Have you ever pressed the pedestrian button at a crosswalk and wondered if it really worked? Or bashed the “close door” button in an elevator, while suspecting that it may, in fact, have no effect whatsoever?
You’re not alone, and you may be right. The world is full of buttons that don’t actually do anything.
They’re 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.”