SCIENCE & TECH

Does It Work Or Does It Not? Welcome To Placebo Buttons

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Does It Work Or Does It Not? Welcome To Placebo Buttons

If you have tried pressing a pedestrian crossing button or a "close door" button in an elevator and wondered whether it really worked, you are not alone.

The world is full of buttons that don't function, according to a CNN feature.

These buttons sometimes called "placebo buttons" – buttons that are mechanically sound and can be pushed, but provide no functionality. Like placebo pills, however, these buttons may still serve a purpose, according to Ellen Langer, a Harvard psychologist who pioneered a concept known as the "illusion of control."

"They do have a psychological effect," she said in a phone interview. "Taking some action leads people to feel a sense of control over a situation, and that feels good, rather than just being a passive bystander.

"Doing something typically feels better than doing nothing.

Placebo buttons, like the pedestrian crosswalk button or the thermostat in a hotel room, are found in all big cities of the world.

Lange says placebo buttons have a reassuring effect on our lives because they give us the illusion of control – and something to do in situations where we have the option of doing nothing. (An example is pressing the elevator call button when it's already lit.)