Placebo Button

door close

A placebo button, also called an idiot button, is a push-button with apparent functionality that actually has no effect when pressed, analogous to a placebo. In other cases, a control like a thermostat may not be connected. Although non-functional, the buttons can give the user an illusion of control. In some cases the button may have been functional, but may have failed or been disabled during installation or maintenance. Only in relatively rare cases will the button have been deliberately designed to do nothing. In many cases, a button may not appear to do something, but in fact cause behavior that is not immediately apparent; this can give the appearance of it being a placebo button.

Many walk buttons at pedestrian crossings were once functional in New York City, but now serve as placebo buttons. Some door-close buttons in elevators are placebo buttons, although some of them do in fact change the timing, and others are functional only when activated with a maintenance key. It has been reported that the temperature set point adjustment on thermostats in many office buildings are non-functional, installed to give tenants’ employees a similar illusion of control.

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