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Idle Science

The Placebo Effect Not Just On Drugs 824

Posted by samzenpus
from the your-actions-are-futile dept.
dvdme writes "It seems the placebo effect isn't just valid on drugs. It's also a fact on elevators, offices and traffic lights. An article by Greg Ross says: 'In most elevators installed since the early 1990s, the 'close door' button has no effect. Otis Elevator engineers confirmed the fact to the Wall Street Journal in 2003. Similarly, many office thermostats are dummies, designed to give workers the illusion of control. "You just get tired of dealing with them and you screw in a cheap thermostat," said Illinois HVAC specialist Richard Dawson. "Guess what? They quit calling you." In 2004 the New York Times reported that more than 2,500 of the 3,250 "walk" buttons in New York intersections do nothing. "The city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, even as an unwitting public continued to push on."'"

*

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The Placebo Effect Not Just On Drugs

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  • Re:Intentional? (Score:4, Informative)

    by mlts (1038732) * on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:06PM (#34163358)

    Sometimes walk buttons do something. I do know some traffic lights around Austin which will have reds all four ways if the buttons are pressed.

    Other lights don't do much, if anything.

  • by codegen (103601) on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:09PM (#34163390) Journal

    Well yes and no. It is true that most of them have no effect in normal operation, but when the elevator is in service mode (i.e. apartment move mode), then doors stay open until you press the close button.

    In my sister's apartment, the close button has a effect. The normal door open time is about 40 seconds, and it will close the instant you press the close button (i.e. after 5 seconds). In the office building that I'm in (mid 60s construction), the close button has no effect unless the elevator is in service mode).

  • Re:Wow. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:10PM (#34163398)
    Or how little respect people actually deserve.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:11PM (#34163414)

    Seriously! The summary quotes the ENTIRE "article". Come on, Slashdot.

  • Re:Wow. (Score:5, Informative)

    by ByOhTek (1181381) on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:17PM (#34163506) Journal

    I dunno about NY, but it varies here in Ohio.

    1) Some lights change at the same rate, regardless of pressing the button.
    2) Lights with chirpers/beepers/buzzers will only make noises if the button is pushed. I think all of these change at the same interval regardless of pressing the button, the button merely tells the light to activate the speaker when it switches.
    3) In the suburb where I live, the walk lights won't show unless you hit the button. The timing of the traffic lights doesn't change, you just get a nice walk light. This is rather obnoxious because you get yelled at if you cross when a walk light would have been active if you had hit the button...
    4) Some lights won't change unless you hit the button - about the same as described by the poster from Austin.
    5) The one light I know for absolute sure doesn't do anything if you hit the button, is near where I work. Hit the button, don't hit the button, do either all day, it doesn't matter, the sign will never switch to "walk"...

  • Door close buttons (Score:3, Informative)

    by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:20PM (#34163564) Homepage
    Ah, one of the first positive things that I noticed when I moved overseas was that the "door close" buttons on elevators actually worked. You push them, the door closes. It's that sort of literal-mindedness when a culture apes another culture without knowing why it's doing so. The "how" but not the "why". They didn't know that door close buttons were placebos put in place to lie about giving control. Instead, they connected them up to the control circuits, and when you press the button, by God, the elevator doors close. You can even close the doors directly after they open, ignoring the pleas of people running to get in. Heh, that was another education as well, seeing as I had previously thought that holding elevator doors open for random strangers was something that 'everybody did' - turns out, it's just our culture that does it.
  • by nebular (76369) on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:23PM (#34163604)

    I'm primarily a pedestrian, so I've had time to test out the walk button. Most of the time, the walk button only makes the walk sign change, otherwise it just says at the stop hand icon.

    The times it does change things is usually near parks or by little used streets where if it was disconnected you'd be waiting a very long time.

  • Re:Intentional? (Score:3, Informative)

    by daid303 (843777) on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:27PM (#34163666)

    What else do you think controls them? Little gnomes?

    Computerized traffic lights are almost as old as traffic lights. There has been a phase of electro-mechanical lights, but that did not last long. While I cannot speak for the US, in most European locations you want the pedestrian push buttons to function. If there is no pedestrian then you can skip the pedestrian phase, which saves a lot of time. As pedestrians are slow.

    (I work at a traffic light company)

  • Re:Intentional? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Albanach (527650) on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:34PM (#34163798) Homepage

    If there is no pedestrian then you can skip the pedestrian phase, which saves a lot of time. As pedestrians are slow.

    Ah, you see it is different in the United States - there is no pedestrian phase. They just 'allow' pedestrians to cross when traffic is moving in their direction. So, if North South traffic has a green light, North South pedestrians have a green light. Similarly for East West.

    The vast majority of traffic lights in the United States don't apparently have a separate period for pedestrians to cross unencumbered by motor vehicles - which outside the big cities are also allowed to turn left of a red light, even when pedestrians have a Walk signal.

    Then they wonder why no-one wants to walk anywhere!

  • Here in Sweden (Score:4, Informative)

    by mikael_j (106439) on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:35PM (#34163818)

    All these examples seem a bit specific or they assume the people affected are all too dumb to realize someone's trying to fool them...

    'In most elevators installed since the early 1990s, the 'close door' button has no effect. Otis Elevator engineers confirmed the fact to the Wall Street Journal in 2003.

    Around here most elevators don't even seem to have a "close" button, they do have an "open" button though. And if you press one of the "go to floor #n" buttons the doors tend to close immediately. As an example, in the building I live in the best way to get the doors to close quickly is to pass through the elevator door and make sure you're clear of the "don't squish the humans" sensor and then hit a floor button, door closes immediately and elevator gets going.

    Similarly, many office thermostats are dummies, designed to give workers the illusion of control. "You just get tired of dealing with them and you screw in a cheap thermostat," said Illinois HVAC specialist Richard Dawson. "Guess what? They quit calling you."

    Duh. Of course people stop calling you, they're sweating their asses off and you show up and say "nothing wrong here" half a dozen times and then you install a thermostat that doesn't work. Most likely they just end up figuring out how to disable the alarm connected to the windows so they can get some relief that way (seriously, I've seen this problem in several workplaces, the building maintenance guys swear up and down that the ventilation system is fine yet one office which isn't even facing the sun most of the day has stuffy air and a constant temperature above 25 C, in the latest case they finally installed a thermostat that did nothing, we just stopped calling them about the issue (the thermostat was clearly not connected to anything)).

    In 2004 the New York Times reported that more than 2,500 of the 3,250 "walk" buttons in New York intersections do nothing. "The city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the emergence of computer-controlled traffic signals, even as an unwitting public continued to push on."'"

    Here in .se the buttons do work. In fact, if you don't press the button the light never turns green. You still have to wait until the lights for the cars are right though (which kind of sucks, it just switches the light for pedestrians from a default "you're not allowed to cross" to "please wait your turn".

  • by robot256 (1635039) on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:44PM (#34163958)

    Here's a link: http://facilitiesnet.com/bom/bomproducts/0107/ [facilitiesnet.com]

    And the manufacture themselves: http://www.us.schindler.com/ [schindler.com]

  • by Majik Sheff (930627) on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:58PM (#34164154) Journal

    Here's a way to make your experiment slightly more scientific (and probably educational):

    Repeat your process you just outlined, but instead of pressing the button, pretend to press the button. Just go through the motion without actually pressing it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:58PM (#34164160)

    Apart from the fact that the US spends TWICE as much on healthcare (as a percentage of GDP) as all the other First World countries and gets the worst outcomes.

    Your healthcare system lets the average citizen down while making a handful super rich.

    THAT'S what happens when you approach it as a "for profit" business and not as a social service.

  • Re:Intentional? (Score:3, Informative)

    by bws111 (1216812) on Monday November 08, 2010 @01:58PM (#34164166)

    That must depend on where you are. Where I live (NYS), they have been installing more and more pedestrian signals, and they most definitely work. When someone presses the 'cross' button traffic is stopped in all directions (including a red arrow to block right-on-red) for somewhere between 25 and 45 seconds, depending on how wide the street is. During this time a countdown is displayed to the pedestrians to let them know how long they have to complete crossing. If no-one pushes the cross button that phase is skipped entirely.

  • by blair1q (305137) on Monday November 08, 2010 @02:02PM (#34164220) Journal

    The green is extended a bit when the walk-light is used.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Monday November 08, 2010 @02:11PM (#34164356)

    We want free healthcare.

    It's the insurance companies that pays for astroturfing that gives the appearance that we really don't want universal healthcare. What was really amazing was the number of medicare recipients protesting against universal healthcare.

    The other amazing thing is how people believe that if we give tax cuts to the wealthy then jobs will magically appear. Never mind that we are talking about making Bush-era tax cuts permanent and not introducing new tax cuts. If the tax cuts were a panacea then why haven't they created new jobs in the past 3 years?

    Mainstream media creates perceptions. Perceptions don't always reflect reality.

    Also the US government always seem to do what is good for corporations and hardly anything good for consumers. They try to make it appear it was good for consumers. Take the current "Health Care Reforms" that the Democrats passed last year. It doesn't come close to making health care free, in fact it forces us to purchase health insurance. So on the surface it looks like the consumers are finally getting affordable healthcare, in reality the insurance corporations are getting customers who are forced to purchase insurance.

    Next thing you'll see is the government promising more jobs from exports by initiating free trade with a country whose growing economy is based on jobs being outsourced from the US. Oh wait it looks like Obama wants to announce something....

  • by clone53421 (1310749) on Monday November 08, 2010 @03:11PM (#34165186) Journal

    That’s the very definition of placebo.

    Somebody complains that their neck hurts. You give them a bottle of sugar pills. They take one twice a day and stop complaining.

    Somebody complains that the room is too hot. You install a thermostat that does nothing. They happily fiddle with it once or twice a day and stop complaining.

  • by TheCarp (96830) <<ten.tenaprac> <ta> <cjs>> on Monday November 08, 2010 @04:10PM (#34166200) Homepage

    Oddly, I come from the more ultra-liberal ideas (I consider myself an anarchist) but, I agree with GP. I think what you are missing is... yes... "socialized medicine" would be a huge money sink. However, its not the creation of a money sink...its the replacement of one with another.

    Medicine can only be a money sink. It is a cost, it is overhead. Right now, it is already a huge, and growing, money sink that is already a huge drag on the economy. Just because it would be a larger money sink than any of the ones that exist now, by consolidating those many sinks into one, there could be a lot of savings.

    Insurance companies, really, are a sort of casino. They are just playing massive odds over large populations and offering bets. In this case, there is a purpose of course as they spread the risk of major illness and its costs amongst a large group of people. Its really just a hedge bet... A person without insurance is betting everything on not getting bankruptingly sick. A person with insurance is still betting on that, but hedging that bet against the possibility of getting sick to cut losses.

    In a pure value in/value out sense, insurance is a bad buy, however, it mitigates risk, and makes itself a very good buy in that way.

    That said, its become nearly a necessity. I wouldn't think of putting myself in a position where my wife and I had to go buy insurance on our own. Even in MA where a miniature version of these healthcare reforms were put in place a few years back, it is still too much of a risk.

    Giving people a bit more mobility would be a good thing. Especially if it saves money overall while doing it. In the end, its not like we are going from a well working, unregulated system and nationalizing it, if we did implement it. What we have is already a huge mess.

    -Steve

  • by diamondmagic (877411) on Monday November 08, 2010 @06:41PM (#34168078) Homepage

    The key word is "CEOs used to do just fine." Prices carry information about scarcity and availability, they are in fact semantically meaningful. They mean something. If prices for the very top wage earners have gone up it's because they are actually worth more, it tells us their time is more valuable, and the additional wages allows them to use their time more efficiently... Even if Bill Gates were the best lawn mower in the world, the grass cutting world champion, would you have expected him to do the work himself? Of course not, it would be far more efficient to hire a worker do the work for him.

  • by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy AT gmail DOT com> on Monday November 08, 2010 @09:34PM (#34169294)

    I worked at a facility where a thermostat set above seventy-something is in air conditioning mode and set below that is heating mode. And I worked with morons whom alternated it at extremes and then couldn't figure out why the HVAC didn't work. I get to work and its about 50 in the cubes ... cow orker says "I'm freezing so I set it to 85" ... "Well, don't you think 85 is kind of high for the airconditioner?" I turn it down to 70 and we warm right up. Same deal in the summer. Its 90 in the cubes because some clown set it to 60 placing us in heating mode, and god knows its well above 60 so nothing happens. I crank it up to 75 and we're soon chilling. And the amazing part is these people NEVER LEARNED. Ever. I would imagine they're still all screwed up.

    One can easily imagine why given the ridiculously baroque and counter-intuitive system you've just described.

    I'm amazed how many people think HVAC is strictly proportional and the thermostat tells the machinery how hard to work. That technology exists but is rare and expensive and you almost certainly don't have it.

    A quite reasonable expectation with any thermostat is that when you set the temperature on it, that is the temperature the system will reach and maintain. A perfectly reasonable conclusion from that assumption is that the system will attempt to attain the initial temperature relatively quickly without "overshooting", and thus a larger delta will bring the temperature down quicker.

    I remember when we first moved to Phoenix, and I saw air conditioners with thermostats that had to be put into either "heat" or "cool" mode (and then had separate sets of thresholds for each). All I could do it just shake my head and wonder what idiot ever came up with that interface, and why.

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