In 1968, a University of California professor tested whether a small portable shock device could help nail biters quit their habit (spoiler: it worked!).
The professor, Bradley Bucher, knew nail biting was a common problem. His research showed that in a 1948 study by Coleman and McCalley, a group of 1077 college students had 29% of men and 19% of women that bit their nails.
Roughly 24% of college students bite their nails!
And it’s a serious problem. Nail biting isn’t just about ugly hands. It’s about lowered self confidence, risk of infections and frustrating attempts to quit.
But even with the overwhelming numbers, the professor knew a solution was possible. In the 1950s another study using “negative stimulation” found that after 8 to 10 months, 50% of subjects stopped biting their nails or drastically decreased their habit.
Negative stimulation is part of Aversion Science, an 80+ year old science where the negative stimulus is paired with a habit to make it less pleasurable.
Examples include mixing compounds with alcohol to induce vomiting, smelling rotting food when you are eating sweets, or applying electric shock when you smoke or bite your nails.
Imagine if every time you ate a slice of pizza you got an electric shock. After enough shocks you wouldn’t want to eat pizza anymore.
It’s the same with biting your nails.
So knowing that nail biting was such a common and painful problem, and knowing that negative stimulation had success rates of 50%+, the UCLA professor setup his experiment: college students, long time nail biting, control procedures for accuracy, and electric shock to cure the habit.
On day one the professor measured the participants’ nails, then gave each one a small, portable electric shock device and taught them how to use it.
For the next few weeks patients would shock themselves whenever they put a finger or nail to their mouth. And when they applied a shock, they would record it in a small journal.
His goal was for study participants to achieve “normal nail growth” and the results were remarkable…
The success rates shock had on breaking nail biting habits was inline with other studies — great. But there was a surprising new finding as well.
The professor discovered electric shock led to a change in attention to the habit in almost every case, i.e., instead of doing it subconsciously, subjects immediately became aware of their nail biting.
This was critical, by using electric shock to develop awareness of the habit cues, subjects were able to engage their own self control techniques (self discipline, motivation, etc.) and drastically increase their chance of success.
In 2013, Pavlok rediscovered the power of electric shock to break bad habits like nail biting, smoking, overeating and wasting time online.
Since then, we’ve manufactured a wearable electric shock band that our customers use to successfully break their bad habits.
If you are a nail biter and having trouble quitting, it’s worth trying mild electric shock — and you can become one of the 65% that quit in 5 days or less.
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Habits, Technology & Behavioral Change