have a personal trainer…a coach dedicated to your personal fitness and health. This coach is very quiet but at the same time relentless. She is always there 24 hours a day watching you eat, exercise, sleep, goof off, and snack. This would seem to be an ideal guide along your path to physical well-being, don’t you think? Now imagine that your trainer has and is quite willing to use a Producer’s Pride Jolt Handy™ cattle prod (available online through, among other sources, Tractorsupply.com). She would use it on you in the almost unimaginable scenario where you fell short of one or more goals. If you find that not at all disturbing and possibly even appealing in the face of your history of procrastinating when it comes to doing the right things, then probably you could find such a person with a little focused research (batteries not included). But thanks to modern technology, if having a full time sadist following you around isn’t really your cup of tea, consider the Pavlok (picture a lightning bolt in the letter “o” in the logo).
The Pavlok is a wristband which in theory is under your control as it tracks your every activity throughout the day. You tell it how you’d like to be evaluated in terms of diet, hours of sleep, amount of and type of exercise, etc., and it will let you know when you’ve failed to live up to your own expectations. You don’t have to choose to be jolted each time you fall short, of course. You could instead opt for the Fitbit or other similar wristbands which have much more benign natures. They simply track your various (in)activities and sleep hours, etc. and provide you with the humiliating data via email, apps on your smart phone, or Facebook posts.
The Pavlok is clearly for the rugged but motivation-challenged individualist, or for those who respond best to negative reinforcement and have $250 to spare. There’s apparently no switch to flip it to positive reinforcement (“Pavlok is very impressed with how you left four M&M’s from the jumbo bag uneaten, Master.”) The device has been mentioned in publications such as Fortune and Popular Mechanics in accounts which would seem to indicate that Pavlok is not a creation of The Onion. It is apparently due out in 2015 and the developers are hoping for start-up help from crowd sourcing. Should be an interesting group making up that particular crowd.
If you do some scientific research on the Google machine, you’ll find that more than 25 million hits are returned when you ask for “weight loss.” I’ve not looked at all of them quite yet, but they seem to fall into two camps. Some are boringly science based and talk about the hard work involved in eating right, counting calories, and exercising…and you have to continue it after you reach your goal! Painful. How boring is this approach? Try “Relationship between mouthful volume and number of chews in young Japaneses females” by A. Nakamichi and others from Appetite in 2014.
The other large block consists of programs that you usually have to pay for and which will then sell you food and/or force you to sweat or even hypnotize you into shape. Electrical wrist shock would seem to (pardon this) short circuit those lengthy processes and simply make you a willing slave to both the Pavlok and healthful behaviors. Win Win.
In an attempt to pry consulting dollars from the Pavlok folks, allow me to cherry pick some research which they might use to boost the scientific validity of their approach. This comes from Annals of Medicine in prepub abstract form: “Innovative interventions to promote behavioral change in overweight or obese individuals: A review of the literature,” by Okorodudu, Bosworth, and Cosino. The useful mined and sculpted quote: “Behavioral change therapy is an effective treatment strategy and includes…reinforcement tactics…to increase access, improve convenience, decrease cost, and increase participant engagement.” While the article in no way mentions anything like Pavlok, this would do the job if the company had sense enough to use it, don’t you think?
Now if you find the idea of this use of our friend electricity in the interest of weight loss and fitness a bit off-putting, you’ll need to face the fact that you have a lot to learn. Look what else is being considered. “Body fat and body weight reduction following hypothalamic deep brain stimulation in monkeys: an intraventricular approach,” by Torres et al in the International Journal of Obesity (London) from 2012. While also apparently effective (“The stimulation of the VMH region through an intraventricular approach might acutely modulate FI and induce a sustained decrease in BW and fat mass in normal non-human primate.”) it is just a touch more invasive. It’s not clear if they’re crowd sourcing this one, but turning it into an appealing website and marketing campaign could be an uphill struggle.