We’ve all been there. You’re waiting at a crosswalk, anxiously pressing the little “Walk” button over and over again even though you know it doesn’t actually do anything. What’s the deal with those buttons? Why do they exist if they don’t actually do anything? Let’s take a deep dive into this phenomenon.
Here’s how it works: when you press the button, it triggers a sensor that tells the traffic light to change. However, in most cases, the sensors are either broken or not sensitive enough to pick up on the button being pressed. As a result, pressing the button does absolutely nothing! In some cases, the button may actually make things worse by causing the traffic light to stay green for longer than it otherwise would have.
In short, those buttons are what’s known as “placebo buttons.” They’re designed to make waiting pedestrians feel like they’re doing something to speed up the process, when in reality, they’re not.
Interestingly enough, placebo buttons are found in all sorts of places, not just at crosswalks. Have you ever been stuck in an elevator that’s taking forever to reach your floor? Chances are, there’s a “Close Door” button inside that elevator that doesn’t actually do anything. And how about those parking garage doors that open automatically if you just wait long enough? More often than not, there’s a “Push to Open” button right next to that door, even though pressing it won’t make the door open any faster.
At the end of the day, placebo buttons exist because they make us feel better. They give us a sense of control in situations where we feel like we have none. And as any psychologist will tell you, having a sense of control can be crucial to our psychological well-being.
So next time you’re stuck at a crosswalk pressing the “Walk” button over and over again, remember that you’re not actually accomplishing anything. But also remember that there’s nothing wrong with that! Sometimes it’s important to just go through the motions, even if those motions don’t actually lead anywhere.