Placebo Buttons

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This article addresses the effectiveness of buttons we use in our everyday lives. Many of the buttons we use every day are nothing more than placebos. The three main culprits are walk buttons at crosswalks, thermostats, and the "close door" buttons on elevators. Most of the time, these types of buttons only positively reinforce the behavior of pressing the button. The elevator will eventually close and the stoplight will eventually turn whether we press these buttons or not. In fact, most elevators installed since the early 1990's have non-functioning "close door" buttons.
According to this video, the main reason behind the non-functioning crosswalks is the expense to remove them. The former Traffic Commissioner, Sam Schwartz, said, "90 percent of them do nothing, except the psychological benefit of pressing the button". As for thermostats, larger companies with office buildings don't want their employees messing with the temperature constantly. To prevent complaints and to give the employees the impression that they are in control, the companies install fake thermostats, and sometimes even white noise generators to trick the employees.
I can understand why it makes sense for the crosswalk and thermostats to be placebos, but I can't think of a good reason that the "close door" button shouldn't work. It makes sense that pedestrians should not be able to alter traffic flow and that companies want to save money by controlling the temperature in their building, but what harm could the "close door" button have? Isn't the worst case scenario that the elevators become slightly more efficient? Either the person doesn't press a functioning "close door" button and there is no difference, or the person does press it and they save an average of 2 seconds (according to the video). The only explanation I can think of is that the companies want to save the money it takes to make the button functional because almost no one can tell the difference.

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I can actually answer your question about the elevator. I looked it up when a classmate of yours posted on this topic. The reason is that there is a 5 second minimum on door closures (apparently it's a fire code). Therefore the door closure button cannot close any faster than the minimum which most elevators are set to close at any way. The button is functional if the minimum for the door is set to 10 seconds automatically. The button also works for firefighters to manually close the door when they are in fire override mode. Now you know... :)
A picture would improve your post. Connect these ideas to the things that you are learning about in class a little more. How do these Placebos relate to psychology placebos?

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This page contains a single entry by bodge006 published on November 6, 2011 5:00 PM.

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