Placebo Buttons and the Illusion of Control

Source: American Instiutte for Economic Research
by Laura Williams

“Cross any intersection in a major American city, and you’ll see pole-mounted crosswalk countdown boxes. The remaining time to get across in one direction is displayed on the same poles that feature ‘walk’ and ‘don’t walk’ signs with their stick figures and orange ‘stop’ hand. Many such intersections also feature buttons labeled ‘push button to cross,’ allegedly allowing pedestrians to request a ‘walk’ sign. But a majority of those buttons are placebos — they don’t work. The button exists to be pressed, because it makes us feel better to be ‘doing something.’ The timing of the light — set by traffic planners in a municipal office somewhere — is unaffected.” (06/09/22)