Placebo buttons are quite common all over the world, especially in NYC. If you're a New Yorker you more than likely use them on a daily basis. In fact during an investigation of New York City, The New York Times found that nearly all pedestrian signals in the NYC were deactivated despite their continued existence. The Times learned from the New York Department of Transportation that when computer controlled traffic systems came about, most of the pedestrian signals became obsolete. There was no more reason to allow pedestrians to actually control the lights.
So why do placebo pedestrian signals even exist? Alex Stone of The New York Times investigated the psychology behind this illusion of control and concluded that button-pushing was as much about control as preoccupation. Pedestrian signals produce a very real effect in the brains of those who press them. Stone found that occupied time will end up feeling shorter than unoccupied time.
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