Placebo interfaces

Placebo is long known to have been used as drugs. But it is also known that it has effect in user interfaces!

I remembered about this article when a friend told how he felt warm in the office and he was able to work in a T-shirt, untill he received an email about faulty heating system. Them he begun to feel cold :). So as long as he thought that the heating is working, he felt warm. It’s all about the illusion of believing or controlling something.

The mentioned article lists some more examples:

  • In most elevators installed since the early 1990s, the ‘close door’ button has no effect. But we keep pressing them, because it makes us feel better :). The thing is that elevator’s have this service mode or fire mode state in which the close button works, but most people do not know this.
  • Many office thermostats are dummies, designed to give workers the illusion of control. I HAVE ONE IN THE OFFICE AS WELL – and it’s a dummy one :(.
  • More than 2,500 of the 3,250 "walk" buttons in New York intersections do nothing. Everything is controlled by computers. I’d say that here in Lancaster is the same. Even if I don’t press the button the green light comes up at (to me) random times.

The problem is that some lights do switch the green "walk" light on when
pressed and in some elevators the "close" button works
. So how do we know
when to press them and when don’t? The best advice is to always press them. And if they don’t work immediately, press them few more times. The desired effect will come sooner or later :). And we’ll have a sense of control, which is good.

This brings up another human behavior. Most of people press the "walk" button on a street light, even if it was already pressed by someone before us. It’s the same with "call" the elevator buttons. If there are three people waiting in front of it, probably all three of them pressed the button. It’s like the elevator counts how many people are waiting :). And when elevator has two "call" buttons (with the up and down arrows, so it knows where we want to go and it uses the optimal time algorithm for everyone), most of people I know press both of them – just to be sure :)!

But who cares as long as the toilet door on the train closes when we press the button.

Off topic. Did you notice that most elevators have mirrors in and some also at every door. It all a out physiology, because if we look at something interesting (in this example we observe ourself), the time passes quicker!