This. Changes. Everything. A feature in the New York Times notes that door-close buttons in elevators don't actually do anything—and haven't for decades. Functioning door-close buttons went out with the introduction in 1990 of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires doors to stay open for people in wheelchairs, using crutches, and so forth, explains National Elevator Industry executive director Karen Penafiel. Repair people and firefighters still have keys or codes that make the door-close buttons work, but for us regular schmoes the button is a mere tease, Quartz reports. "We can't help but feel a little bit lied to by our beloved elevators," laments a blog at the Huffington Post.
But just because door-close buttons don't actually close doors doesn't mean they're completely useless. The Times reports they act kind of like a psychological placebo. "Perceived control is very important," Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer says. "It diminishes stress and promotes well being." John Kounios, another psychology professor, describes the door-close button as "mildly therapeutic" since the door does eventually close, providing the button-pusher with a reward. Kounios says he doesn't think people will ever stop pressing the door-close button—or any of the other buttons in the world. "I've got nothing else to do while waiting, so why not press the button on the off chance that this one will work?" he says. (Amtrak comically flubbed a response to a trapped elevator rider.)