Placebo Walk Buttons

I've previously posted about the issue of placebo walk buttons -- that is, the widespread suspicion that the walk buttons at intersections don't have any effect on traffic lights. (There's also a separate theory that you can control the traffic lights by pushing the button in a special way.)

An article on addresses the issue of placebo buttons at some length. They insist the idea of placebo buttons is a myth (at least for the city of Victoria), and they interview a traffic planner to discover what really happens when the button is pushed:

Brad Dellebuur, city transportation planner, says pushing the button sends a signal to the intersection's traffic controller that a pedestrian is present and enters the "walk" signal into the system's cycle.
"If you don't press it, some intersections won't give a walk signal," Dellebuur says. The traffic light timing is also determined by the amount of vehicular traffic, which is picked up by sensors imbedded in the road.
In other words, pushing the button won't make the light change right away, or within a certain time from when the button is activated. You'll still have to wait, but a shorter period as the traffic light interval is shortened.
If you don't push the light, the pedestrian walk signal still comes on, but, for instance, after 60 seconds instead of 40.

Of course, many people insist on pushing the button even if it's already been pushed, in which case it isn't having any effect. Why do they do this?

It's not just distrust that makes people push a crosswalk button that has probably been pushed already. It's also ritual, says Jim Gibson, social psychologist at UVic, and very much like pushing an elevator button that is already illuminated.
"It's part of crossing the intersection," Gibson says. "We want to cross, and pushing the button first is part of that ritual.
"We go on automatic pilot because ritual behaviour saves our brains from having to think about activities that are very routine."

(via Legends & Rumors)

Psychology Urban Legends

Posted on Wed May 07, 2008



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If you receive another message that I dictated above are not true,
it is not from me, but from three companies.
The things I dictated above are true.
Posted by oh minseok  on  Wed May 07, 2008  at  11:55 PM
Is Samsung making the placebo walk buttons?
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Thu May 08, 2008  at  12:34 AM
:roll: Everybody knows that pushing the button lots lets the light know that there's lots of people waiting so of course the little green man will come running for a looksie much quicker than he normally does.

And one three people. One, two, three JAYWALK!
Sorry, probably on the Edinburgh gang will get that reference but I couldn't help it.
Posted by Nettie  on  Thu May 08, 2008  at  04:46 AM
Mr. Dellebuur is missing another group apart from those who have suspicious beliefs, and those who are following ritual. There is a third group, of which I am a member, that just likes pushing buttons. I will often push the button several times in a row. Every once in a while I'll choose to kick, punch, elbow or otherwise smash the button. The simple pleasure is enough for me. Must be left over from years spent haunting arcades and surviving on NES life support.
Posted by fuzzfoot  on  Thu May 08, 2008  at  09:38 AM
There's another explanation for walk buttons that don't work: they're broken. Why should they be in better repair than the crumbling pavement.
Posted by Mark  on  Thu May 08, 2008  at  11:54 AM
i tend to push the buttons repeatedly,just for something to do mainly, and yes, kicking them is an alternative for some days
Posted by JoOdd  on  Thu May 08, 2008  at  02:44 PM
I know the buttons work on my walking route. If I don't press them, the walk sign never comes up.

As for multiple hits... I usually slam the buttom two or three times. Just to make sure it heard me. Ritual. Yeah. More like an excuse to hit something.
Posted by Laura  on  Thu May 08, 2008  at  07:57 PM
There are a few signals in my area that specifically say to press button for [walk] signal. We just don't have a lot of pedestrian traffic b/c of the suburban sprawl. Pushing the button doesn't immediately signal a walk, but I assume it does something like the traffic planner explains. Putting a walk signal into the traffic light schedule.
Posted by Maegan  on  Fri May 09, 2008  at  09:16 AM
There are places where the buttons aren't placebos as well as places where they are. So...I push. What the heck.
Posted by Kathleen  on  Thu May 15, 2008  at  10:54 AM
Who is currently making the placebo walk buttons?
Posted by stock trading  on  Sat Oct 11, 2008  at  05:52 PM
I usually just pray for the walk signal instead. While, like the button, it doesn't work immediately, it does eventually cause the walk signal come up eventually.
Posted by piratejoey  on  Fri Feb 12, 2010  at  09:00 AM
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