We use placebo buttons because ‘knowing’ something is better than not knowing

elevator buttonby RaeAllen

Placebo buttons
[Via Boing Boing]

The “close-door” button in the elevator, the crosswalk button at the intersection, even the thermostat in your office — there’s a good chance that they’re all placebos. Over the last 20 years or so, many (though, weirdly, not all) of these buttons have become technically useless, but are left in place both because it’s expensive to replace existing equipment and because, psychologically, they still serve a purpose.

I’m not surprised placebo buttons are all around us. It makes us feel much better to ‘know’ something will happen soon rather than not know when it will happen.

Research has demonstrated that people will actually feel more comfortable with a countdown clock shopping 6 minutes until the next subway train than having to wait 4 minutes without knowing for sure.

We sure like ti have control, even if it is slower.

One thought on “We use placebo buttons because ‘knowing’ something is better than not knowing

  1. As sophisticated microcontrollers and switches get cheaper, there is less rather than more excuse for placebo buttons. Look at walk signals. There are great safety and efficiency gains for coupling a modern signal controller to a working walk button, as opposed to a static traffic control. These gains apply to a wide range of intersections, but most especially to crosswalks on fast roads.

    And of course the idea that placebo buttons are calming is bollox. Placebo buttons generate far more anxiety than they alleviate. Because placebo buttons exist, you don’t “know” that any button works, so placebo buttons increase anxiety about ALL buttons so much that it would be a loss even if placebo buttons reduced anxiety about themselves to zero. And not all placebo buttons reduce anxiety about themselves at all.

    A placebo button is a sign that the people who make a thing have any no common purpose with the people who use it.

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